Posted February 11, 2008 7:04 pm by with 4 comments

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It’s been a month, and it looks like it’s time for the spurious connection between the writers’ strike and the rise in online video viewership to be revived. This time it’s comScore making the specious connection between the writers’ strike, no new television shows and increased online video viewership.

Just so that there’s no doubt as to the wrongheadedness of comScore’s conclusions, here’s what they said in Friday’s press release:

With the writer’s [sic] strike keeping new TV episodes from reaching the airwaves, viewers have been seeking alternatives for fresh content. It appears that online video is stepping in to help fill that void.

What’s wrong with that? On its face, it looks obviously true. Clearly, since 141 million Americans watched more than 10 billion videos online last month, there has been an increase in online video viewing (almost a third of them on YouTube, if you were wondering). I won’t disagree with them on that.

But a minimal amount of research (as I’ve done in a matter of hours) will reveal that the underlying assumptions here are false, namely that:

  1. There were no new TV show episodes airing in December (thus people are turning online to fill the void in their media consumption).
  2. The dearth of new television show episodes is due to the writers’ strike.

Again, I won’t deny that more people are watching video online. In the absence of data to the contrary, I’ll even concede (though I can’t say for certain whether or not this is true) that television viewership decreased in December 2007. But it’s fallacious to blame these changes on the lack of new episodes of television shows or the writers’ strike.

There were a lot of new shows in December
Of the 50 shows to win at least part of their respective time slots in December, 50% of shows were new. Additionally, I’m not sure if they’re familiar with the month of December at comScore, but there happens to be some rather large holidays in there that have been shown to decrease television viewership. So, excluding December 24-31 as a prime holiday season, leaving us with 38 winning time slots in the month, the percentage of new shows in winning time slots rises to 66% (still 25 shows). (Narrow it further to just the first two weeks of December and the percentage goes to 74% or 20 of 27 shows.)

So sorry to rain on everyone’s parades, but the fact of the matter is that there were new episodes of television shows in December, writers’ strike or no writers’ strike.

A putative lack of new shows in December isn’t the fault of the writers’ strike
As I mentioned before, December is notorious for poor television viewership. As proof of this phenomenon, I looked at the number of new shows aired on the same series in December 2006. Excluding shows for which there was no reliable information (some reality, news and game shows) and series that premiered this year, I found that 75% of popular television shows showed no decrease in the number of new episodes from December 2006 to December 2007.

The bottom line here: the writers’ strike had little to no bearing on whether or not new shows aired in December.

It’s obviously not true that the writer’s strike means that there are fewer new episodes of television shows. Furthermore, in December 2007 there were new episodes of television shows airing.

Andy, I’m not buying the connection between the writers’ strike & online video rise either. And I expect more from comScore.

See the data
External link to the spreadsheet.

The data here is based on week night, primetime viewing, with time slot data from TV Week and information on new shows from IMDb. Light green shading indicates that a show won part of its time slot; yellow shading indicates that a show won all of its time slot at least once in that week.