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Fun with TV stats

Wga_on_strike_logo The rhetoric from both sides in the Hollywood writers strike has occasionally been entertaining, at least to those of us with no skin in the game, but more often it's just ... bewildering. Take, for example, the release today from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (i.e., the studios). It touts a survey by TNS Media Intelligence, which purportedly showed that almost 67% of the population hasn't taken a position on the strike. Those results stand in sharp contrast to the USAToday/Gallup survey cited in this release by the Writers Guild of America, which claimed that 60% of Americans are backing the writers. Just a guess here, but I'm betting TNS phrased their questions a bit differently from USAToday and Gallup....

Anyway, the most interesting thing in the AMPTP release is this line drawn from the TNS survey: "the strike has caused no impact on the viewing habits of 74 percent of Americans." Looked at another way -- the strike has changed the way more than 27 million households, or one quarter of the audience, watch TV -- and it seems like not such good news. In fact, the survey's findings are actually more alarming than that, at least from the TV networks' perspective. According to TNS, "the research also reveals that only (sic) 22 percent of Americans are watching significantly less TV than they were before" the strike. Only 22%?!? That's like saying the strike has led only 24 million households to find something better to do than watch TV. The USAToday/Gallup poll produced a similar result, finding that 38% of prime-time viewers were watching less TV.

Where are those disgruntled viewers going? Not, apparently, to the networks' websites to view TV shows on demand. The helpful folks at Nielsen Online generated a report for me (download it here) on the number of unique visitors at several networks' websites over the past eight weeks. Other than saying it's not a boom time for those sites, it's hard to draw conclusions from the data because the trend lines aren't clear. Traffic at ABC, Fox and Comedy Central has slumped sharply the past three to four weeks, as one would expect to see as the supply of new episodes from popular shows dries up. But traffic at NBC, CBS, PBS and HBO has been up and down in a seemingly random way. If my hunch is correct, Comedy Central's traffic should recover next month when Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart go back on the air. Download the chart and peruse the numbers yourself, then offer your own analysis below. It's bound to be more insightful than mine.

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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