D.W. McKim – At long last! That moment Muppet fans have waited for ever since Disney gained ownership of the brand just over ten years ago has finally arrived – their grand return to a prime time network television series! Of course, we’re all hoping it will be a massive hit not just out of personal pride but because the more successful such a large project is, the healthier the chances are for future Muppet stuff including (but not limited to) merchandise, video releases, increased presence in the Disney parks, future films and specials, etc. After all, we’ve been through those frustrating moments of limbo after similar short-lived returns like “The Jim Henson Hour” and “Muppets Tonight!” Not to mention their last major project “Muppets Most Wanted” being marked by headline after headline declaring its box office numbers as “disappointing”. Disney/ABC really took a gamble greenlighting this new series and probably would have been content letting the franchise simmer were it not for the efforts of Bill Prady to convince them otherwise. Now more than ever, it’s time for Muppet fans to come through and do our collective best to do everything we can to make sure the new show is a hit.
“But”, I hear you say (I have very good ears!), “It really doesn’t matter if I tune in faithfully every Tuesday night or not. I’m not part of a ‘Nielsen Family’ so nobody knows I’m watching and I have no influence or power as a viewer.” Well, that’s a very valid point and were this 20 years ago when the last Muppet series was on the air, i might have fully conceded that you were absolutely right. But the television landscape has been in a state of major change since then and especially with all the fluctuation in terms of how people access media – particularly in the last five to ten years, the average person now has much more influence than before.
Muppet fans haven’t had to think of such things for quite some time since The Muppets’ major output of late has been in the form of movies or viral videos which are measured much more simply in terms of their success. With a theatrical film, you buy your ticket and the price of that ticket is factored into the national box office total. No matter who you are or where you live, your viewership is counted. Likewise with an internet video, when you click to watch it, your viewing of it is tallied and added to the grand total. Simple, direct, easy – no muss, no fuss!
Television programming is a completely different animal. Its success is measured by ratings, which is a “representative sampling”. This means that rather than attempt to count everyone who watches it, only a select portion of the population is chosen to have their television viewing habits recorded and their activity represents not only a percentage of the population at large but also the various demographic groups they’re a part of (such as age and gender). Though not the singular entity that measures television ratings, the most widely known company that tracks them – and the one everyone pays attention to – is Neilsen Media Research. Throughout most of the history of television, these “Neilsen Families” essentially have had the only real power in determining a t.v. series’ success level because their viewing activity was the only major data networks had to go by. A non-Neilsen viewer didn’t really have a way to let television programmers know they were watching a show – unless they were to send a letter in to the network or affiliate station. That is, up until very recently.
The Neilsen Ratings are still very important to network programmers and remain the primary source of information they look at. But these days with all the alternative methods of viewing television content and ways for viewers to have their watching activities known, “The Ratings” have become a smaller piece of the overall picture as networks have other reports and sources of data to take into account. As a result, there are now several ways to stand up and have your viewership of a show taken note of and counted even if you’re not part of a Neilsen Family and that’s just what we’re going to show you how to do!
Since more people are watching television shows online instead of on the traditional television set, networks know they have to seriously analyze online activity alongside the data received from the Nielsen Ratings in order to get an accurate picture in today’s landscape. The good news for you and me is that when you watch a t.v. show online (from an official content provider), your viewing of the show is tallied and included in the total report that a programmer is looking over. (That doesn’t mean watching a show online will make its Nielsen Ratings increase – they’re a separate report – but online viewership will be compiled in additional reports networks look at in addition to the Neilsen’s in order to gauge how many people are watching). Not only does online viewership reports give networks a more accurate number of how many people are watching, but can also provide additional valuable information. (Say for example the online data demonstrates “The Muppets” is one of the most-watched shows online but it doesn’t get the broadcast network numbers they’d prefer – that could signal that the audience for the show is definitely there but the network timeslot they’re scheduled in might not be the right place for them.) There are a few different places you should be able to watch “The Muppets” online and have your viewership counted (without having to be one of those mysterious Neilsen’s!)
THE NETWORK’S WEBSITE
Several networks make their shows available on their official website and ABC is no exception. By doing so, they are able to remain competitive and when someone watches something on a website the company itself maintains, that’s a direct form of data available to them regarding viewership. In regards to http://abc.go.com/ there are two ways you could potentially watch “The Muppets”.
(1) In some markets, you may be able to click on the “Watch Live” tab in the upper right corner when the show is being first broadcast. This option is currently only available in a few areas.
(2) go to “The Muppets”‘ show page at http://abc.go.com/shows/the-muppets and click to view the episode once it gets posted online (most likely on the following day).
Don’t know about Hulu? You really should. http://www.hulu.com/ is basically an online television viewing portal that’s co-owned by most of the major media conglomerates (Disney among them). It’s kind of like Youtube but in this case, all the accounts are held by networks, studios, and the like. It’s already been officially confirmed that “The Muppets” will be available on Hulu (with each new episode added the day after its television airing). Just like watching on the ABC website, because it’s ad-supported it’s free to watch without a subscription (on PC’s and laptops). Usually new shows are available to click on and watch for free for five weeks after they originally air before moving to the “subscription-only” queue. Of course by watching on Hulu, you enjoy the same benefits as watching at ABC’s site – your viewership is counted and included in the reports ABC receives so you’re able to count as a viewer no matter who or where you are. But the cool thing about watching on Hulu is because it’s a portal for a whole slew of networks and stations, you can get a sense of how “The Muppets” is doing in comparison with all the other shows available on Hulu – you can click to see what shows are the most viewed in the last 24 hours, in the last week, or in the last month. Of course, we’d all love to see “The Muppets” topping those charts so be sure to make Hulu a part of your Muppet-watching experience! (And if you do decide to actually become a Hulu subscriber, you’ll also have access to a healthy portion of television shows from The Jim Henson Company including some that haven’t otherwise been officially made available in the U.S.)
Of course, no discussion of online viewing would be complete without touching upon the big “Y” word! Now you may be thinking, “why should I visit some new website I’m not used to accessing when I can just watch the new show the same way I do every other online video – through YouTube?” YouTube’s a great place for Muppet fans – it’s where we watched “Muppet Bohemian Rhapsody” and all the other amazing viral videos The Muppet Studios have produced. It’s probably where you first saw that ten minute pilot presentation that convinced ABC to order the series into production. And YouTube is also where you’ve probably watched countless rare Muppet clips over the years!
But as you probably know, YouTube contains both material that’s officially uploaded by the content providers and rightful copyright owners of the stuff they post (such as The Muppets Studio and ABC Television Network) as well as videos that’s put up by other fans who are sharing rare (and not so rare) material with other fans. Now technically, if someone uploads a video they don’t own the copyright to, it’s actually a form of video piracy because you’re making something available for millions of others to access for free that the rightful owners could potentially release on their own and collect profits off of. Thankfully for Muppet fans, The Jim Henson Company, Sesame Workshop, and Disney have for the most part been generally “hands-off” and lenient over the years in allowing such videos to be posted, usually only taking measures to have something removed if its in direct competition with an upcoming or currently available official release.
Well, guess what? If a fan uploads an episode of “The Muppets” on YouTube, this is very much in direct competition with Disney and just like any other prime time series by a major network that gets uploaded by someone not connected with the show or network, it WILL be taken down pretty quickly. Disney and The Muppets not only don’t make money from a pirated upload, but such videos are stealing money right out of their pockets because if someone is watching a pirated video, they’re probably not watching from an official source (i.e. the kind that provides Disney with ratings and ad revenue) – and when such videos could be accessed by thousands or even millions, you can imagine the damage that could do in terms of lost profits. So when it comes to watching unofficial uploads of “The Muppets” on YouTube.com, don’t do it. Why would you even want to watch something that probably has the picture or audio mucked with in a vain attempt to “fool” others from detecting its presence when you can enjoy a pristine HQ version from an official source AND have your viewing officially tabulated?
Think of it this way, the difference between watching the new show from an official source vs. a pirated upload could make the difference between the show lasting a couple years vs. only a couple months? As for uploading episodes yourself, don’t be foolish! There will be no shortage of idiots who will try to do just this and get their accounts terminated in the process – let them be the ones to suffer the consequences! Networks employ people to hunt for pirated uploads of their prime-time programs to have them scrubbed as soon as possible. In fact, you may have noticed that over the last couple of months, Disney has started cracking down on having episodes of “The Muppet Show”, “MuppetsTonight!”, and “Muppet Babies” pulled – even if they’ve previously gone untouched for several years. (Hopefully, this is an indication that Disney is finally planning to soon get more proactive with releasing classic Muppet material on home video!)
By now you’re probably thinking, “So if YouTube is such a popular way for people to watch videos online, why don’t the networks put official videos on their own accounts there?” The good news is most have started to do just that. The not-as-good news is that they usually aren’t free to view. ABC in particular has full episodes of their shows available at https://www.youtube.com/user/ABCTVONDEMAND . The usual cost to view an episode is $1.99 – which really isn’t that bad all things considered, so if you don’t mind the small fee, it’s a great deal and wonderful way to further support the show. But remember, you can also watch (officially) for free at either the ABC site or Hulu.
So when it comes to watching “The Muppets” online, there’s several different options that are both official and will count you as a viewer. Choose the one (or two – or all three!) that’s best for you. Here’s a few additional things to be aware of to aid your choices:
– Depending on your cable company/local market, ABC and/or Hulu may first require you to verify your local cable provider by signing into that account. I’ve found that even sometimes after doing so, you may need to refresh the website one or two times before the site “recognizes” that you’ve done this and the video starts playing. (People who have too much of a problem with this may find the YouTube option preferable.)
– Here’s a piece of “inside knowledge” I learnt when I was working with a Save-Our-Show campaign: When watching a video on Hulu or the network website, it may be tempting to watch the episode over and over again to increase its view count (“pad the numbers”), but that doesn’t work. Unlike a standard YouTube video that gains an additional viewcount each time you watch it, Hulu & network sites are programmed to only count one view from the same device each day. So if you watch an episode of “The Muppets” three times in a row on the same computer, it only counts as one view. But if you watch the same episode on two different computers, they each count as different views. Or if you watch the same episode on Wednesday, then again on Thursday, and once more on Friday – those would be counted as three views. As for the the ABC Youtube upload, i would presume it only counts you as one viewer after you paid the fee even if you rewatch it several times after you paid for the episode. (Just like how someone would only pay for a DVD once even if they watch it numerous times after they bought it.)
– Many fans will no doubt first watch each episode on television before it’s made available online and/or just simply don’t care for watching shows on a computer. Either way, i recommend still clicking on the online video each week to at least get your viewership measured and just let it play in the background while you go about your internet routine in another window. Speaking personally, i plan to first watch the television broadcast and then later watch online on both ABC and Hulu (I might even actually go ahead and spring for the $1.99 for the YouTube video to provide extra support! Even though i’m pretty financially challenged, $1.99 a week’s not that bad at all.) At the end of the day, if it means the difference between being renewed for several seasons or being dumped after the first batch of 13 episodes, i’ll jump at the chance to support the show any and all ways i can!
– If anyone has any questions about how to use any of these sites or learns of additional official online viewing opportunities, please post in the comments section.
So now you know how to watch the new show online and be counted as a viewer in the process. But while that’s the biggest way you can help support the show, there’s also several smaller (but no less effective) ways to also make a difference. We’ll cover those in Part Two!
In addition to contributions to various Muppet/Henson sites, d.w. mckim has been heavily involved with three different Save-Our-Show campaigns (including Jim Henson Company’s “Farscape”) – all three of which ultimately resulted in production of new content. He can be reached on Facebook at Mupp Freek.