Clay Shirky Hates TV, But Loves Using Bogus Numbers

Categories: Watching TV

Written By

April 3rd, 2010

I've been reading Clay Shirky a long time.  He's definitely a smart  guy who likes to think a lot.  One thing reading him over the years has taught me is that he's not a particularly big fan of  TV.  He probably can't come right out and say he hates it, because  TV is his friend when it comes to selling books and sometimes TV people pay him to think.  Nonetheless he is not a big fan of TV wasting countless hours of our time.

He recently wrote another post about TV, this time about the collapse of the business model.   Clay has a way he envisions certain aspects will work out, but I think that way syncs up both with how he thinks they should work out as well as how he wants it to work out.   But he uses numbers in a completely illegitimate fashion when he writes this:

The most watched minute of video made in the last five years shows baby Charlie biting his brother’s finger. (Twice!) That minute has been watched by more people than the viewership of American Idol, Dancing With The Stars, and the Superbowl combined. (174 million views and counting.)

So this isn't to take anything away from the millions of viewers worldwide who have seen baby Charlie, (or for that matter, from the rest of Clay's essay) but:

  • those are worldwide numbers.  Billions of people have Internet access. Only 300 million or so of them live in the United States so it's a bad comparison right out of the gate.
  • Shirky compares baby Charlie viewing to the average number of people who watched EVERY MINUTE of a Super Bowl, American Idol, or Dancing with the Stars and NOT the number of people in the USA who'd watched at least a minute of those shows; those numbers combined would  blow baby Charlie away.
  • he's counting the number of streams started, not finished.  He has no idea how many watched the full minute, how many were duplicates, etc.
  • even if all 174 million streams were watched for a minute (56 seconds, actually), that's still less than 174 million minutes of engagement.   Just the January premiere of American Idol had almost three billion six hundred million minutes of engagement.
  • the premiere of Dancing with the Stars had nearly 3 billion minutes of engagement.
  • the Super Bowl?  A freakish 21 billion, one hundred eighty-eight million, seven hundred and twenty-four thousand minutes of engagement.
  • in fairness to Charlie, I'm sure he's logged another few million views outside of the primary version on YouTube (now 175 million views and counting.)

Sorry, baby Charlie, you're not even in the discussion.

Update: Scott calls me out below in the comments for duplicate counting.  It's true that there is some duplication (and sadly, I have no way of accounting exactly for it, I'm not sure if even Nielsen could) between the  Super Bowl, American Idol, and Dancing with the Stars.  Some people who watched the Super Bowl certainly watched the Dancing with the Stars premiere, etc.

The Super Bowl reached over 153 million viewers in the USA alone, who watched at least part of it. That doesn't count any of the viewing outside the USA.  Scott also suggests the same thing Clay tries to that the 175 million (and growing) views of Charlie the baby are completely unduplicated. They are not.

 
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