Share of Eyeballs.

James Hayman:  Remember the old line by what once upon a time were called skirt-chasers,  “So many women.  So little time?”  

These days it seems to apply more to other forms of entertainment that it does to sex.  “So many things to read and watch. So little time.”

Last weekend I spent some of that limited time reading an op-ed piece in the Times titled “Barely Keeping Up in TV’s New Golden Age” by a man named David Carr.

Carr writes:

Not long ago, a friend at work told me I absolutely, positively must watch “Broad City” on Comedy Central, saying it was a slacker-infused hilarity.

My reaction? Oh no, not another one.

The vast wasteland of television has been replaced by an excess of excellence that is fundamentally altering my media diet and threatening to consume my waking life in the process. I am not alone. Even as alternatives proliferate and people cut the cord, they are continuing to spend ever more time in front of the TV without a trace of embarrassment.

I was never one of those snobby people who would claim to not own a television when the subject came up, but I was generally more a reader than a watcher. That was before the explosion in quality television tipped me over into a viewing frenzy.”

I first heard the term “Share of Eyeballs” back in the dark, distant pre-internet days when I was a copywriter and creative director turning out TV commercials for one of Madison Avenue’s biggest ad agencies.

The term is still around and it’s an important one for writers like us to understand.  What “share of eyeballs,” basically means is whatever percentage of people who are looking at some other media product are not looking at yours. Whether “yours” is a movie, a TV show, a website, a blog, a magazine, a video game or a crime novel, the explosion in choices over the last dozen or so years means that the share of eyeballs any one entertainment option can attract grows ever thinner and the battle to break through grows ever more heated.

In his Times piece Carr goes on to say:

“My once beloved magazines sit in a forlorn pile, patiently waiting for their turn in front of my eyes. Television now meets many of the needs that pile previously satisfied. I have yet to read the big heave on Amazon in The New Yorker, or the feature on the pathology of contemporary fraternities in the March issue of The Atlantic…And then there are books. I have a hierarchy: books I’d like to read, books I should read, books I should read by friends of mine and books I should read by friends of mine whom I am likely to bump into. They all remain on standby. That tablets now contain all manner of brilliant stories that happen to be told in video, not print, may be partly why e-book sales leveled out last year. After a day of online reading that has me bathed in the information stream, when I have a little me-time, I mostly want to hit a few buttons on one of my three remotes — cable, Apple, Roku — and watch the splendors unfurl.”

Thankfully, the news for authors (at least for authors of Young Adult books) isn’t all bad.  It seems that in spite of the incredible overload of options, hours spent reading by teens has dramatically turned around and is now on the upswing. McSweeneys (an online magazine) recently ran a piece by Hannah Withers and Lauren Ross titled “Young People are Reading More than You,” in which they note

“In the past seven years, the young adult genre has exploded with a number of new book series [See list below]. Between 1995 and 1997, the number of young adult titles published per year fell dramatically, dropping from 5,000 to just over 3,000, according to R.R. Bowker’s Publishers Weekly. In 2009, there were over 30,000.1 In a 2007 Seattle P-I article, Booklist magazine critic Michael Cart writes, “Kids are buying books in quantities we’ve never seen before… And publishers are courting young adults in ways we haven’t seen since the 1940s… We are right smack-dab in the new golden age of young adult literature.”

I’m certainly not a young adult, but I know that I too am reading more than I was a few years ago.  Dazed and confused by the overload of choices available on TV and video, I find myself watching fewer and fewer shows, even the good ones, and spending more time with books.  Last night, the box didn’t go on at all, not even for our one staple, the PBS Newshour.  Instead, Jeanne and I spent the evening in easy chairs reading.  Jeanne’s book was called Courtesans by Katie Hickman.  Mine was  Bill Roorbach’s vastly entertaining novel, Life Among Giants. Tonight I expect we’ll do the same.

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1 Response to Share of Eyeballs.

  1. So true! we watch several Netflix and HBO shows, and honestly, I can’t believe how good they are. Network TV holds no interest for me other than Masterpiece or American Experience, but those cable shows.. watch out. Our kids got us hooked on Game of Thrones, we love House of Cards and True Detectives. And yet there is nothing like picking up a good book!!!

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