Monday, August 22, 2005

Total Tube Time

How can you measure the impact a series has on the audience over the lifetime of that show?

Number of seasons? That works OK. But it doesn't really differentiate between shows like "Dallas" and "Law & Order." "Dallas" (and many other serial dramas) do so poorly in reruns in later seasons that the network doesn't even bother running repeats. On the flip side, "Law & Order" does well enough in reruns that NBC often uses the show to fill in programming gaps. During the week starting 28 Feb 2005, the "L&O" franchise aired 10 times. That's right. The four "L&O" series took up nearly 50% of the primetime airtime on NBC.

Number of airings? Better. But not much. Did "60 Minutes" have more impact on the viewers than "Face the Nation" over the last 20 years? You bet. Even though the two shows had about the same number of airings during that time, "60 Minutes" attracted a far larger audience each week.

That's what led me to define Total Tube Time, which simply estimates how much time American households spent watching the series (in terms of household hours).

And now for the big question. During the last 20+ years, which series has the highest Total Tube Time?

I won't tell you the answer here--just look to the far right margin above "Previous Posts" for this new feature. I'll periodically update this section to include longer time periods and make some minor corrections. If people like the feature, I'll provide top ten lists by genre.

For those who care, here are more details about Total Tube Time.

First, caculate Tube Time for every show. Take the number of households watching a show and multiply that number by the show's duration (in hours). If 10 million households watch a show for 30 minutes (1/2 hour), then that show has a Tube Time of 5 million household hours. If 10 million households watch a show for 3 hours, then that show has a Tube Time of 30 million household hours.

Finally, calculate Total Tube Time by taking the sum of the Tube Times for every airing of that series.

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