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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Is there life in numbers?

Reading this article on American Idol runner-up finalists, I came across a quote that hits on a subject I've been thinking about as of late. "60 million people watched the finale the year I was on," Idol runner-up Jon Peter Lewis said, "and I think Fantasia sold just over a million. It's a small fraction of the viewers who actually buy the records." So I pose the question: why do we put a lot of faith into numbers that only show a fraction of what's really out there?

Box office receipts, SoundScan numbers, concert ticket sales and ratings are some of the tools used to measure business in the fields of media. I have no beef with these measurements, however, I have a beef with people that are led to believe that something is of value (or not of value) because it sells/earns a certain amount. Are we really that passive with how we measure apparent worth?

Referring back to Kyle's post about Hawthorne Heights, the projected sales figures for the band's second album, If Only You Were Lonely, were "poised to sell upwards of 200,000 copies its debut week." There was a good chance that the record could have debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart, but other than the prestige of having a high-charting album, does that really play into the overall importance of the record's relevance? Not to me.

Between the number of people out there versus the ones that actually buy something, the fraction is almost always incredibly lopsided. Yet what's a frequent discussion the day after results are tallied? "Such-and-such did x-amount of business, so I guess it's _______."

Folks, I've seen blockbuster movies and box office bombs, bought platinum-selling albums and albums that have never charted on a Billboard chart, and have seen highly-rated shows and shows that were canceled after a few episodes. I've experienced a lot in between those figures, but I never think about numbers when I'm enjoying something.

Then there are the people that don't watch these highly-rated TV shows, don't buy these hot-selling records and don't see these blockbuster movies on a regular basis. I know these kinds of people very well: I call them Mom and Dad.

My parents rarely watch TV. Though my dad has recently gotten hooked on 24 reruns and my mom enjoys watching HGTV and the Weather Channel, they've never watched hit shows like American Idol, Survivor, Lost or Desperate Housewives. They saw two movies in a movie theater last year (Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). The number of CDs they buy in a year is less than a handful and with the exception of the Dixie Chicks, none of these CDs are high on the Billboard charts. In business terms, they probably/most definitely would not be a part of a target demographic, but they shouldn't be ignored. Why? Because life doesn't just exist where the money flows.

I don't blame the marketers or the companies - I blame those that ignore what really is out there. Of course business is a driving force in our world, but it's not the only indicator of life. Imagine how limited a view we would have of history if we only thought of it through what was in movies, TV shows, commercials and on the Billboard charts. I get the feeling the number of people that actually believe in these is larger than I think.

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