How to save your favorite shows

I read an interesting article on Slate over the weekend. Its premise: If you want to save your favorite TV shows, stop watching them on television.

Though this might at first seem counterproductive — after all, many of us grew up in an era during which we were encouraged to try to get as many of our friends and family as possible to watch our favorite shows — the article’s author, Chadwick Matlin, makes a reasonable case.

From the article:

Trying to convince more people to watch a struggling show on TV is entirely useless. The television industry is not a democracy; the only votes that count—scratch that, the only people allowed to vote at all—are the 12,000 to 37,000 households that have Nielsen boxes sitting above their TVs.

Matlin’s suggestion is that more good will be done by watching one’s favorite shows on the network’s official site or buying the episodes from iTunes. The reasoning is actually sound; while TV viewership is anonymized to the point of invisibility and impossible to track with real numbers, Internet traffic to a web site can anonymously track unique viewers, length of visits down to the second, repeated views, etc. Also, unlike shows on one’s DVR, when you watch from a site such as hulu.com you can’t fast-forward the commercials. Which means the advertisers are actually happier with online views than with DVR views.

Buying episodes from iTunes is doubly productive: not only is it a hard metric of viewer support, it’s cash in the pockets of the network, producers, cast, and crew.

And there’s recent evidence that such tactics might be getting notice from the networks: Joss Whedon, while speaking at the Paley Festival last Wednesday, indicated that there might yet be hope for a second season of Dollhouse precisely because Fox executives are taking into consideration such factors as iTunes purchases, DVR playback, and Internet viewing.

So here’s my advice to fandom: Next time you want to save your favorite show, don’t waste your money on peanuts and postage. Buy an episode of your favorite show from iTunes instead, and organize mass viewings of its content on Hulu, even if you’ve already seen them. Hell, play the episode on Hulu when you leave your computer for lunch; the Internet doesn’t know you’re not there.

Here endeth the lesson. Now let’s all go save Kings, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Dollhouse.

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