Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

The Value of Media Engagement, Part 2

Posted by nathanpowers22 on February 27, 2017

Much of the first half of Chapter 3 from Spreadable Media reaffirmed points made in the assigned essays from last week, including:

  • the Nielsen ratings system is far from being in sync with the realities of audience engagement (and even viewership, since they rely on representative samples),
  • fans contribute a lot of value to media properties by generating cultural value (encouraging friends/family to watch and rewatch, making shows a topic of discussion), and
  • “drillable” media texts, those that rely on heavy engagement through establishing “communities of consumption,” often prove more valuable than one would expect based on dominant appointment-based logic.

I feel like all of these elements were factors that ultimately led to the renewal of Community for a 6th season a couple of years ago on Yahoo! Screen. This is yet another example of a grassroots movement to reverse the decision by a TV network (NBC) to cancel a show with poor ratings, but a devoted cult following. Although the campaign was successful, the strategy of Community fans was arguably much more passive compared to the efforts of Jericho and Chuck fans. However, the event is still fairly similar to the Jericho situation in that the movement centered around a reference to something within the show itself. Rather than a line about peanuts, fans rallied around the season 2 in-joke, “six seasons and a movie” by getting the hashtag #sixseasonsandamovie to trend on Twitter. I think the key difference here was honestly that Yahoo! Screen was trying to net the rights to a property that they felt would drive users to their company’s answer to Netflix, Hulu, and the growing number of other streaming services that exist today, and Community just seemed like the right move in the face of this high (or at least vocal) demand.

Despite this, as a fan myself, I would argue that the depth of engagement played a large part in the enthusiasm for the show that fueled the social media crusade in the first place. I feel like the show subverted a lot of sitcom stereotypes in humorous ways, and it has a high degree of “rewatchability” because there are so many small details that foreshadow events in later episodes (and even seasons) [1] as well as entertaining easter eggs based on implied character histories and pop culture references. For me personally, there’s also a connection to the aspect of viewership garnered through “pirating;” it’s how I binge-watched the first four seasons of the show. And like the introduction to Chapter 3 suggests, I believe I added some value to the show in doing so because I made an ex-girlfriend a fan as well as my roommate, with whom I watched the 6th season as it was released.

[1] – Abed delivers a baby: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrVcTXXGLho


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