Nielsen ratings don’t necessarily represent modern viewing habits, but they are the closest thing television has to a universally recognized standard for success. To give those numbers too much power might be unfair, but plenty of shows find a balance between engaging with online audiences and racking up big numbers for their corporate overlords.
At GigaOM Pro (subscription required), I recently analyzed three different approaches to complementing a TV series with a web experience: using clips as well as show details to drive viewers towards the television experience, creating “easter egg” content for inspired fans and using social networking services to engage with fans.
As examples, I focused on the cable series Mythbusters, the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother and Jimmy Fallon’s Emmy-winning work in late night, which all have extremely different approaches to engaging with audiences in the online space.
What was interesting to observe was that each show experienced a recent ratings boom:
- The latest season of Mythbusters premiered this month to 1.17 million households, making it the number one primetime non-fiction cable program among men 25-54 and 18-49 (if you don’t include sports programming).
- How I Met Your Mother, as part of CBS’s Monday night lineup, is currently tied for first in its time slot for adults 18-49.
- And Late Night With Jimmy Fallon has been beating its only real competition, Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, for 38 straight weeks.
To attribute this success strictly to each show’s online activities might be stretching the point, but each is undeniably doing innovative things with a web presence, from the Mythbusters‘ database of myths the show has proven or disproven to Late Night With Jimmy Fallon continually experimenting with additional web content — the most recent example of that being the web series Twitter Questions (as seen below).
The situation right now, of course, is that web content created to accompany a show is a secondary priority to the programming — it’s the actual show, after all, which is the proven money maker. But as more shows continue to experiment with the interplay between Internet and TV, we’ll get more and more of a glimpse into what entertainment might be evolving toward.
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