Alec Baldwin Hulu Plus

Did you know that market research plays a massive role in what you watch on cable TV? When big executives and television producers have numbers they can refer to in order to see which shows are succeeding and which are being ignored, they have all the ammo they need to either sign-up for another season or kill a series flat out.

Market research in entertainment media is vital to the shifting selection of what we watch on TV. But how accurate has market research been over the past few decades? Can we really trust a company that uses selected households and has to deal with response bias to help fine-tune the quality of shows broadcasted regularly? It used to be that research companies like Neilsen and Arbitron were the only sources for reliable (albeit flawed) data about broadcast data, but it looks like things are starting to shift for a few networks. Take a look at Hulu, for example. Hulu collects aggregate data for all of the people who visit the site and watch something. That’s more than 19 billion people who are visiting the site and watching videos while their information (location, browser, what they’re watching and how long they watch it, etc.) is being anonymously collected by the website. It’s nothing to be frightened over (Hulu’s privacy policy does state out flatly that all data collected is part of aggregate collection only), but it does prove really interesting for anyone interested in statistics or how viewing preferences affects what Hollywood producers are capable of creating.

Look at what’s happening here: a video service powered by some of the top TV companies are using a service where they don’t have to rely on selected households or response bias or surveys or diaries. Hulu lets TV producers immediately see accurate numbers for the shows they’re putting out. What does this mean for you? It means that you can expect more of the good stuff (at least, in terms of universal popularity) coming to your TV set or web browser in the near future. No longer do TV companies have to rely on third-party reports or half-assed surveys to see what people want to watch on TV, they can see the numbers for themselves, instantly, and in real time. We can expect other companies to jump on board down the road too. Or, perhaps, even companies like Netflix (which stream thousands of TV shows from hundreds of different networks) are capable of sharing the viewing habits of subscribers with TV companies in order to better plan for worth-while shows down the road.

Things are changing for TV, that’s certain, but will the ability of directly seeing what people are watching, when they’re watching, and how long they’re staying “tuned in” affect the studios down in Hollywood? What do you think?