During yesterday’s TV bloodbath, one thing rang true on all of social media: people were pissed their favorite shows were being cancelled. Agent Carter, The Muppets, Galavant, Marvel’s Most Wanted before it even went to air – these shows all died premature, avoidable deaths despite loud fanbases and quality storytelling. The reasoning was the same across the board – the shows weren’t pulling in enough ratings to justify their continued existence.
Here’s the thing, though: the current ratings system we use is hideously outdated. The Neilsen ratings system randomly selects several families from around a given area. They are given a box that is hooked into their cable boxes, and have to log in whenever they’re watching a show. The box measures who is watching what, when, and makes an educated guess as to what that means for the rest of a given area.
In other words, if enough young adult fans who got picked were more into sports than Agent Carter, the whole system is thrown out. Or if people forgot to log in to watch a show, or, heaven forbid, watched it the way the rest of the world watches TV on a DVR or a streaming service, well then the ratings are right out.
Meanwhile, the major streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are creating their own high quality content, undaunted by ratings. They get their budgets from subscription services, and use them to create the kind of content that will draw in more subscribers. Netflix has produced everything from the dark and gritty Marvel series to the light comedy The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt to the kid-focused I-can’t-believe-no-one-thought-of-this-before DinoTrux. (Seriously, it’s dinosaurs mashed with trucks. That’s genius.)
The problem with the Neilsen rating system is that good shows don’t always get recognized, even when they do have a huge audience. Meanwhile, cord cutters across the country are watching their favorite shows either begin on streaming or be resurrected by it. Netflix has become such a monster that it can afford risks like creating a sequel to Wet Hot American Summer, decades after the original. Or returning Arrested Development from the dead. (Or bringing back Firefly. Come on Netflix, Nathan Fillion is free now.)
Traditional TV is dying. It’s an ancient model that is struggling to keep up with the times. And as Netflix and Hulu and Amazon grow, they’ll start pulling in the budgets to produce a lot more television than they do now. And because they release every episode of a show at once, the viewer decides what pace they want to consume their entertainment. I honestly believe that if everything Marvel was on Netflix, not ABC, we’d be seeing season 3 of Agent Carter or Galavant in no time. The more people that realize this and make the jump to watching only streaming, the quicker the TV world will change – and the more the traditional networks cancel their favorite shows, the faster they’ll jump.
Yesterday, we lost a lot of good TV. But it may have also sounded the death knell of an ancient, outmoded model.