Dispatches From The Couch: The Big Lie

You may not be aware of it, but ABC is taking a page from Emily Thorne’s book in its attempt to seek REVENGE against your DVR. And in publicizing their efforts to get you to watch the seductive sudser live, the network may have helped expose what I believe to be one of the biggest cover-ups since the ones investigated by Mulder and Scully.

I’ve long believed that Nielsen — you know, those evil people who measure the viewing habits of a ridiculously-small portion of the population to basically decide whether our favorite shows will live or die — is comprised of people who are better spin doctors than those employed by either major political party.

In other words, they’re big, fat liars.

Part of what has motivated ABC to try and lure folks into viewing live with social media-driven apps and the chance to win a free trip to the Hamptons is the fact that an ever-growing number of us are DVR-ing shows and watching them later, thus allowing ourselves to both watch at our convenience and fast-forward through commercials.

ABC is rather wisely ignoring the fact that Nielsen claims that only 8 percent of all TV viewing is done by people who record shows on the DVR’s for later viewing. And those who are watching recorded material a few days later — known as “time-shifting in the biz? Well, Nielsen would have their clients believe that a huge number of them actually sit through the commercials.

Now, look, I’ll be the first to say that we are an inherently lazy society. But even I’m not going to accept that people are so apathetic as to say, “Yeah, I could reach for the remote and fast-forward, but… nah. Sell me something.”

Then again, Nielsen is to market research what B. Dalton was to bookstores a year or two before it went under. Just as the chain was unable to stave off such advances as the Nook and Kindle, Nielsen — despite huge leaps in the technology via which many people watch programming — still focuses almost exclusively on “traditional viewing.” Meaning if you’re one of the millions of Americans who watch, say, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on your computer, tablet or iPad, you ain’t being counted. Not by Nielsen and, by extension, not by the advertisers who are relied upon to keep a show on the airwaves.

Despite this, a recent report from Nielsen reported that the average American “watches nearly five hours of video each day, 98 percent of which they watch on a traditional TV set.” So, afford me a moment of clarity: A company that doesn’t measure or count viewers who consume television via non-traditional venues is reporting to their subscribers, most of whom are network executives and their advertisers, that the majority of us watch lots and lots of stuff on our televisions and, no, no, just ignore computer thingies and smart phones.

On the irony list, that’s right up there with dentists rewarding your child’s cavity-free status with a lollipop.

Nielsen has, for years, ruled over Madison Avenue and the entirety of TVland with an iron fist. But it might be time that the advertising industry and network execs take a closer look and realize that, no matter what the emperor says, he ain’t wearing any clothes.

Richard M. Simms, executive editor of Soaps In Depth magazine and author of Crimes Against Civility, watches approximately 2 billion hours of television each week… almost all of which is either time-shifted or via non-traditional media.

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