I take a look at the television show Community, its immense presence online despite low ratings, and how online advertisments relate to it.
|Scooped by Cody Draper|
TV Research Project: Community and Online Ads
For many years, television has been the most successful medium for advertising, although this is changing. Advertisers are, now more than ever, shifting their attention towards the Internet, particularly for online videos. The Internet can be very influential; fewer television shows have experienced more support from people online than Community. Community is popular with young adults who often watch it through nontraditional means, which affects its ratings and can create conflicts with the wide variety of commercials that air alongside it online.
Community is a half hour, live action comedy show created by Dan Harmon. New episodes air on NBC on Thursday nights at 8:00, while reruns air on both NBC and Comedy Central. It first premiered on September 17, 2009, and its fifth season is set to premiere early in 2014. The show follows seven very different people who all attend Greendale Community College and are a part of the same study group. The ensemble cast includes: Alison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, Chevy Chase, Donald Glover, Gillian Jacobs, Joel McHale, and Danny Pudi as the main seven students, with Jim Rash as the dean of the school and Ken Jeong in his own strange role (FutonCritic). The plot revolves around the members of the study group as they try to get along despite their distinct, often clashing personalities and the dysfunctional school they attend.
Community is an unusual show because, despite being a critical success and having an extremely passionate audience, the fact that it has a fifth season on the horizon is pretty much a miracle. There are two major reasons for this, the first being the tumultuous circumstances that have surrounded the show. After three seemingly stable seasons, things began to unwind. Dan Harmon, the creator and showrunner for the first three seasons, was fired from his own show (Community Loses). After fan complaints and what many viewed as a lackluster fourth season, Harmon was brought back to work on season five (Sony & NBC). During the filming of season four, Chevy Chase, one of the main actors, abruptly departed from the show, due to unruly behavior on the set and conflicts with the producers (Chevy Chase). Additionally, Donald Glover, another of the main stars, is only set to appear in a small handful of episodes in season five (Donald Glover). While losing cast members does not always mean a show is doomed, for a show with a strong ensemble cast like Community to lose two of its key actors is a big blow.
The second reason the success of Community defies logic is simple: the ratings. Even from the beginning, Community never pulled in huge ratings. Season one averaged around 5 million viewers weekly (2009-10), while the latest season only averaged about 3.5 million (2012-13). Those numbers are pretty poor for a primetime show; conversely, The Big Bang Theory (which is in the same timeslot) currently draws in nearly five times that many people. There is a catch to this, however; a good portion of Community’s fans do not watch new episodes live, instead opting to either DVR them or view them online. This is proven by the show’s huge popularity online, especially when it was in danger of cancellation (Reinventing). These newer methods of catching up on a television show are not reliably tracked by Nielsen ratings, so the show’s low ratings do not truly reflect everyone who watches it.
Initially, the ads I received while watching Community online did not seem to correlate to each other; from life insurance to frozen pizza, the only thing I noticed was that all the ads seemed to be aimed at the 18-49 demographic, particularly the younger section. As I continued watching, I began to respond to the advertisements, answering if they were relevant to me or not. By the time my third episode was drawing to an end, I definitely noticed a change in the commercials. Instead of a random hodgepodge, the advertisements were definitely tailored towards me, a young college student.
For the most part, the randomly generated ads I experienced on Hulu did not flow well with the show, instead attempting to match my interests. The insanity of Community clashed greatly with the relative calm and normalness or the advertisements. For example, one episode featured the characters in a tense Mexican standoff (with paintball guns) right before a commercial break; the ensuing advertisements proceeded to kill the tension of the scene, calmly featuring Henry Ford Hospital, a new car, and a heartwarming trailer for a new Vince Vaughn movie. More action-oriented commercials would have done a better job at capitalizing on the tension of the moment, while a paintball company could have made a killing if they advertised during this particular episode. The best example of collaboration I experienced, although it was likely unintentional, occurred later in the paintball episode. Right before a break, the dean tasks the insane teacher Chang, who is an expert at paintball, with hunting down the remaining students. One of the commercials that followed was for P.F. Chang’s, hilariously reminding the viewer that Chang was coming for the protagonists. Overall, I found the flow between the show and the commercials to be poor, and the polysemy clashed greatly. Community is telling its own stories about friendship and poking fun at college, while the ads, at least when viewed online, are sacrificing any real attempt at connecting with the show to focus on becoming as personalized as possible.
The show Community has found its own niche in the television world, creating a loyal fan base and allowing it to survive despite subpar ratings. It parodies both college and television shows in general, but it is also capable of exploring genuine relationships between the unusual main cast. While television commercials likely differ, the online ads for Community started out broad and later focused on catering to my interests (or whatever I claimed to be interested in) instead of connecting with the show, although there were brief moments of successful flow. Ultimately, Hulu’s method of personalized advertisements has very little to do with Community; they are aimed at the Internet viewer, and will end up being the same no matter what show is being viewed. This disconnect shows how advertisers are still adjusting to how they reach audiences through new mediums. When advertisers know they have a small audience, their desire to cater commercials to their interests outweighs the idea of connecting with whatever show they’re watching.