Looking for the Coming Thing…
It’s pretty obvious to any fan of “genre” television that the Nielsen Ratings System is an archaic, tyrannical hold-over from the 1950s that has no relevance to the way today’s entertainment media work, but still inexplicably holds a disproportionate influence over programming.
Programming decisions are made based on the viewing habits of a ridiculously skewed minority–for example: through a deal struck with the networks, 40% of Nielsen Families are broadcast-only homes, despite the fact that all but 22% of households in this country have cable or satellite service. Yet, these are the people who provide the numbers that are used by all channels to determine the worth of their programming.
As long as this remains the method of record (and there is no reason for TV execs to change, being creatures of comfort and habit, after all), no SF, Fantasy or other “geek-interest” show will have a reasonable chance of success.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this, seeing fandom screwed time and again. It occurs to me that what is needed is the importation of yet another facet of Japanese pop culture–the OVA (original video animation).
The US has a direct-to-video market, but it is almost entirely given over to Z-grade films…not serialized content. In Japan, direct-to-market OVAs are a significant part of a nearly one billion dollar industry. This is significant, when you compare it to the fact that, as reported in this article at ICV2.com, the 2002 sales (not including rentals) of DVDs and VHS tapes reached a total of $12.4 billion, some 25% more than the year’s box office total. More than 50 million American homes have DVD players and that number is still expected to grow considerably during 2003. By 2004, next year DVD sales alone will bury box office revenues.
Think about it. Shows, animated or live-action, produced direct-to-DVD, and released in serialized form– say a DVD with 4 1-hour episodes shipping monthly. No Nielsen ratings. Money from sales going directly back to the providers of the content. Sales=continued production. Fans can vote with their wallets, and not have to worry about something like Farscape being doomed because it doesn’t appeal to Ma and Pa Kettle in Lower Stumblefuck, Iowa.
Hell….the DVDs could be packed with extra content, too. Making-of documentaries, commentary tracks, sure…but the discs could also feature DVD-ROM goodies like PDFs of RPG rules or adventures, links to forum web sites, etc. A cornucopia of geeky goodness, targeted directly at the people who want the stuff.
Hmmm. Something to work on, perhaps.