The future of television is disinter-mediated and data-driven. That’s the gist of this Wired story that covers Game of Thrones, the new season of Arrested Development and more.
One thing the story points out is that while traditional Nielsen ratings are still a big – dominant – factor in determining whether a show lives or dies there are more and more considerations coming to the forefront. In addition to how well it may or may not fit into the network’s (or whatever the outlet might be) portfolio – some shows survive longer than they otherwise would have simply because the look good on the lineup from a prestige point of view – those considerations include social buzz. So it’s possible for shows to stick around, be revived or otherwise survive because they’re being talked about to an extent that other shows, which may perform better in those traditional ratings, aren’t.
Some people have started to wring their hands about this sort of data-driven programming future because they’re afraid it will lead to a world where creativity is put in the back seat because the numbers show the network needs a zombie-driven comedy set at a community college where Kevin Bacon is a professor of 1960s advertising history.
That’s obviously an extreme example but even so I think these concerns are a bit over-blown. That’s because for every five decisions that are made at the network (or whatever) level to greenlight something that comes pre-market-tested, there will be two quirky, independent projects whose producers couldn’t get their show officially picked up but who decide to go it alone and distribute their 12-episode mini-series themselves in some other manner. And of the 15 that are released there will be two that are hits and the network (or whatever) execs will look past their spreadsheets and pick up a project because it’s what people have shown they want, not what the data has predicted they want.
All of that is a long way of my saying that while I’m glad data-driven decisions have helped bring back some great entertainment – I’m chomping at the bit for Arrested Development S4 – I’m also confident that it doesn’t mean the end of creativity in the media world.