Dispatches From The Couch

My household suffered a terrible loss two weeks ago.

We never saw it coming and, to be honest, we’re still dealing with the aftermath. And yet, like many others, we’re picking up the pieces and moving on. Because sooner or later, nearly everyone experiences the death of a DVR.

Ours wasn’t young, to be sure. And while it may not have been full of life or promise, it was full of programs we hadn’t yet watched. Some were recent, such as last week’s WHITNEY. Others… well, let’s just say that I had not yet gotten to the point where I was emotionally ready to view the final episode of UGLY BETTY.

A few years ago, this would have been tantamount to a true tragedy… in a first-world problems kinda way. But thanks to the fact that we now have Hulu, Netflix and more On Demand channels than TWO BROKE GIRLS has va-jay-jay jokes, we’ve found it fairly easy to track down and view just about everything that was lost.

And that got me thinking about the nature of television in general and the major broadcast networks in particular. Given that shows live or die largely based on the viewing habits of the .0002 percent of the population who are fortunate enough to be Nielsen families, and yet an ever-growing proportion of the population is watching shows via non-traditional formats, the problem would seem to be self-evident. (Then again, network execs will rarely be mistaken for MENSA members.)

Follow closely here: Thanks to the plethora of options vailable to them, folks are no longer forced (or even particularly compelled) to watch shows live. In fact, many of us have taken to binge-viewing. (Now that GRIMM has been renewed, I’m ready to start watching from the beginning. I wasn’t willing to commit to it until NBC did.) But under the current measuring system, many of those viewers are not counted, especially if they live busy lives and don’t get around to watching the show until a week or more later.

In other words, has the fact that so many viewing options has opened up our world in much the same way the invention of cell phones allowed us to talk whenever and wherever we wanted created a situation in which the networks will inevitably see diminishing returns in the Nielsen numbers despite the fact more people are actually watching?

It’s not rocket science. Heck, it’s not even new math. (What the heck was new math, anyways? Is it like “New Coke” in that we tried it, didn’t like it and went back to the original?) Maybe what we need to do is break into the home of a few execs, erase their DVR’s and let them have the same “a-ha!” moment my household did.

Richard M. Simms is the executive editor of Soaps In Depth magazine and the author of Crimes Against Civility.

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  • Actually, I watch the shows I’ve missed online and usually on the networks website.  You would think they would have some way of counting people like me who do that.  I mean….it’s YOUR website!!  Surely, some kind of tracking program can be set up to count the number of people who watch on the internet.