In between the flurry of stories about Fox Broadcasting declining to air the mysterious 13th episode of Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse” and concerns that the series may be summarily canceled, an interesting tidbit appeared on Twitter from the Whedon camp.
Despite rumors that Fox has already decided to cancel “Dollhouse,” published reports have claimed that the network doesn’t plan to make a final decision on the program’s future until their “up-front” week in late May. The notion that the series’ fate is still undecided was reinforced by a tweet yesterday from @drhorrible (Whedon and company) which stated, in part, “If more people watch Dollhouse LIVE, the higher our chances for a 2nd season”
Beyond the thread of hope it gives to fans of the series, this message implies that the fate of “Dollhouse” is largely in the hands of those who watch the Fox network broadcast of the show. People viewing the same content on their digital video recorders (DVRs) or at Hulu.com a day later are apparently less important to the powers at Fox who control the network’s programming.
DVR viewing is admittedly problematic since most viewers skip over the advertisements which are intended to fund the “free” content. But Hulu should be a marketer’s dream, since viewers are unable bypass the advertisements (and, because of their brevity, there is little incentive to walk away and do something else until the spots are over). In addition, user tracking data for sites like Hulu (as well as some DVRs like the TiVo) is much more accurate and more detailed than that of broadcast television.
Furthermore, although the details are a bit murky, there is evidence that Hulu’s ad rates are as good as or better than those of broadcast television. In March, 2008 Hulu CEO Jason Kilar claimed that Hulu’s ad rate was better than that of primetime network programming. In June, 2008, a Silicon Alley Insider article also stated that Hulu’s ad rates are “higher than network TV.” The latter, however, cited a range of $25 to $30 CPM (per thousand views) for ads on Hulu, which is in the same neighborhood as the average 30-second primetime TV spot according to the Television Bureau of Advertising, an industry trade association.
Whether or not “Dollhouse” (or any other network show) survives to run another season, it’s unfortunate that the program’s fate may rest on the actions of one segment of its viewing audience. To the extent this is true, it’s another example of how industry practice lags behind the current state of media evolution.