Boy oh boy, do we live in a “satisfy me now” society.
If those online ad metrics don’t look good at the end of the week, pull it!
If those streaming numbers don’t look good the morning after the episode, get rid of it!
If the ratings don’t look good for the new format, see you later!
The abundance of real-time analytics is great.
Consider the streaming TV industry, which is producing so much content it’s quite literally impossible to keep up. So much of the content is legitimately great but more than any one person could possibly watch.
Every time I hear about a TV show I think I might be interested in, I keep a log of it in the notes section of my phone. This could be anything from an article or recommendation on social media to a friend sharing details of the show with me over lunch. The list is long, usually hovering in the 10-15 show range because my wife and I prefer to watch one show at a time. Once something gets recommended and we commit to it, it may be multiple seasons we need to catch up on, which can take us months.
This backlog means I rarely get to a show in the beginning of its run, meaning my viewing doesn’t matter when the networks want it to matter.
A perfect example is the show Reboot, a comedy about the dysfunctional cast of a fictional 2000s sitcom that gets back together to reboot the show. Reboot premiered on Hulu on September 20, 2022. I remember seeing a friend post about it on Facebook that Fall, so I added it to the list. But my wife and I didn’t get to it until earlier this Fall, a year after it first debuted.
The eight episodes of Reboot are some of the best television I’ve ever watched, certainly one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen, with more laugh-out-loud moments than I can count. When I’m snorting while laughing, you know I think something is funny, and Reboot is a “10” on the snort meter.
After finishing the eighth episode, I gleefully perused the internet, seeking the premiere date for the second season. I figured this would be soon since I knew the show was about a year old. What I never, ever expected to see was this:
I found this stunning. How could Hulu have cancelled such a quality show?
The obvious answer is it must not have been as successful as Hulu needed it to be, but it sure wasn’t given much time. It aired in September and October 2022 and was cancelled, shopped around, and declared dead by February 2023.
Have you ever heard of Reboot? I’ll bet you haven’t. And how can you be expected to?? I have Hulu and wouldn’t have heard of it unless someone mentioned it on the social media feed that Facebook decided I should see. If someone with the channel doesn’t know it’s there, how is someone who doesn’t currently have Hulu supposed to find it?
The same exact thing happened to me with Rabbit Hole starring Keifer Sutherland on Paramount+, an action series I enjoyed (I’m a big 24 fan from the day). Rabbit Hole aired from March to May 2023, I discovered and started watching in October, and the show was cancelled that month.
The new and final season of The Crown, one of the most successful streaming series success stories ever, is apparently a massive failure on Netflix, at least according to Nexttv. It debuted to a “dismal” 36.9 million viewing hours. When are we going to learn we can’t judge a show’s success after the first week when we live in a non-linear world?
We’re living in the golden age of craft beer and TV shows, with more choices than we could have ever imagined.
Too much choice.
Shows were rarely given enough time to develop before streaming, they certainly aren’t now, and it’s not a good thing.
Seinfeld, which ran for nine seasons and is generally considered the greatest sitcom of all time, was nearly cancelled before it got off the ground. An NBC research memo rated the show’s pilot “weak” with “no segment of the audience eager to watch the show again.” Any loyal Seinfeld viewer will tell you it took time for the show to click and the characters to develop, and thank goodness for TV history’s sake, Seinfeld was saved.
When we conduct personality research, we always recommend waiting at least a year before measuring the appeal of an individual talent or show, and it’s for two reasons. One, not enough people have been exposed to the show; Two, the audience that has been exposed needs time to develop meaningful opinions.
Today’s fractured entertainment landscape and easy access to quick analytics simply inflates the problem. When we make rash decisions on potentially great content before the audience has a chance to get to connect with it, or doesn’t have the chance to even find it, how in the world can we be expected to grow lasting shows and talent?