Friday, September 23, 2005

Never Say Die...Unless a Survey Kills You

When I watched the season premiere of ''Lost'' on Wednesday, I remembered an internet survey I took last year.

Sometime in November 2004 or so, I took a survey about ''Lost.'' It was actually pretty detailed. The survey asked you to match pictures of 10-12 main characters with their names to see how well you knew them. Then the survey asked a series of questions about each character. Multiple choice questions like ''How much would you miss this character if he/she was no longer on the show?'' And questions like ''How much do you like this character?'' The survey pretty much asked the same question in four or five different ways.

What was the purpose of the survey? Apparently, the producers wanted to know about fan reaction. I don't know if the producers planned on killing off Boone and wanted to determine how outraged the show's early fans might be. Or if they used the survey results to decide which character to kill off. I really skewed my answers and left no doubt that I'd miss every other character but Boone. At the time I kind of laughed the whole thing off--like Hollywood would actually kill off one of these characters. Needless to say, I was happy (in a warped way) that Boone died. But I still feel at least partly responsible for killing him off.

If the ''Lost'' producers used the survey results at all, might this usher in a new technological era that uses the feedback from the masses instead of a focus group? Might producers actually check for fan outrage or wild approval for some major storylines by using surveys delivered to your TV immediately after a show? Will networks allow viewers to complete a survey and then watch an episode without commercials? Will you have a small dial on your remote so you can register your approval or disapproval in real-time while watching TV?

Shows are relying more and more on word of mouth and blog reviews, which means they can't piss off the avid fan too much. If these fans are really miffed, the world will know quickly, the bad PR may spin out of control, and viewership may quickly drop off. It will be interesting to watch how technology-enabled, massive viewer feedback affects storylines in the near future.

I would love to know what would've happened to ''Dallas'' after the famous dream episode if today's technology was available at the time. Would viewers have fled the show even faster? Or would SciFi viewers have been attracted to the show because of the plot twist?

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