Monday, November 12, 2007

The Screen Writers Guild strike, technology, and the future of scripted television

Part II - The Influence of the Digital Video Recorder

In the early 1970's, music industry executives were ruffled by the cassette tape recorder. In the early 1980's, film industry and television executives were ruffled by the video cassette recorder. But as it turned out, both formats produced inferior quality results and really were n0t that easy to use within the typical home. Even home CD and DVD recording systems don’t represent a significant economic problem.

Computer digital files are making a significant impact in the form of digital audio (mp3) "file sharing" and purchase of new releases. But the startling change regarding digital video recording occurred this year in the television industry - the advent of C3.

The commercial success of a book or a movie is easily determined. You just total up the gross receipts paid by the end users - the readers, the audience, folks like you and me. The commercial success of a television show is different because the end user - the viewer - is only one factor among many considered by advertisers and complex media corporations. And that process of consideration has become extremely narrow because of the "digital revolution."

Most viewers are aware of the "Nielsen Ratings" as a vague concept but have no idea of the recent major change. The traditional Nielsen Ratings - how many watch what show - have become worthless to the primary consumer of the ratings - advertisers. The networks and the advertisers have insisted upon C3 ratings. The Nielsen C3 ratings are the average viewership for only the commercial time within the program for live viewing plus three days of recorded viewing.

C3, which became available on May 31, 2007 has been called the "dominant currency" now in the television economic market. Why has this come about? What does it mean for you, me, and the television script writers? Contained within the answer to this question is the reason the Screen Writers Guild is on strike.

C3 is the result of the digital video recorder or DVR. You might know it as TiVo. My household knows it as the Dish Network digital video recorder (DVR). While it is the logical successor to the old VHS video tape recorder, it isn’t. It’s the result of the personal computer revolution. The DVR is much easier to use than a VHS tape player and it can store hundreds of hours of programming on a hard drive because it is a computer. People using a DVR play a show back at their leisure, a viewing habit called "time shifting." And by pressing a "skip forward" button on the DVR remote a couple of times, the viewer can skip commercials.

As of this summer, the Nielsen people say that the DVR is in over 20% of homes. Advertisers are not interested in these time shifters watching their ad next week. Hence the 3-day thing. Advertisers don’t care if the viewers watch the show. They want to know how many watch their commercials. Hence, the need for the C3 to measure viewing of commercials

Continue to Part III

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