A study in perceptions

I have to admit, I’m not a numbers guy. Words (at least the written word) have always been my strong suit. But aside from checkbook mathematics, number-crunching confuses me.

But over the last few weeks, I’ve been paying attention to the Nielsen ratings numbers. Some familiar names (Roger Newcomb at We Love Soaps, Josef Adalian at TVWeek) have written about the increasing folly of the Nielsen numbers. As Adalian says, Nielsen is stuck in the “disco years” when it comes to being able to accurately measure the viewing audience.

For the sake of argument, however, let’s just assume that the numbers are somewhat representative of the audience. And then let’s make this a tale of two soaps: General Hospital and Guiding Light.

Last week, Nielsen says GH had 2,360,000 viewers, while GL had 1,969,000.

That’s a difference of 391,000. If you are talking about primetime numbers or daytime ratings from 20 years ago, that’s a drop in the bucket. But today, the life and death ratings battles are being fought over ten-thousands or hundred-thousands, not millions. The battles are fought in ratings demographics, not total households, even though most ads bypass the primary soap audience. (But that’s another post altogether).

It took me much longer to realize the difference in perception between these two shows is far more significant.

When it dropped GL, CBS told us how much they loved the show and would miss the show. Actions, however, speak louder than words.

And one small fact in all of what I’ve been reading became clear to me: it was CBS who made the first move when Guiding Light was moved to a less favorable time slot (in the mornings). It was CBS owned and operated stations that made those changes.

The surprise to me, then, isn’t that GL’s ratings position would continue to weaken; the surprise and accomplishment is that, even with an unfavorable time slot and lack of network support, GL survived for a very, very long time.

Contrast that with ABC.

This blog has not been a friendly blog to General Hospital, or to much of the ABC soap lineup in general. I’m part of a long line of soap bloggers who isn’t a big fan of Brian Frons. But it must be said: ABC has shown support for its shows. It puts marketing muscle behind them, and plays ads in every platform it can.

And ABC just invested three million dollars in new HD sets for GH.

The difference: Three million dollars is probably what Ellen Wheeler had to work with for GL for a whole 13-week cycle.

q-a-laceYou can love the new GH sets and hate the new production model at GL, but let there be light – and perspective – on what’s transpired.

I’ve been looking for a villain in GL’s story, and I’m far more likely to consider CBS a suspect, since they’ve let GL slip through their fingers and put ATWT on notice.

Let’s hope P&G finds a new home for serialized drama where shows can grow and thrive with the support of their network.

Guiding Light has survived in challenging circumstances. You could say that they’re the Queen Anne’s Lace of daytime. You know QAL – it’s that ubiquitous wildflower. It’s the unwelcome flower that some people see as a weed. It’s an unwelcome visitor in many gardens, but it grows even in darkness and shade, on rocky terrain, and in the most unlikely of places. And it BLOOMS. It’s everywhere, and some of us appreciate its simplistic style and beauty.

NOTE: Check out Sara Bibel’s great new post. She talks about ratings and demos from a different perspective. She also observes that, outside of the soap blogosphere, the cancellation of GL has been met with a collective shrug.

2 thoughts on “A study in perceptions

  1. I can see why all of the networks would like to eventually be out of the soap business: game shows, talk shows, judge shows are all much cheaper to produce. It is much easier to live with a crappy rating for a cheap show than it is to have to swallow such a rating for a soap with a huge payroll, heavy production costs, etc….

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