The Nielsen Family Is Dying, And Alison Brie Is Helping To Kill It

Wired magazine, which has Alison Brie gracing the cover this month with a sexually confusing Mad Men photo (see below), writes extensively about the new age of television in the cover story of their latest issue. Most of what the contributors write about are the trends that we’ve discussed here on UPROXX one post at a time, but it’s a intriguing piece for its comprehensiveness on the ways in which the popularity of television is measured these days.

Nielsen Ratings are no longer the deciding factor in a television show’s success (SOMEBODY TELL THIS TO NBC); social buzz has become an increasingly important factor, especially as networks and advertisers figure out ways to monetize it. It’s a great piece, and if you have a moment, I encourage you to read it in its entirety. Here, however, are the six takeways from The Wired cover story we found most interesting.

1. The Value of Nielsen Ratings Has Diminished — Sure, shows like Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men are still among the highest rated shows on television according to Nielsen, but that’s barely the whole story. They are not shows that generate a ton of social conversation, and both networks and advertisers are increasingly interested in the kind of shows, like Community, that can create online buzz. Consider, for instance, that Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Mad Men and Girls are all relatively low-rated television shows (the season finale of Girls, for instance, attracted less than a million Nielsen viewers) and yet they are typically the most talked-about shows on the Internet. There probably wasn’t a single pop-culture website on the Internet yesterday that didn’t devote at least one post (or more) to the Girls finale, and there is definitely value in that. (That makes The Walking Dead the true holy grail of television: A show with huge Nielsen ratings, as well as a huge social following).

2. The Value of Twitter Has Risen — The fourth season premiere of Community merited only four million Nielsen viewers, and yet it spawned two worldwide trending topics on Twitter. During peak times, according to the Wired article, as much as 40 percent of Twitter traffic is devoted to conversations about television. That encourages not only live viewing (and thus commercial watching), but it also provides free promotion. Advertisers haven’t found a good way to measure viral activity yet, but they are willing to pay for it. After all, who is more likely to buy products and services? The grandpa snoozing in his chair during NCIS: Los Angeles, or the 20-something with a lot of disposable income tweeting about the latest development on Mad Men?

Advertisers want to cater around social media and viral activity, but so far, it’s been difficult to measure. Later this year, Nielsen will begin to measure viewing activity on laptops, iPads, Hulu, Roku, etc., while Twitter has purchased a service, Bluefin labs, that will help to measure a television show’s popularity on the social network. My guess is that television networks will not based their programming decisions on ONE ratings service anymore, but a composition of them all. Also, common sense. They should use more of that, too.

3. Sex Makes Television Smarter Better — I don’t know if sex actually makes television smarter (as Wired posits), but it certainly increases our attention spans when monologues are being delivered alongside soft-core porn. They offer Game of Thrones as the major example of this, but as anyone who watches cable television — both premium and basic — knows that there’s been a rapid increase in the amount and explicitness of sex. I think George R.R. Martin explains the reason for this the best: Sex Is Awesome!

4. Television Executives Are Outsourcing Their Jobs — They offer Amazon’s new strategy of crowdsourcing as a new trend in television: Amazon will air a lot of television pilots, and allow their viewers to select the best one. Moreover, the technology now available that lets a service like Netflix know what we are watching, when we pause or skip scenes, as well as technology that READS OUR FACIAL GESTURES will also allow network executives (AND BIG BROTHER) to build programming around what they know we like. See, e.g., the success of House of Cards.

5. Actors Matter — Television used to hire a Kelsey Grammer or a Ted Danson or a Michael J. Fox to ensure viewers, but these days, an actor’s Twitter following is just as vital. That’s what’s great about Alison Brie: Through her 750,000 Twitter followers, she can promote both Mad Men and Community, and while she has a relatively small role on Mad Men, she has more Twitter followers than anyone on that show, plus that exposure allows her to express some versatility.

They offer an even better example in David Costabile, who has been able to build a huge following by appearing in limited roles on buzzworthy television shows. Appearing as Gale on Breaking Bad, on Flight of the Conchords and on Suits has generated a huge Costabile buzz following, which will almost certainly follow him to his new AMC show, Low Winter Sun. It’s true, too; I barely remember the guy’s name, but I’m sure as hell going to watch a show with Gale from Breaking Bad in the lead.

6. Alison Brie Is Very, Very Attractive, Even in a Suit — Here’s the cover of this month’s Wired (via Instagram), which short circuited my brain.

There are several other Brie photos on the Wired piece that are certainly worth check out, as well.