The Audience Evolution Pace Accelerates

The Audience Evolution blog has been on a bit of a summer hiatus, but we’re back in business now. Not only are there a lot of new developments taking place of late that require discussion (see below), but over the next few months I’m also going to use this space to air out preliminary observations that I glean from a series of interviews that I will be conducting with industry professionals in connection with a research grant I received from the Time Warner Cable Research Program on Digital Communications.

Turning to recent developments, there has been a flurry of discussion on the television front, where, according to Mark Ghuneim, CEO and founder of Wiredeset, the digital agency that developed Trendrr.tv, a site that tracks TV shows’ popularity through social media discussion, a “critical mass [has] arrived” in terms of industry acceptance of alternative performance metrics such as those that revolve around social media discussion of individual programs. According to Ghuneim, this is a marked change from only three years ago: “Three years ago we were saying this . . . crickets.”

In a similar vein, market researcher General Sentiment has launched a service that utilizes social media discussions to match product brands with individual television networks or programs.  As Greg Artzt, CEO of General Sentiment, states: “Understanding the size or demographics of a television audience is only half the battle. The other half is understanding what these viewers actually care about.”

It’s also worth noting that discussion of this transition is finding its way out of the trade press and academia and into broader public discussion. Case in point — this recent article in the Huffington Post, titled TV Ratings: Are We Looking at them All Wrong? (full disclosure: I’m briefly quoted in this piece).  Of particular imporance in this article are the quotes from Modern Family producer Steve Levitan, who emphasizes that traditional audience measurement approaches may harm programs that cater to more technologically sophisticated audiences, or to younger audiences that utilize new media platforms to watch their programs.

This is important because it highlights a point that arose in the very first interview I conducted for the Time Warner project.  In talking with a cable network audience research executive, he emphasized that the market for such alternative metrics is likely to remain quite specialized, and somewhat limited — at least for the time being.  That is, to the extent that these new metrics focus almost exclusively on the measurement of various online activities, they really only provide insights for those programs with audiences who engage in substantial online discussion (with the correlation between overall audience size and overall intensity of online discussion not necessarily all that strong at this point).

This type of activity thus might be a window onto the audiences of a limited subset of the totality of available programs now; but certainly we can expect such activities to gain broader traction across a wider swath of the television audience — and television programs — over time.

In this regard, it is important that we remind ourselves that the process of audience evolution takes place on two inter-related fronts — the dynamics of audiences’ media usage behaviors, and the processes and systems via which these behaviors are measured and monetized.

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