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March 23, 2008

Jericho: When nuts aren't enough

by Josh Bernoff

Jericho_nuts In 2007, an amazing groundswell of support did what many thought was impossible -- persuaded CBS to retract its cancellation of the show Jericho and promise to air it again in 2008.

We wrote about this in our Sloan Management Review article, describing how CBS Entertainment head Nina Tassler, faced with 20 tons of nuts as physical evidence of the show's following, agreed to put the Jericho back on. [Note, the article wont' be free for much longer.Article no longer free, but an excerpt is available at the link above.]

Well, now the show has been canceled again. The audience was simply not large enough to keep airing it on CBS.

You might think this proves that bringing Jericho back was a mistake. Or even that the groundswell isn't as powerful as we've been saying. But I beg to differ.

First of all, all network shows are a crapshoot. Evidence of signs of life in the audience means it may be worth the risk. When CBS brought back Cagney & Lacey in the 80s, it had four more years of life. Based on the following it developed later, NBC made a mistake canceling the original Star Trek. Was it worth the risk to bring back Jericho? Yes. It was worth a shot.

Beyond that, networks nearly always own a stake in the shows they air. By bringing back Jericho, CBS has confirmed it has a passionate audience, but one that is not large enough to be profitable on CBS. But that audience likely is large enough to be successful on a cable network like NBC Universal's Sci-Fi. If Jericho continues on Sci-Fi or elsewhere, CBS will make some money on that. Probably more because the audience has proven itself to be loyal.

What's the lesson here for social strategists? It's not that the groundswell can be ignored. It's still a powerful force. Just don't assume a small, passionate group is representative.

When Dell created a Linux PC based on votes from its IdeaStorm idea community, did that mean that Dell thinks everyone wants a Linux PC? Of course not. But Dell was convinced that the audience for Linux was large enough to warrant a product, one which apparently is doing quite well.

Given the non-representative nature of social application participants, in particular content Creators (not only are they obviously younger on average, they also underrepresent the mass of passive lumpish consumers) it's dangerous to follow them. But it's also dangerous to ignore them -- they're your loudest and most engaged customers.

Once you've got this well understood, you can blend their ideas with your own judgment to make decisions. CBS' decision to cancel Jericho was undoubtedly the right one -- the audience was just not going to be there. But based on the show's enthusiasts, the show will succeed somewhere.

How are you treating your most enthusiastic customers? Are you out of touch with their needs? Are you being persuaded by them to do something the rest of your customers won't want? Or have you blended their judgment with your own? That's a skill worth developing.

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Comments

Gwen

Thanks for the supportive comments about jericho's future.

It was confirmed on Friday evening (3/21), on Shaun o'Mac's radio broadcast, that the show’s production company will be trying to find another home for Jericho. Most likely they will be looking at cable networks.

Gwen
http://www.jericho-kansas.com

Charly

Excellent information. I fairly certain Jericho didn't even show on TV here in Australia, but went to DVD. We watched the entire first season in just days and truly enjoyed it. We find that a lot shows poll as being unpopular due to broadcast times and the sheer number of adverts shown during the show.

I hope they do find another home for Jericho and it continues, it had real promise.

As to listening to your audience, that is great feedback and information and has started me thinking - THANK YOU.

Kay from Arkansas

Speaking as two over age 60 grandparents who watch Jericho
EVERY EPISODE with our grandchildren we think CBS SUCKS! Jericho is a wonderful, exciting show that may speak to a deeper truth and therefore CBS is truely afraid of Haliburton's pressure. We see the connection and are very angry. Shame on the idiots at CBS! They have no NUTS! They are NUTS! et cetra. . .JERKS! Glad to know we don't really count.

Glenn Lucas

Maybe they just want more nuts.

Peter Kim

Surprising to hear that the production cost is "too high" - I catch the show regularly via DVR (which didn't help keep it alive I guess) and was just noticing how the simplicity of set design in last week's episode resembled something out of The Lone Ranger or Gunsmoke. Sure, not every show can be Lost or Heroes, but this was definitely a bare bones production...I'm leaning towards Kay from AR on this one.

BTW to continue your analysis, hopefully some smart writers will pick up on the Creator enthusiasm for the plot line and maybe give the concept a shot next season...lest we suffer through even MORE reality TV.

Tom_Ga

Thanks for the article! You have fulfilled my prognostication from May '07 that someone would write this up as a new media business case or a master's thesis. You just won me a bet and a couple of beers.

Malcolm Kass

Kudos to you addressing this. I think that lesser people would simply ignore the fact that Jericho was cancelled.

I do think that this does illustrate that in the sn space, users can be quite fickle. The energy of the "nuts" was exciting, but once the battle was won, interest waned and the war was lost.

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