Not That Anyone Ever Asked

I’ve recently hit a magic number of 10,000 views on this blog since its inception in September 2012, and as I have also been tinkering with the design and functionality of the site itself (still under construction), I thought it a good time to do a little meta-analysis as well as a launch of new features of this blog/site/future-material-that-will-be-used-to-demonise-me-in-the-Daily-Mail. Firstly, getting the new features out of the way, an admission: I am no web designer, and therefore don’t expect much. My revisions of this site have been mostly cosmetic. I changed my WordPress theme a few months ago and realised the new theme required feature images for each individual post. I decided to take this opportunity and began systematically designing (caveat: I am no graphic designer either) title images for each of my 60+ (I know, I am fond of myself) blog posts. I also took this opportunity to go back and edit my back posts for grammar, content, and to include wild predictions about what might happen in the future, that actually came true. As well as this, you may have noticed there are now clickable buttons at the top of the page that will bring you all I have ever written about the subject, be it Movies, TV Shows, The Internet, or those times I tried to teach you all Economic Theory. There’s also one collating all I have had to say, so far, about my home city, Vienna. As far as new stuff goes, that’s about it, so on to the navel gazing.

Metrics!

The first thing you need to know about starting a blog is that platforms such as WordPress and Blogger exist primarily to serve small businesses, and therefore the analysis of views/hits/traffic is rigorously measured using the metrics of the site. The most important of these metrics is page views, and the chart below shows the progression of my views-per-months since I started this site.

vpmAs you can see, I was/am no immediate/current success, but there are some small victories to be had if you stick around and publish consistently. You will see in the chart that I started out relatively strongly, at over 200 views in September 2012. For over a year this was my benchmark figure for a good month, and it took me until january 2014 to beat it, yet once I did, the fact that I had kept consistently publishing posts every month for the previous 15 months came into play. Getting 400, 600 hits a month increases your chances of coming up in internet searches, as well as an extensive, consistently refreshed back catalogue. This is what you see in the above trend during 2014, where I graduated to a different level in Googles hierarchy of acceptable search results. I had been going for over a year, and had a healthy stock of content. In the first quarter of 2014 I saw my main driver for page views were directed from search engines rather than simply my facebook friends clicking on a link I post about a new blog post (thanks, you guys, by the way!). This continued, and expanded, and now 600 views per month is a standard, even if I only publish one or two new blog entries in that month.

Where do these ‘views’ come from?

Also given in the metrics is where each visitor comes from, which means I can truthfully, verifiably say that at least one person from 131 different countries has visited here and attempted to read my inane musings on such things as South Park and Togolese banking scams. I know you would love to see it, so below ranks the top 20 countries that give me the most hits.

Country ViewsThe US total is driven mostly by hits from search engines, but the rest correlates pretty well with the amount of facebook friends I have in each of those countries, so once again I thank all of you who take the time to read whatever it is I am ranting about once or twice a month. I don’t know anyone in Malaysia, but thanks a bunch anyway!

What do people read?

If you ever wondered which ones, of my 60 plus blog posts, are the most popular, wonder no more, for below they are listed, and clickable.

Title                                                                                                                                              Views
Togo, or not Togo?                                                                                                                            783
“¡Tierra! ¡Tierra!”(Or: Why Christopher Columbus Was One of History’s Biggest Dickheads)    650
Science, and Interstellar                                                                                                                   555
Did South Park Lower The Bar?                                                                                                        512
What Country Is Best At Boozing?                                                                                                  478
The Eurovision Drinking Game 2014                                                                                                434
In Defence of Ignorance: Greetings From Mount Stupid                                                              395
On Optimal Strategies in Drink Promotions: Towards a Happier Happy Hour                            295
Democracy and the Death of Decent Standards of Heraldry                                                        219
Restricting the Cosmos                                                                                                                     189

Together, these 10 blog entries account for 44% of my total page views, and it’s not hard to see why. Internet scams, TV, Movies and Drinking dominate the list, and anyone who writes about these topics will always have people stumbling upon their site. One that I am proud of is the second entry on the list, a story about how much of a dickhead Christopher Columbus was. I attest that this is still the definitive online version of this story.

One thing I can tell you if you are starting a blog, and I assume any other product that is developed for an audience, is that it’s not up to you what is popular or not. I put equal effort (around 4 hours) into each blog entry, and by the time of publication, I usually hate everything I have written, but once it is out there I am always surprised by which ones people like, or don’t like.

How Do People Find You?

I mentioned previously that for the past year most people visit here from Google searches, so what exactly are they searching for that I can help with? Thankfully, WordPress helps with this too, by providing a small amount of key search terms. Here is a word cloud of the terms people land on my site from. The bigger the word, the greater the frequency of page views.

wordcloudOf course, it’s highly correlated with my top 10 viewd blog posts, but also includes a lot of people searching for information about what Indifference Curves really are (I will explain one day, and this sentence shall be a hyperlink, and contain information about what happened in mid-2015.).

Epilogue

This was just some information that I thought might be interesting to some of the people who have been following my blog since the start, back in September 2012. Maybe a few of you reading were freaked out by how everytime you visit here, you are added to the WordPress Analytics database, but you should know that something similar happens with every page you visit on the internet. And those who have been here since the beginning may know that this has been a theme in the blog since the start. This was my attempt at transparency in this aspect: I don’t know who you are, but I know which country you are in. To me, it doesn’t mean much, but I guess to certain businesses this is important for advertising purposes. Anyway, one of the undercurrents of this blog post was to show a little bit of what it takes to do the whole blogging thing and maybe encourage some of you to take it up as a hobby or even as a release. For me, what I started here, these rants of around 1200 words each are the best way that I have found to communicate my thoughts with the world, so anyone who takes the time to read any of it, I thank you, and hope that I have provided some kind of entertainment for you, and not just myself.

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The Power of the Binge

Binging is rarely looked upon as something to be proud of, but every time 13 hours of a show like House of Cards is dumped onto our Netflix playlists, suddenly all anyone can talk about online is how fast they got through the whole series. This of course happened in the last weekend of February, where Netflix ejaculated the whole third series adventures of Kevin Spaceys manoeuvring, conniving, murdering and most of all monologue-ing politician (now President) Frank Underwood into the peaceful living-room based habitat of their passive subscribers. The third series of House of Cards had been online a mere 9 hours before I got home from work that Friday, February 27th, yet already there were reviews online about “mid-season” shenanigans and even reviews of the shows final episode, and subsequently the series as a whole.

I had nothing to do that Friday night, so I decided that if I was to achieve nothing else that weekend, it would be the passive consumption of an entire season of high quality (production values anyway) TV. Resigned to the decision, I slipped off my work clothes, laid down on the couch in my underpants and did what Netflix told me to do: I checked out the new series of House of Cards. I’m not proud of it, but I shall boast about it anyway: I watched the entire season over that weekend. Season 3 of House of Cards is much like Seasons 1 and 2: slightly above average TV, but extremely well made. The series as a whole was interesting, but by far the most interesting aspect for me came right in the first episode, and had absolutely nothing to do with Kevin Spacey, or politics, or Washington skulduggery. What was interesting in that first episode is that after a brief check-in with President Underwood and his wife, the story then shifts to a supporting character, Doug Stamper, who had been Underwoods right hand man in Seasons 1 and 2. Injured at the end of the previous season, the first episode is spent mostly dealing with his isolated recovery from injury, and apart from the beginning and end of the hour long episode, the President barely gets a look-in. What is so interesting about it is that this structure of the opening episode of House of Cards Season 3 is only possible because every single person who is watching that episode has the ability to watch all subsequent episodes immediately afterwards.

PaperArtist_2015-03-04_23-40-42

Traditional TV

Traditional, conventional TV shows are defined by their constraints. Television networks operate in a two-sided market where TV shows are used to attract eyeballs, and the precise details of the number and demographic make-up of these eyeballs are used to attract advertising money from anyone who wants to advertise during the commercial break of a TV show. In the US, which is where most of the shows anyone watches are produced, a TV drama such as a procedural cop show like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation will be reported as lasting for one hour, yet when you watch an episode on DVD or online, you will see that it actually barely lasts 45 minutes, meaning that if you watched this episode when you were supposed to, during its debut on TV where advertising revenue is greatest, more than 25% of what you were watching would have been commercials.

Writers, producers and directors of hour-long TV shows in the US know this of course, and therefore build the enforced pauses caused by ad breaks into the episodes. If you watch an episode of a 45 minute American TV show online, you can easily spot where the ad breaks would have been. In something like CSI, an interesting clue may be revealed, causing everyone to look at each other, and then the screen fades to black. After a few seconds, the show returns, showing the exterior of a different location, and we are back in business. In a show like CSI, which doesn’t require a massive IQ to enjoy, what will often happen then is a character will casually re-explain the plot thus far to someone else, just in case you forgot who you were while watching ads for Fast and the Furious 10 (or whatever godawful crap is advertised to people who watch CSI). This is done far more subtly in many shows, but the main point is that the revenue model behind the TV industry has always affected the plot and narrative structure of television shows.

I mentioned previously that the highest advertising revenue potential for a TV show exists during its premiere. This is a highly outdated metric, and has led to the death of many a fine TV show, but in any case it still exists to this day and is how the success or failure of a show is measured by TV Networks and advertisers. While many problems exist with this model, I find the main one is that due to the necessity of making sure an entire targeted audience is in the same place at the same time (in front of their TV’s) it requires the show to be played on a weekly basis, therefore staggering the entire series of up to 24 episodes over the course of many months. We are accustomed to the idea of waiting a week to watch the next episode of a TV show, but this too effects how an individual episode progresses, from a narrative point of view. Each individual episode works towards capturing the viewer within its world, and immersing him/her in its atmosphere. Even if the viewer can stay within this world through multiple ad breaks, the effect will certainly not last until the next week, where the viewer continues the series. This therefore means that every TV show under this revenue model has to designate a few minutes of its already constrained running time (<45 minutes) on building up this atmosphere again. This is the origin of pre-opening credits opening scenes which exist simply to re-acclimatise the viewer to the atmosphere of the show they are watching. Those cheesy CSI:Miami opening scenes with David Caruso arriving at a murder scene and delivering a terrible pun exist simply because anyone watching his show hasn’t seen him for a week and needs a reminder of who the hell he is.

It’s obviously difficult to tell a grand, overarching, nuanced narrative over several weeks in this set-up, and this also has an effect on the type of stories that can be told in traditional TV shows. If you ever wondered why a story can be introduced, explored, and resolved in the space of 43 minutes in a procedural American cop show, this is it: same characters, new disposable plot every week. All that is necessary to remember is a vague recollection of the characters, but they will reintroduce themselves at the beginning anyway.

 The Future

This, by and large, is how TV shows have been formulated since their inception in the middle of the 20th Century. The revenue model of the TV industry was a boon on creativity and innovation in storytelling (Twin Peaks being the obvious outlier), and only the eventual realisation by the industry that revenue could be obtained elsewhere, through pay TV channels, DVD sales and subsequently online streaming subscriptions did the makers of TV shows consider that the way things were always done was not the way that they always had to be. House of Cards is produced by Netflix, and will never be serialised on a TV network in any large advertising market, and this removes a lot of constraints to what its creators can do. Further constraints are alleviated by having all episodes available to viewers instantaneously. I mentioned earlier on that I was interested in the fact that so much of the opening episode of House of Cards Season 3 was spent on a supporting character, Doug Stamper. Just imagine this occurring in a highly anticipated traditional season opener, where little was learned about the main characters, and viewers would have to wait an entire week for the next episode. It simply wouldn’t happen, as advertisers and viewers alike wouldn’t be satisfied, and the only reason the people who make House of Cards can do it is purely because of the distribution and revenue structure of their show/product.

Any decent TV show presented to us in the past should be commended, as the makers had to deal with great constraints in order to deliver a quality finished product, but the success of House of Cards and its new online revenue model means that all of the traditional constraints of television storytelling will now be lifted, and the potential of television as a narrative device can truly be explored. An early mover in this department was the most recent series of Arrested Development, released entirely on Netflix in May 2013. The series was much maligned by fans of the show, yet in the near-future it will be viewed as a template for how to produce a binge-watchable show. Its creators knew their hardcore viewers would be finished watching the entire series mere hours after it would be uploaded onto Netflix, and therefore created a series that shifted the boundaries of what to expect from a show: each episode showed the same events of the overarching narrative from different perspectives, meaning events from episode 5 could replay in episode 7, from a different perspective, and change the viewers mind on what was actually occurring in the earlier episode. One binge-watch of the fourth season of Arrested Development is not enough to appreciate the scope of its creators accomplishments. The entire series is a very flawed successful circular reference, but must be applauded for its early attempts to play with the narrative potential made possible by its new distribution method. Interrupted constantly by ads, and subsequent episodes delayed by a week, such storytelling would be possible, and the same goes for much of the latest season of House of Cards. The possibility of binge-watching new TV shows through online streaming may have changed how we expect to watch TV, but also it will increasingly change the nature of the entertainment product we are consuming. That’s right, must-binge TV just became self aware.