Tuesday, September 19, 2006

In Praise of the Superfan

As the Internet, this bundle of tubes, gets further clogged, as media changes, as the number of channels changes it seems daily, there are discussions. Discussion about many things, the fracturing of the market now that people have more than the three, four, five, six broadcast channels available to them. Discussions of the long tail theory as more people who never much liked what was on network television now have better options. Or people, like me, who thought [insert day here] was always dead have better choices even if all I want is something that doesn't annoy me chattering in the background. Yet, despite that, networks still rely on ratings to determine things like advertising costs and the success of a show.

Shows like "Veronica Mars", tend to have fairly low ratings compared to something like "Desperate Housewives". However the fans that watch are very dedicated. And I think sometimes that isn't taken into account because it's hard to measure. Studies showed that people who own DVRs tend to watch more television than those who don't. People who have fantasy sports teams watch more games than those who don't. When much loved shows such as "Arrested Development" are cancelled it is often rating that are blamed. The fact that the show was popular among the group that watched enough to make its way into the lexicon, that people planned their weeks around it is discounted. The sheer numbers were not there.

Now I understand you reach a point numbers-wise, where you have so many viewers that it matters little if some of them are casual viewers who drop in only occasionally. But there are many shows that survive without having the serious dedicated core. Where am I going with this? I am here today to point out that maybe - in some ways - the superfan or dedfan (dedicated fan) is worth more. Casual fans are great but dedfans are there - usually live. I own a DVR and yet, except when I absolutely can't plan around it I watch "Veronica Mars" live. No fast forwarding. Because I can't wait. So from an advertiser perspective, I am a bonus. Dedfans watch very carefully, as well as repeatedly, thereby increasing their exposure to the various messages displayed in the show. Even dedfans watching through a DVR see several of the commercials - as they sit in shock over the latest revelations, or because they are afraid to skip too far forward and miss a crucial second.

Dedfans follow shows through time changes, day changes and even channel changes. Dedfans show up to fan events, they blog about their favorite shows, and they tell all their friends. Dedfans risk teasing from other people who tell them they take this stuff too seriously (even if many of those same people do check out the show to see what has made this person so crazy).

Now of course the issue is how do you tell a dedfan from a casual fan? Certainly I would categorize myself as a dedfan for some shows, and casual on others. And some shows I was really committed to, have been bumped down the list if not removed altogether. Certainly networks are working on the seasonal storyline with the success of "24" and "Lost" convincing them to work towards shows with season long plots. In some ways, they are trying to encourage dedfans. Or at least fans that tune in every week.

Now there are dangers. Dedfans aren't afraid to let you know how they feel. The Veronica people have at times compared it to a wave of love tempered with papercuts, and being in a room full of ex-girlfriends. But, much like many teachers wrote on my report cards, it is because they know you can do better. Dedfans will also rent an airplane to fly over network headquarters, or start a drive to get DVDs of your show in every library. On their own!

I say this not to denigrate the casual fan. But I think, in many cases quantity is being counted over quality. And while - by its very nature - quantity is easier to, you know, quantify, quality should also be taken into consideration. Casual fans are easily distracted. (For example, the second the season starts up in full, I imagine I will no longer see any reason to torture myself watching "Vanished".) Casual fans won't worry if they miss an episode, will be drawn in by the latest trendy game show or reality show. Or they'll start watching the shows higher on their favorites list, already queued up on the DVR. And then where will you be. Reliant only on your dedfans. Do you have any?