Mad Men and The Irrelevance of Ratings

ONE OF THE cultural touchstones of the past decade, Mad Men is due to end in the US this coming Sunday (Monday NZ time). While a critical darling and social media craze the show had had very mediocre Neilsen Ratings, the traditional standard of a show’s success. Michael Wolff of The Hollywood Reporter hypothesizes that we may have finally reached the point of Neilsen Ratings Irrelevancy. His argument is based on the fact thatwhen looking at television we focus too much on the television viewing, and not its overall impact:

Now at least half of the television business is driven not by advertising but by a direct consumer interest that’s softer and much harder to measure and characterize. You don’t have to see House of Cards for it to be immeasurably valuable to Netflix as it builds its brand and attracts new subscribers. Of course, Netflix in itself did not create this model — HBO was first able to describe television success in a way separate from absolute ratings. The pervasive view of television’s decline might logically also include zeitgeist-brand shows like Mad Men, which attracts only modest audiences on AMC. Yet the cultural resonance of such otherwise limited hits — “the way it socializes through the population,” according to Kern Schireson, Viacom’s executive vp data strategy and consumer intelligence — gives networks enhanced clout when they negotiate cable deals.

Locally this theory could be directly related to TV3’s current situation. While not traditionally rating superbly,  their ‘event’ shows The X Factor and The Bachelor have a big cultural reach for various reasons (wanted and unwanted). Could It be time that we move the goalposts of success for television shows? Ultimately it comes down to advertisers accepting them.


Subscribe to our mailing list

About the author

Dane McLean

Everything from Mad Men to Workaholics plus every trashy reality show you can think of, TV addiction is real. Twitter: @Dane_McLean
More from this author »