Friday, January 23, 2009

The Truth about Competition

Today, the L.A. Times and other news sources decried the decreased viewership of ABC's season premiere of Lost. But what really happened?

In a word, competition. American Idol played head-to-head (with more than double the number of viewers), as did Wednesday night church activities (for many Christian viewers of the show), plus the ever-competing Wii, Xbox, Playstation 3, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, DVDs, NetFlix, and about 10,000 other competing life events used by Lost's core audience.

(CONFESSION: I just finished the premiere this morning from my laptop.)

What the L.A. Times fails to mention is that TV, for the audience that watches Lost, is an on-demand activity. In other words, viewers watch it when we want to watch it. The only exceptions are live events, which includes American Idol (kind of), the Inauguration, sporting events, and many reality shows.

(Many of my friends even watch their favorite football teams via DVR and try not to see who really won to make it "feel" live.)

Lost's creators are probably not too worried about the premiere's rating. Why? Their competition is not really just American Idol. If it was, they could have changed the time of the premiere long before the broadcast.

After about two weeks, they'll see how many people watched it at (a significant revenue stream for the series), see online comments from people who watched it over the weekend from their Tivo or DVR (sources not typically included in TV ratings), see how many times it was purchased in iTunes or on Amazon, and look at how many people in their audience are really still watching.

Competition is only competition if it's your competition.

Huh? In other words, competition only counts if the categories are the same. In real life, if I compare myself to someone else, I will feel either proud or insignificant, neither of which is a healthy attitude. Competition is fun on the football field or the basketball court, but stinks in most areas of life.

For those who follow Christ, our goal is to become more like Jesus. This is a far healthier goal than competing against one another. Or getting upset about how many people watch your premiere.

Plus, in real life time travel doesn't work (even if it does on Lost).

DILLON BURROUGHS is a writer on issues of faith and culture. He also likes Lost so much he co-wrote the book What Can Be Found in LOST? He lives with his wife, Deborah, and three kids in Tennessee. For more info, see


Abby said...

nice blog, dillon!

Bret said...

Wow; as always, Dillon - interesting insight. You are right on that an increased distribution channels do not lead to the reduced consumption of a product, but only perhaps how, when, or through which method/channel. ABC/Lost is right - just because it wasn't watched on broadcast doesn't mean it wasn't watched. To the contrary, increased distribution channels is a rising tide. Also think of it as it occurred in the food world: if a restaurant is open 24 hours, if I am a fan of it I can enjoy what it provides at any time, when I want, instead of being limited to the "traditional" times for meals through the course of a day. So, I may eat at one of my favorite places for breakfast, another brunch, another lunch, dinner, and even late night/early morning. And if each is a different place, they all benefit. So, American Idol (regularly scheduled for Tuesday nights) may have interfered with one episode, Lost still has a very high market share and should not be worried - it is high quality, pleases its customer base, and has distribution pushed through a number of channels. Everyone wins. :-)

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