First things first. For those of you who weren’t old enough to watch prime time TV dramas in the 80s, go read up on “Who Shot J.R.”, then come back.

For the rest of us, November 21st was the 30th anniversary of the airing of that now famous episode of Dallas. At that time, it was the highest rated series finale of all time, with an estimated 83,000,000 viewers. In other words, “everyone” watched it. The suspense was incredible, the speculation fierce. People bought T-Shirts by the thousands that said “Who Shot J.R?” and “I Shot J.R.”. People placed bets on who pulled the trigger. It was the water cooler conversation of the summer.

It was the 1980’s equivalent of viral.

The Who Shot J.R. record was smashed in 1983, by the season finale of M*A*S*H, which got an estimated 105.3 million viewers. That episode still remains the most watched TV episode of all time. Advertisers paid $450,000 for a 30 second television commercial during the M*A*S*H broadcast (close to $1 million in today’s prices.) (Source: Advertising Age).

My husband and I were discussing the phenomena of huge TV ratings last night, and he brought up an excellent point. Mainstream TV will be hard pressed to ever achieve these numbers again. M*A*S*H may very well keep that record. Online media has diluted the viewership, and time-shifting, PVRs and digital downloads of TV shows have all made it more difficult to measure actual viewership.

Let’s face it – by YouTube standards, M*A*S*H’s numbers are pretty low. Justin Bieber’s video “Baby”, at the time of this posting has 391,277,874 views. 105 million seems like chump change compared to that. I could get into a whole thing about advertising rates on YouTube in comparison to mainstream TV, but I will leave that to the marketing experts.

Rather, I want to talk about the content and the viewers and what these kinds of trends mean to you as a content creator.

There’s a point when it’s about the eyeballs.
I’ve never watched the Justin Bieber video. In fact, I’ve never heard a Justin Bieber song, and I intend to keep it that way as long as possible. But, that hasn’t stopped 345 million other people from watching it. In this case, it’s not even about the content. I’m sure lots of non-Bieber fans have watched the video, just to see what all the fuss is about.

Videos do not always go viral because of their content. Sure, Double Rainbow was kind of funny, and odd, but at a certain point, people just watched because they were curious. They heard about it from a friend who heard about it from a friend and so on. They almost HAD to watch it, just to make sure they were in the loop around the water cooler on Monday.

Does this mean you should post fluff content in an effort to win over more eyeballs? Of course not. Substance always wins. Why? Because Justin Bieber and Double Rainbow Guy are flash in the pan. In 5 years, The Biebs’ voice will have changed and no one will care. Double Rainbow Guy, well, he’s already pretty much a has-been. You, on the other hand, if you’re still cranking out good stuff in 5 years? You’ll still be here, and probably doing better than ever.

Viewers are a fickle bunch.
I know, because I am one. One day, I’ll think Iron Chef is the best show on TV. Then I will proceed to not watch it for 6 months, because something else has grabbed my interest, and I only have so much time in my week to consume TV.

Blog posts can be like that. Sometimes, I’ll slave away, carefully crafting a piece that I think is fantastic….and hardly anyone will read it, or comment. Other days, I’ll whiz something off in 10 minutes, post it, and be overwhelmed by the response. Am I accusing my readers of being fickle? Perhaps, but that’s okay – we are all pulled in 1000 different directions nowadays by content and information. Fickleness is about the only way one can really navigate out here. I’m not taking it personally, and neither should you.

Just because you post things that nobody notices, doesn’t mean you should stop doing it. Plenty of TV shows and movies have been made that have flopped. In fact, more TV shows and movies DON’T succeed than do. It’s okay to have a floppy post. I have lots of flops that I am still terribly proud of.

Don’t let others’ distracted ways hold you back from continuing to express yourself. Just keep doing it.

Like “Who Shot J.R”, maybe you’ll end up on a T-Shirt someday, and maybe millions of people will know who you are. Or maybe you will only make your Dad, your Aunt Alice, your husband or your kids proud. Either way, keep loving the work that you do, and keep doing it to the best of your ability.

You may not have all the eyeballs in the world seeing your stuff – but then again, is that really the most important thing?

[Source for all TV rating numbers is Wikipedia]

[Photo credit: stewf on Flickr]

6 Responses

  1. I also have not yet seen/ watched anything by Justin Bieber 🙂

    I refer to the easily distracted folks as being part of our “Remote Control” society. I know as soon as we got a remote control at home when I was growing up, we would click at every distraction to see what else was on.

    Attention spans can seem even shorter now, we spend so much time being over stimulated with all of our fun technology contributions keeping us from getting bored.

    As an entertainer, there are always going to be moments when the eyes glaze over on an up front audience member. These are hard on the go and can be tough to work through, but we do it, and keep smiling – in essence, we keep producing content.

    Those who are interested, they give us their full attention and we dance for them. And we love them for it! I may only be engaging them for a mere 15 minutes, but those are precious minutes in anyone’s life!

    So, while I never plan to be as big as Justin Bieber or M*A*S*H, I’ll keep on producing for my own sense of well being and whatever size of audience with whom I can interact.


    1. It’s a wondrous thing, the energy one gains from that connection with an audience. I’ve experienced it as a singer, a speaker, and a writer. The audience is what keeps us going!

  2. The views on that Justin Bieber video are insane when you put it in context like that. However, how do we factor in things such as repeat views (if I know Bieber fans, and I have to be honest here and admit that I do, then I think a healthy chunk of those views are from repeat offenders), or the fact that those views have been accumulated over time? Does that change things? I’d like to think that being able to grab the attention of 105.3 million viewers all at once vs over time is pretty remarkable even by today’s social media-influenced standards.

    Also, I 100% hear you on the frustrations of pouring your heart and soul into a piece and have it hardly register as a blip, only to have something you toss up haphazardly really take off. But you’re message is a good one: “Just because you post things that nobody notices, doesn’t mean you should stop doing it.”

    (On a final note: There are a lot of TV shows that flopped while on air but experienced a huge resurgence in fandom after cancellation. Success may not always happen right away. That’s got to count for something too, right?)

    As always, wonderful post 🙂

    1. You raise some excellent points, Sarah, as always! I agree that there are several factors influencing the hit counts on YouTube videos. We have to appreciate that TV and the Web have some quite distinct characteristics as media. There will always be a certain ‘apples to oranges’ factor when comparing the two. Still, 345 million is impressive.

      Success can be a long and winding climb…unfortunately all too often, people give up before they get there. They aren’t willing to hold out for someday. Instant gratification is the name of the game.

      1. Don’t forget the length factor. The Bieber video is barely a handful of minutes. Episodic TV is 30 – 60 minutes. Much easier/faster to watch a short video than a full TV episode.

  3. Yes, I agree with all of this. And the Beiber thing… I broke down and watched the first 20 seconds because of a remark made on Facebook about the content (misogynstic). I’m not impressed by the number because I know his fan base will watch the same video 100 times in a row or over several days. I find the MASH stat more impressive because when it ran you had to sit in front of the TV all at the same time to watch or tape it. That number would have been double if they’d factor in those taped versions and the multiple viewings.

    I’ve spent a lot of time on stages, at podiums and teaching various subjects. It can be tough to see that you just lost an audience and, as you know, it is obvious. But the show must go on and you keep “producing content” until you either get them, or some of them, back or are finished. Then you start all over again another time. Every industry has its flops but they just step over the dead body and move on.

    The journey we are all on is different for each of us and thank goodness for that. We must remember that it is the journey that counts. The destination is reached when we ascend and look back at the shell that was corporeal life and say “now that was fun and interesting.

    Thank you for posting this for us all to read.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *