The right audience

Hiring a programmer from the Privates has consequences. By hiring Layfield, management endorsed the programming theories that allowed her to thrive in the Privates. But other theories have worked before.

Here’s one: Beyond a reasonable minimum number of viewers, what counts is who they are rather than how many there are.

The conventional interpretation of this theory is to interpret “who they are” as synonymous with “how attractive to advertisers they are.” And a conventional example of this theory put into practice is… Thirtysomething.

I know that Thirtysomething is of a former time, and I assume that, like Homicide, were I to watch Thirtysomething now the magic would be gone. But back dans la journée, I lived for that show.

In the ’90s, Showcase reran the series in perfect sequential order. I took the opportunity to handwrite a 300-page episode guide. And this was not a voyage of the S.S. Cunty Snark, as an equivalent guide at Hissyfit would have been; this was done out of love.

I remember reading an article in Advertising Age or BusinessWeek stating that, while Thirtysomething might not attract huge viewership, what viewers it attracted had a lot of money. Well, yes: Thirtysomething was a truthful depiction of the upper middle class, and they’re the ones who watch TV and buy things.

The only corroboration of this theory I could find nearly two decades later is a piece in the Times. (I decided not to bother checking print indexes of print publications from the late ’80s.)

Programming and research executives at ABC say the Nielsen ratings race, the crucible of network competition for more than four decades, is now a near-meaningless contest in which the network that finishes first may get a blue ribbon while the network in second or even third place collects most of the prize money.

“There used to be a saying that being Nº 1 was worth an additional $30 million for a network,” said Alan Wurtzel, the senior vice president of research for ABC. “That just isn’t true anymore.”

ABC argues that the overall household ratings for programs are an outmoded standard for measuring television competition. The real standard of success, ABC says, is the demographic breakdown of the audience into age groups, with the younger age groups favoured by advertisers. […]

Now it can make sense for a network to program to a specific, narrow audience in some time periods, just because a show may attract an audience desired by advertisers, as ABC did for four years with Thirtysomething, which had low overall ratings but a good demographic composition, made up largely of young women.

“My sales department tells me being Nº 1 means absolutely nothing to them,” Mr. Iger said.

What does this mean for the Corpse? Don’t look at “demos.” Look at constituencies.

What has the CBC been doing with its constituencies? Alienating them.

Three-prong program to repel the audience

Start with the group that’s getting all the press – Radio 2 listeners. As with Teamakers readers, change was never ruled out. They were not guaranteed a wall-to-wall classical network forever. They’ll still have classical music to listen to even under the new régime – even more of it once their grandkids turn on the computer for them.

What complainers refuse to admit is they’ll all be dead in 15 years. The CBC had to start planning for mass extinction now (actually yesterday) or Radio 2 would die off with them.

So I have no sympathy there. But I do in two other cases.

  • jPod: Young people who watch everything online. The gravest misapplication of audience ratings since… what… My So-Called Life? Jericho?

    Ratings systems simply could not count the viewers of this show; CBC was unable to differentiate between nonenumeration and nonexistence. In any rationally-managed network, that would be a fireable offence.

    Guys with bifocals who can barely wrangle GroupWise are not equipped to make decisions about online viewership. (“Isn’t it illegal?”)

  • Intelligence: Smart people who can keep up with complex narrative. When ABC puts a labyrinthine drama on the air, they call it Lost and obsessive viewers plan their weeks around it. When CBC does the same thing, it’s dismissed as too difficult to channel-surf through and gets shitcanned.

Some of the time, what matters is numbers of what

In the Layfield–Stursburg Paradox, a public broadcaster’s constituencies exist to be alienated, not courted. Keep this up long enough and you run out of public.


  1. Fake Ouimet
    Posted September 2, 2008 at 11:02 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Teatards⢠want the old ways to return. They won’t.

    You don’t have to be a Teatardâ¢.

  2. Aigle
    Posted September 2, 2008 at 10:23 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    “Some of the time, what matters is numbers of what In the Layfieldâ€Stursburg Paradox, a public broadcaster’s constituencies exist to be alienated, not courted. Keep this up long enough and you run out of public.”

    F.O., I’m appreciate what you are attempting by trying to re-invent this blog, and I have also enjoyed your Lesliville blog but I have to ask…


    Are you not also guilty of letting your own ego blind you to the paradox that you are also alienating your own foster-constituency?

    This is noy meant to be a slam, I’m really confused and even though I am probably a “Teatard⢔ I really just don’t get it.

    What are you trying to accomplish?

  3. Alternative Girlfriend
    Posted August 28, 2008 at 5:13 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    The CBC has treated jPod Fans as nothing more than a demographic to be ignored. Layfield et al ignored the Fan Protest ( we pointed out that a large portion of jPod viewers watched online and never counted in Traditional Viewings. Only people that own their own homes qualify for a BBM Ratings Box. So you could have a million college kids watching jPod in their Dorm Rooms, on their iPods and computers and not one would be counted as a bona fide viewer.

    Here is a terrific citizen video featuring David Kopp and Torrance Coombs from jPod made to highlight the sheer non-genious of Kirstine Layfields’ and the Corpse decision to Cancel the show.

    Something else that still burns me to this day is that jPod was nominated for 15 Leo Awards, and there was not one mention of it anywhere on, not even when the show nabbed 4 including Best Screenwriting in a Dramatic Series, as all 4 Nominations from that category were from no other show except jPod. Brilliance is highlighted in the TV Community, but not the CBC who aired it? I believe they just didn’t want to bring attention to the fact that they cancelled such a promising Canadian programme.

    jPod viewers and the like are the long term future for the CBC, even Stroumbo talks about it here: and when the CBC treats this Demographic like throwaways they will not be loyal when their Tommy Hunter era viewers are long gone. jPod is the only Episodic show that my teenager watched on the CBC, and now, he couldn’t even tell you what other shows are on the Ceeb. He couldn’t care less about solving a problem like Maria or horses in the Heartland and won’t watch Little Mosque because he thinks “…it makes Canadians look stupid.”. The CBC is not even a blip in his entertainment radar. I grew up watching The King of Kensington, The Beachcombers, SCTV, etc. and my own kids have no interest in the grim offerings of todays CBC. How sad.

    I could write so much more about the whole debacle, but just like the Fan Campaign that sent thousands of Letters and Lego Figures to Layfield and Sir Richard, I’m afraid it would all be for nothing and not even acknowledged by the Corpse.

    At least NBC’s Hulu has picked jPod up and we’ll be able to watch it for free on there…

  4. Anonymous
    Posted August 28, 2008 at 2:18 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Radio already tried ads; they stopped in 1974.

    Do ur resurch!

  5. Anonymous
    Posted August 28, 2008 at 12:29 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Well, advertisers who provide 300 million dollars to CBC TV (radio has no paid advertising…yet) want the audience that can form new tastes and change over. Witness Henry-VIII-for-teens.

    Look at the adverts on the 50,000 viewer Wallyworld. They think that they know their audience.

    And then in the next ratings period, it will be personal metres, not diaries, and then real, or as near real as white, english-sprechen volunteers might be, will upset all their pre-conceived misconceptions.

    Is Hubert Lacroix ready to deal with a new world, digitized, split, easily distracted and only coming together in national tragedies and olympics?

  6. Fake Ouimet
    Posted August 28, 2008 at 11:45 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    The phrase coined by Dan Gillmor is useful: “The former audience.”

  7. Anonymous
    Posted August 28, 2008 at 11:40 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Someone who was not all that young (32ish) said to me recently “Television is for boomers, there is nothing there to appeal to anyone under 50” for the most part I think she was right. “the audience” for television, or at least the one everyone is after is the audience that grew up watching television but doesn’t know how to operate newer technology and, being older and more sedentary, watches alot of television.

    Of course by chasing this audience exclusively television in general is planning its own obsolescence – it will die with it’s audience. Generation X and Y will still be consumers of media but by being shut out of television they are turning to alternate sources and by the time televisions current audience runs out the current television networks will find themselves at the bottom of the media ladder, trying to grab little bits of market share from rivals that they don’t even consider a threat right now.

    But being short sighted is the rule of thumb in business these days, grab a few extra pennies now and don’t worry about what’s around the next corner.

  8. Anonymous
    Posted August 28, 2008 at 10:44 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    this was their massive misstep with
    brave new waves too.

    i’m willing to bet that the (teeny and dismissed by cbc managers/execs) audience of bnw – produced more labels, cultural producers and artists than the gigantic passive audience of discdrive – or dnto.

    that is the great tragedy of the convention of quantity over quality – the triumph of the how many over the who.

    their socalled ‘replacement’, the signal, is simply droopy, detached and desperately dull. its inspires nothing but slumber in its attempt to be safe and comforting.

  9. Anonymous
    Posted August 28, 2008 at 10:30 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    By hiring Layfield, management endorsed the programming theories that allowed her to thrive in the Privates.

    And, by the same token, hiring the guy who produced “DNTO” to do new program development will get you a slew of new shows that are just as shitty.

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