Monday, December 7, 2015

Old & Non-Noteworthy: Ratings in the Post-Max Headroom Future

In our podcast dropping on Wednesday, which covers the WKRP episodes "Baby, If You've Ever Wondered" and "Bailey's Big Break," we talk a lot about the ratings systems used by radio and TV throughout their history. It's a topic of particular historic obsession for me, as you'll find out in the podcast.

And while a lot of things have radically changed in the media landscape in the last 35 years, there is still an impulse and an implied need for programs to be ranked, quantified, and rated. Sure, there's millions of channels of content out there on YouTube, the iTunes Store, and the web at large instead of just three networks, but the principle is still the same. In fact, I'd go so far to say that we've finally reached that dream/nightmare posited by 1980s cult TV show Max Headroom, of constant live updated ratings.

I'm not the only one to have noticed how we've slipped into that Max Headroom future. This article by Annalee Newitz, late of io9 and Gizmodo, takes a look at how we got a dystopian media/cyberpunk future when we weren't looking. And when you think about pageviews and downloads as the ultimate live rating system, you realize that like any other system, it can be gamed. Sure, YouTube has created countless independent media stars in the last half-decade or so. But there are also online venues where the system's quirks favor certain very loud megaphones over the little guy.

And I say this with a large amount of self-awareness and irony! When we decided that the three iTunes Store categories for HMOTD should be "TV & Film," "History," and "Comedy," I was going under the naive, non-podcast-listener supposition that Rob and I are pretty funny guys with an occasionally amusing podcast, and thus we fit best there. And then I decided to visit the Comedy page and was confronted with a wall full of professional comedians with powerhouse podcast networks. We never even came close to New & Noteworthy there. Consider this our own personal "debuting at 8 o'clock on Monday nights" launch hurdle.

In your face, Anna Faris!
But despite that, what a run we've had while eligible for New & Noteworthy! Sustained stays at the top of TV & Film and History in both the U.S. and Canada, and a few flirtations with the top of New & Noteworthy overall in Canada! Tons of you have discovered us in our first couple of months on iTunes thanks to this exposure, so I guess we can't complain too much about how New & Noteworthy works. It got us in front of a whole lot of new people! For those of you who joined us in the past eight weeks, thanks again for reaching out, posting on our Facebook page, and retweeting us on Twitter.

But in the next few days, we're likely going to be dropping from eligibility in the "New" part of "New & Noteworthy." I'm not under any illusions that we'll ever qualify for "Noteworthy" without some kind of out-of-left-field celebrity endorsement, so this may be the last week you see Hold My Order, Terrible Dresser on the front page of TV & Film on iTunes. After this, we're going to need you, our loyal listeners, to keep spreading the word! Friends from other podcasts have been talking us up on Twitter, and we've had recently some enormous gains in our Facebook page membership. Keep letting people know about the podcast! iTunes has gotten us started, now it's up to you to keep us going!

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