New way of watching series TV

My blog's popular today, so let me expand on an older essay of mine I never blogged before, concerning my new style of watching TV, thanks in part to my Tivo hard disk recorder.

In the past series-based TV has made its money by the series getting fans which watch it every week. The fans watch the good episodes and they watch the bad. As long as they get enough good episodes (or very rarely, all-good) they continue to watch the show. Advertisers buy space based on the popularity of the show (though they pay based on the ratings it actually gets.)

With movies and books, we have some fandom (especially for a big series like Star Wars) but more commonly you choose your movie based on things you hear about a particular movie. You may be brought in by good marketing, but more often you wait and hear good things, and then you go.

I've started watching series TV the latter way. I have my Tivo record the series I am interested in. For many series, there are fan websites where the fans hold polls about how good the episode was, starting the very night of airing.

I look at the poll a few days later, and if the episode was a turkey, I delete it. If need be, I read the summary of plot details found on the fan web site. As a result, my TV series end up with nothing but good episodes. Some series are much more watchable if you remove the bad parts. Life is too short to watch bad TV.

You can read more at the bottom of my essay on the future of TV advertising or below in the blog...If you clicked to the original essay, you will read thoughts about how this changes the economics of TV. In the future, I imagine things like the "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" buttons on the Tivo recording my preference out to the world. What that means is if a bad episode airs, by the time it's done, many will have hit the thumbs-down, and the number of viewers will drop quickly. The more of a turkey it is, the quicker the drop, and some shows may get not the millions of viewers they need, but thousands.

My hope is it will make them think more about the writing of the shows, since most of the bad shows come from greenlighting bad scripts. (As the good shows come from great scripts.)

Some people ask me why I care what other people think so much, that I am willing to let popular opinion govern what I watch. Well, first of all, while often my opinions differ with others about what the best episodes are, I have found the fan votes to be pretty good at spotting the turkeys. My own opinion of the series overall will temper how I filter the fan vote information.

Down the road though, I expect the concept now known as collaborative filtering to apply. In this case, I will be listening to the opinions of others who expressed similar views to mine on past shows. But it's been surprising to me how decent the large-fanbase votes have been.

If this idea becomes popular, studios might try to alter the votes, but in fact that is not productive. I end up deciding to watch the "top half" of a series, for example, and all they can do is alter which half. It is in their interest for me to see the best half, or I'll stop tuning it altogether. However, making the polling more scientific can't hurt.

Sometimes I will alter my opinion. I went in watching the top half of Buffy, but now watch about the top 75%, and have gone back to see some episodes.

Note that this technique can also be used without the Tivo, since most TV series show up on DVD, and can be rented cheaply from outfits like Netflix. (Local video stores don't stock TV episodes nearly as much.)

So if there's a show you've heard about, like Buffy, The Sopranos, Enterprise, Stargate or any other that's out on DVD, find a fan site, and give it a try, renting only the DVDs with the best episodes.

Of course if you are a total TV fan you may find this suggestion stupid, you want to see every episode, you would watch more if they would make them. This plan isn't for you. But for most of us, there is clearly way too much TV out there and you must meter what you watch. Most of the time we limit our viewing by picking the series we will watch, but it is more productive to combine that with per-episode filtering.

Seems like this would work well for shows where the episodes contain mostly-independent storylines, but not so well for shows that are basically serial movies, and new, important events and characters are introduced throughout the season. Some of the HBO series, like "The Wire" and "Deadwood" fall in the latter category. In Deadwood, the first 4 or 5 episodes have covered only a few days of storytime. Fox's "24" is the extreme example. It's supposed to be a great show, but if you come in the middle, it's pretty hard to figure out what's going on.

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