The big news out of this New York Times story about changes in measuring the ratings is that Modern Family has finally dethroned American Idol to become truly the most-watched show on American television. But to my mind, the most fascinating tidbit, particularly given the conversation that’s been going on about is this one:
Those competition shows also tend to be recorded and viewed later much less frequently, so the DVR has been a special enhancement to scripted shows. Among the prime-time hits that get a 40 percent or higher lift among 18- to 49-year-olds because of time-shifting: Fox’s “House,” “Glee,” “New Girl,” and “Alcatraz”; ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice” and “Revenge”; and NBC’s “The Office” and “Up All Night.” “It used to be that you figured even the most ardent fans of a show saw only two of every four episodes,” Mr. Levitan said. “I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I think with DVR and other ways people can catch up more and more, people actually see the entire season of a show.”
I’d be curious to know if that’s actually true—I’ve been looking through a bunch of studies of viewership and haven’t been able to find relevant survey questions to that effect, and if you have them, I would be delighted to see them. But Nielsen has found that younger viewers (and by that, I mean viewers 6-11) in particular tend to rewatch shows that they’ve DVRed multiple times. Now, if people are actually making more of an effort to catch every episode of their favorite shows, where previously they dipped in and out, and if we’re raising a generation of kids who watch episodes over and over again, that could be a response to shows that have become more progressively serialized over time. But if those shifts are driven by technology and the culture that’s grown up around television viewing, then it would make a lot of sense that creators are responding to that trend with a move towards serialized narratives that are seeded with conversational details and easter eggs and comedies that are packed with mile-a-minute-jokes. If your viewers, or at least a chunk of them, are going to look at you in a very different way, it makes sense that you would respond to those signals and imperatives.