Each year during May, the television networks present their schedules to advertisers, a ritual which has become known as “Sweeps”.
The viewing figures during May determine the level of advertising revenue the networks can expect to get for the year ahead, and so all the big shows are débuted at this time.
However, this time there is a slight problem, as the sweeps have shown that prime time television in the States has lost six million viewers in a year.
There are two reasons for this, the first being the writers strike from the back end of last year and early this year which saw shows take an enforced hiatus and consequently made viewers make the switch to cable television and beyond.
However, the bigger and more important reason, is the increase of viewing options open to people now. From digital video recorders such as TiVo and on demand Web video, viewers now have more choice than ever before.
Time Shifting & Web Video
Time shifting is an increasingly popular option, with half of the viewership for some shows said to be recording it on a device to watch later, thus condemning prime time to an entry in the history books.
But even more so, the incredible amount of options open to viewers via the Web is thought to be causing concern for the big American television networks.
MTV’s The Hills
The New York Times uses MTV’s The Hills as a prime example of this switch in how people view programmes.
Since March, an average of just 3.7 million viewers have watched the show live on a Monday night. A million more have watched later via DVRs, and then episodes and excerpts have been streamed an incredible 32 million times from the Web afterwards.
The television networks now have a decision to make, as this change in viewing habits is likely to only get worse. They have to now decide whether to embrace it, or try to fight against it, mimicking the stance the music industry has taken in the face of digital file sharing.
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