Will Online Streaming Kill the Best New Show on TV?

Mari Silbey —  March 24, 2009

dollhouse-whedon-show

I realize not everyone shares my opinion that Joss Whedon’s new show Dollhouse is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but then again, clearly there are a lot of people in the world with no taste in television. (Um, Deal or No Deal? Really?) What’s interesting is that the demographic of people who are watching and enjoying Dollhouse may contribute to its demise. Numbers show that Dollhouse gets one of the highest percentages of DVR viewers among network shows and has been a major hit on iTunes. Unfortunately, DVR and online audiences don’t count for much with advertisers. The show would rake in a lot more money if we all watched it live.

The lost cash comes from the fact that DVRs enable ad skipping, and online video audiences and CPMs are tiny compared to broadcast TV. As Dan Rayburn has also pointed out, it takes money to distribute video online – encoding, storage, management, and actual delivery – which makes short work of the dollars online advertising and download fees do bring in.

So what does this mean? New TV technology may be contributing to the types of shows that succeed or fail. So much for enabling the long tail of television. Programs still need large audiences of live viewers to survive.

17 responses to Will Online Streaming Kill the Best New Show on TV?

  1. If they want more people watching live, they need to move it off Fridays. I’ve mostly been enjoying it. Still not entirely sure where we’re going, but doing better than Christian Slater’s aborted imprint show. No more BSG reunions, though. I will walk.

  2. Dollhouse is is ok, but I wouldn’t call it the best new show on TV. If it doesn’t make it, the blame has to start with its odd central plot, boring lead actress and Friday timeslot.

  3. I wholeheartedly share your opinion. Dollhouse is the greatest thing since sliced bread!

  4. A quick comment on broadcast TV in general… I was watching an episode of Moonlighting (on DVD). The episode was 50 minutes long on this 80’s TV show. The current crop of TV shows is barely 42 minutes now. Except for sports, who in their right mind would watch live TV?

    Dollhouse could be better (sorry Dave).

  5. I think it’s time for TV to re-evaluate it’s position on downloadable content. If they moved more to a model such as the one now used for music they would lose much less revenue to the streamers and DVRs. I’m sure there are plenty of people willing to pay a few bucks for an episode or even legitimate free downloads with ads included.

  6. RE: Dollhouse- I happen to love the oddball central plot of the show, but I also have immense faith (Ha! “Faith”) in Whedon to build on both the characters and the plot in strange and compelling ways. I mocked Buffy mercilessly in the beginning, but it grew. And the characters were so rich.

    RE: broadcast TV- The model and measurements will change, but we’re in transition now. Eventually DVR and online viewing will count for more, but right now they bring in pennies compared to live TV. And I agree- except for sports, who in their right mind would watch live TV?

  7. “…Unfortunately, DVR and online audiences don’t count for much with advertisers. The show would rake in a lot more money if we all watched it live.”

    Not to contradict Ms. Silbey, but Eric Feng CTO of Hulu stated they make more money per episode through Hulu than with the OTA broadcast, during his talk at SXSW.

    Looking at Hulu’s Comscore;

    http://www.comscore.com/press/release.asp?press=2660

    …you can rest assured Doll House will be on for a good while.

  8. Do these numbers take into account those of us that watch it live AND record it to DVR? We love Dollhouse and LOST, and usually watch them live, but we always record them so we can go back and re-watch important scenes.

  9. ryaninc- I assume there’s overlap- as in those folks are counted twice.

  10. i think i am starting to like Kings on NBC

  11. The show’s fate was preordained long ago. It’s a whedon sci-fi genre show in the friday night death slot on FOX. It never had a chance.

    Besides, the first five episodes were awful. Last week was quite strong, but I’d expect most viewers gave up on it by then.

  12. This is very interesting. Things are not changing as fast as many would have you believe. TV is still king for sheer reach and scale.

  13. It’s a great show which I am very much enjoying. Wasn’t sure after viewing the pilot episode, which was a disappointment — the rest of the episodes have entertained though… It may be a bit quirky for the masses, and definitely hard for viewers to tune into if they haven’t seen all the episodes.

    I’ll enjoy it while it’s around, but have a feeling it’ll join the ranks of Firefly :(

  14. I don’t really watch live TV anymore except for morning news on NTV-America (Russian channel). Even sports are much better with a 30-minute or an hour-long head start on DVR, so you could skip past ads and unimportant parts (can watch a football game in 30-40 mins; watched Euro 2008 games in under an hour due to 3x TiVo ffd).

    Back to Dollhouse — I’m not sure I understand all the hate for the show. It’s become hip to hate on it for whatever reason. Maybe people just don’t want to fall in love with it only to have their hearts torn apart like with Firefly.

    I liked all the episodes — yes, even the much-maligned first one — and given the events of Episode 6, it makes sense to have them to flesh out characters and the story.

    Having said that, I’m only cautiously optimistic about the the series’ continuing existence. TV networks don’t give shows much time to develop these days since they can be cheaply replaced with reality TV. And even once-hip & popular shows like “Pushing Daisies” get cancelled :(

  15. I worry more about Lie to Me’s fate which I’ve been enjoying. Not sure how long they can sustain the plotlines and audience.

    TiVo Steve, this is Mari’s story not mine. So no need to apologize. ;)

    Todd, I didn’t see the talk. But I wonder if this includes back catalog stuff which costs them nothing but they can sell advertising against. Also I’m not sure I buy it. Hulu has very few ads per episode and in my experience many of them are PSAs. Hm. The potential is there, but I wonder what the current reality is.

  16. I was set to abandon the show, but last Friday’s show added a twist will see it survive at least a few more episodes before I delete it.

    Mari makes an important point. She didn’t mention that its target audience are also the most likely to get it from bit-torrent.

    The solution is exactly the same one that the music industry is starting to twig onto: sell consumers products they want. In this case the target market will want the opportunity to purchase it online in any of four ways:

    1. Episode by episode (at say 50 cents each);
    2. Entire seasons at a time for prices similar to DVD rental prices
    3. As part of a subscription package = such as Netflix
    4. Via a service like Boxee that forces people to watch commercials if they want to get it for ‘free’

    In all cases the studios need to make purchases easy, convenient, of good quality, accessible and watchable easily by the consumer on the devices of their choice and, most important, the solution MUST include a high-def picture to the TV.

    In addition to general broadcast THE ABOVE four options are the future of ALL TV, not just high-tech, sci-fi shows. The studios should be experimenting with our-kind now so that they’ll be ready when the masses join us – as they surely will.

    However, like the record industry before them, I fear they’ll need to be dragged kicking and screaming to the future – and most likely after long sustained profit declines. But, they’ll get there. They have no choice.

    …Dale

  17. Todd- I can’t imagine the Hulu CEO wasn’t talking about aggregate revenue. Like Dave said, he had to be including back catalog stuff, and even then I have a hard time believing it. The numbers don’t support.