I got an email today saying that 20,000 people tuned into WTTW last night to watch 1001 Afternoons in Chicago. Considering that it aired twice more the following day in less desirable time slots, I’d estimate that it’s probably up to around 30,000 people total now.
That’s a lot of people watching the movie and hearing mine and Amos Gillespie’s music, but hearing the ratings report gave me a mixed reaction too.
As long as we’ve had air waves we’ve wondered who, if anyone, is tuning in to what we’re broadcasting and, as a longtime radio host, I’m totally sympathetic to this. Of course I want to know who is listening to the show, what they like or don’t like about it and how we can get more listeners and better engage the listeners we have.
This is a natural impulse for anyone who puts themselves in public view but it’s also a dangerous impulse if unchecked.
There has to be a strong balance between tailoring your content to the listener and curating your content and guiding the listener. If a given broadcast scores high ratings it’s a natural impulse to want to air that program again or create more content like it and in the short run this may be a good strategy but long term you run the risk of turning off listeners and flooding the airwaves with garbage if you don’t adhere to some kind of standard or programming philosophy.
Chasing ratings just to have high ratings is a pointless pursuit and has led to some of the worst programming decisions in television and radio history. The pursuit should be to have high ratings for excellent content, not to devalue your content to have high ratings.
I got a thrill thinking of 30,000 people watching our film, but I’m very glad that we made the film first and then WTTW agreed to air it. I wish it were always done that way.
Make quality content and then find the best place for it. Please stop making content designed to drive ratings higher. In the long run it doesn’t work, it underestimates the audience and, because people are going to watch television regardless, it creates shall we delicately say, a less discerning consumer.