Everyone knows that TV shows live or die by their Nielsen ratings. A month into the season, several shows have already been axed due to their lack of performance in the ratings system, and several more are in imminent danger. Many argue that the system is antiquated, and that in this fast paced digital age people are consuming their entertainment differently. No one I know has ever been, or ever met a member of a Nielsen family.
Genre shows like Fringe exist constantly on the bubble, faithful fans watching and worrying every week over those frustratingly ephemeral numbers. It’s nerve wracking, tiresome and not a little bit insulting to feel that our loyalty counts for nothing because we lack a little black box. But things are starting to change: slowly, reluctantly, the ‘statistical sampling’ system that’s served as television’s judge, jury and executioner for over half a century, is at last being mitigated with new ways of collecting data. Networks are acknowledging that DVR and online statistics carry increasing weight in their decision making processes, scrambling to figure out how to account for the shifting landscape of television viewing to the advertisers whose money really drives the business.
The networks aren’t actually run by trolls who love to crush the passionate hearts of fans. If advertisers aren’t interested in paying for a show, the network can’t afford to produce it. And right now, despite the rumblings of change, networks are still looking to the Nielsen ratings before anything else when they put a price tag on their advertising space.
That being said however, there are ways in which we legion of Non-Nielsens can let them know we’re here, we’re watching, and most importantly, we’re paying attention to the paid advertising that keeps our shows afloat. This blog is dedicated to Fringe, so of course many of the suggestions here are specific to the Fringe fandom, but most of these ideas are ubiquitous enough to be adopted by anyone wanting to make their voice heard.
Here are some things you (yes you!) can do to support your favorite show:
- Watch LIVE: This cannot be said enough. The networks and their advertisers want you to watch commercials as they air, and honestly unless you work Friday nights, why would you not watch Fringe the second it becomes available? Plus, whenever you watch Fringe live, a kitten is cuddly. For real.
- DVR: Re-watch on DVR after you watch live, and don’t fast forward through the commercial breaks. C3 ratings measuring DVR viewership, and specifically DVR commercial viewing, are becoming increasingly important to advertisers, and Fringe’s DVR gains (typically upwards of 60% in the C3 measure) may have been largely responsible for it’s fourth season pick-up.
- Watch online/buy episodes. It’s hard to argue with online viewing. Websites like Hulu and Xfinity offer full episodes via streaming for free, while iTunes and Amazon offer episode downloads for a couple dollars each. All provide networks with yet more statistics on who’s watching what. You can also watch recent episodes on Fox.com itself.
- Tweet: Twitter has been an incredibly powerful resource for fan promotion thus far, and the Fringe community is vast, passionate and very friendly. News spreads like grass fire on Twitter and it’s a great way to stay in the loop. Tweet while you’re watching live, using Fringenuity’s hashtag of the week, and include the word “Fringe” (no hashtag) if possible. The reasoning behind this is simple: tweeting about #Fringe (or about anything) creates a record of what people are talking about. Networks are paying attention to which shows have a good amount of social buzz and Fringe is at the top of the list. The more we talk about it, the more they see us talking about it, and hey – talking about Fringe is fun!
- Community: Tweet about Fringe while you’re not watching live. Get to know your fellow Fringies, they really are amazing people and the #Fringe hashtag will help you find them, as well as adding your voice to the general conversation surrounding the show. Follow @jonxproductions (Ari Margolis, Promoter General for Fringe -source of kick ass promos and a really nice guy), @JeffPinkner and @JWFRINGE (Fringe executive producers Jeff Pinkner and Joel Wyman – i.e. the show-runners… think Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt) will pop in and talk to us for awhile – sometimes just because, and sometimes as an episode airs – because awesome is what they do.
- Support: Buy the products advertised on Fringe, and tweet the accounts of the sponsors who advertise on Fringe to let them know you saw their commercial during the show. @PeterInBlue has compiled a list of current Fringe sponsors, including @NissanLeaf, @SamsungMobileUS, @Outback, and @Chevrolet. *
- Check In: GetGlue.com is a relatively new way to “check in” to whatever you’re doing at the moment. It’s rapidly growing in popularity and Fringe does very well there, trending at #1 regularly when new episodes air. Fox has teamed up with GetGlue on several occasions, they’re definitely paying attention. Check in when you watch Fringe, especially when watching a new episode live. GetGlue even has handy apps for the iPhone, iPad, Android, and Blackberry to make it easier. Plus you get cool stickers in the mail.
- Network: Cross pollination with other fandoms: This one is beneficial to everybody, we geeks have to stick together. Find fans of other genre shows on Twitter, Get Glue, your local comic book store – wherever- and engage them in conversation. Offer to try their show if they’ll try yours. You may end up converting a newbie or finding a new passion of your own. Remember to keep the focus on friendly interaction and avoid spamming. Geek solidarity is a beautiful thing; all of us have a common interest in keeping genre shows on the air.
- Contact: Warner Brothers produces Fringe. Let them know how much you love the show. Tweet them at @WarnerBrosEnt, and while you’re at it, show some love to @FringeOnFox as well.
- Contribute: Join Fringepedia – the biggest and best fan-created Fringe wiki site. Anyone can contribute, and there are always areas that need updating with your unique insight. Also, join the Fringenuity Forums to discuss creative ways to promote the show, and to have fun with some extremely devoted fans.
- Be visible: Talk to people. It’s amazing how many people have still never heard of Fringe. Wear a t-shirt, get a mouse pad, buy a bumper sticker. You don’t have to paint your car like some loony, but a coffee cup at work can be a conversation starter. Cafe Press has all kinds of neat stuff, or you can win something every week at FringeTelevision.com by entering their “Watch Fringe Live And Win!” contest.
- Have fun: However you choose to show your support, have fun doing it. I painted my car, and I keep it painted because I love the hell out of it. Don’t forget that spending your precious free time and energy promoting a TV show is a labor of love, not an obligation. Do what you do. Fly your geek flag high and with pride, and you’ll win people with sheer enthusiasm. People will see it and want to know where it comes from. I can’t count the number of people who’ve thanked me for never shutting up about Fringe, because now – neither can they.
What not to do: Don’t dwell on the Nielsen ratings, there’s nothing any of us can do about them. Fringe has hung on this long, and I’m confident that between its passionate fan base, its DVR ratings, and its network support (Fox really does love the show) it’s in no immediate danger. If you do choose to contact Fox, or Warner Bros. or any sponsors: be enthusiastic, sincere and extremely polite. Don’t beg. Don’t bother starting “Save Our Show!!!” petitions; they carry no weight at all with anyone, and just appear desperate and pathetic. Nothing is more likely to make someone not want to watch a show that the idea that it’s in danger of cancellation. We’re simply here to promote what we love because we love it, and because the world is so pitifully full of people who’d love it too if they knew it existed.
* Dennis, over at FringeTelevision.com, now makes a weekly compilation video of the commercials aired during Fringe, accompanied by a handy list of sponsors.