Home Internet Fandom: Still Not Ready for Primetime

Internet Fandom: Still Not Ready for Primetime

It was just a couple of days ago that CBS VP and Chief Marketing Officer Patrick Keane used fan-favorite “Jericho” as an example of why television networks should potentially begin to include web viewership in ratings numbers. As we wrote, Keane pointed out that “the online viewers of one episode [of ‘Jericho’] boosted the ratings from 4.2 to 5.1 – nearly a whole percentage point.” But the large web following wasn’t enough to keep “Jericho” on the air — today CBS axed the show.

This is not the first time that “Jericho” has been canceled. After CBS first pulled the plug on it a year ago, incensed fans were able save the show from permanent cancellation because of a passionate online campaign, which famously culminated with fans sending 40,000 pounds of nuts to CBS. But as we’ve increasingly been finding out, a fervid online fanbase doesn’t necessarily translate into a large following on the tube.

Last month we reported that web-to-TV drama “Quarterlife” had a less than stellar network TV debut. After the first episode drew disappointing Nielsen numbers, NBC canceled the show and moved the remaining episodes to cable channel Bravo.

So why doesn’t a lage online following mean success offline? I can think of two reason. First, many media consumers on the Internet are just that, media consumers on the Internet. Yeah, they want more episodes of their favorite shows, but they want to keep consuming that content their way: via the web on sites like YouTube or BitTorrent. Which until online video monetization is figured out, may not really be feasible (a single episode of a scripted drama like “Jericho” can cost in the millions of dollars to produce).

Second, and perhaps more significantly, social networking tools have provided a means for people to organize more quickly and effectively around a shared passion than we’ve seen in the past. We noted last month that Facebook has been used to organize large political rallies and successful online fund drives, and we saw the same phenomenon in this year’s US presidential elections. Specifically, Ron Paul supporters were able to use the web to effectively organize around their candidate and dominate coverage on online social media sites like Digg and YouTube, as well as raise a ton of money. But just like with the TV shows, that online movement didn’t translate to offline support.

Simply, online tools have provided a way for a small group of impassioned people to make a lot of noise.

What do you think? Are there any other reasons why strong online numbers haven’t translated well to the TV? Do you think Internet fandom will ever be ready for primetime? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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