I liked it better when you lied.
I’m a marketer. In the ’60s and ’70s we targeted our advertising using numbers given to us by ratings services such as Arbitron or Nielsen. Ratings services provided the best information we had at the time to understand what you, the television viewer, were watching. There was a problem, though. The rating services were flawed, and we knew it. The services relied heavily on viewer surveys to determine their statistics. In effect, they asked you what you were watching.
The problem in their asking you was that you lied. You might have been watching “Hee Haw,” but you wrote “Face the Nation” in your diary. Or you might have been watching, “Dukes of Hazzard,” but you wrote that you were watching “60 Minutes.”
The surveys were anonymous, but you wanted people to think better of you, and you fudged the books to make your viewing habits appear better.
The ratings services tried to compensate for this tendency, but the bias toward better-quality programming remained. Networks relied on this information as well, so this bias toward better programming positively affected the quality of programs they developed.
They thought you liked better shows, so they gave you more “Hill Street Blues” and “St. Elsewhere,” instead of more shows such as “The Partridge Family.”
Fast-forward to today. Today, no one asks you what you are watching because we already know. We have very precise statistics on every minute of your cable viewing habits. There’s no guessing involved. So today, in effect, everyone votes daily with their remote control.
And that’s not our only source of precise information. We gain insight on why you like programs by tracking you on the Internet, listening to what you say about them on Facebook, Twitter and even your email.
So if you like “The Real Housewives of Bevery Hills” and you never miss an episode, we are glad to provide “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.” And if a particularly disgusting episode of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” really lights your buttons, well, we will put “Jersey Shore” into development.
We’ve reached the point that America is getting precisely what it wants in entertainment programming, and it’s not pretty.
I’m not elitist. I think you should watch what you like, but I believe we become what we watch. I want you to understand that when you elect to watch poor programming today, in a very real way, you are voting for worse programming tomorrow.
We could all aim a bit higher in what we choose to watch, and as a group, we would certainly be better for it.