I figured something rather obvious out this week, as I was contemplating the somewhat stressful fact that here it is Thursday and I've barely started working on Sunday's sermon. So here it is: Eric preaches at the morning services 3 times a month, so pretty much every week he's got time set aside to prepare. I, on the other hand, preach once a month, and so when it's my turn to preach I don't have time set aside. I'm lousy at planning ahead; there's so much I do every week that can't be done ahead, and truth be told, I am a world class procrastinator. I learned in school that I generally did better work when I waited until close to the deadline. I actually did an experiment one year, where I did some of my work as much as a week in advance (yes, I had classmates who did this), and my grades were better when I was in the computer lab at 2 am, trying to find a free printer.
But last time I preached, I wrote a significant portion of my sermon here on this blog. The experiment this time was to use this blog to work out my thoughts ahead of time, to improve my writing, and to maybe learn something about myself in the process.
So here's this week's attempt. The sermon is going to be about Pentecost, with the text being Acts 2:1-21. What it's really about is communication, and I'm determined not to preach about Jericho. Unfortunately, once I get interested in something (like the Jericho protest) everything starts to look the same. Even so, I think I'm on to something here.
I think that what's happening with Jericho fans, and there are thousands out there reading and writing blogs and posts, sending emails and snail mails and nuts, is that they have figured out that the old way of deciding how many people watch a particular TV show (Nielsen boxes and journals) isn't good enough any more.
From what I understand, an extrapolation is made from a statistical sampling of TV watching households from which data is collected in real time. So, for those who watch a show when they air, information is compiled that eventually becomes a "share" of the TV market. This has been an effective system up til now.
The failure comes with the proliferation of DVRs and online viewing of episodes. The Nielsen system simply doesn't track those of us who record our shows on DVR to watch later, nor can it count the episodes watched online (and CBS has made them all available). Sure, CBS could tell us how many have been watched on their "Innertube" viewer, but I haven't seen any numbers, nor have they turned up in any of the Jericho supporter sites.
CBS made a real effort to create an online community for Jericho. From the beginning of the show, web content was made available to viewers to add to the show. Online interviews, "webisodes", surveys and podcasts, in addition to the ability to interact with cast members and fans, all contributed to this sense that Jericho was something special. When Jericho's season ended with a cliff-hanger, fans were ready for a new season, and some resolution. Then the show was cancelled, and the fans felt betrayed, and they have lashed out in an amazingly coordinated attack designed, with good humor, to convince CBS to either renew the show or sell it to another network.
That's a lot of setup for one simple point: the old ways of communicating (and understanding how we communicate) simply don't always work anymore. We no longer have to watch a show at the time when the network decides to air it; I almost never do. Instead, my DVR is set to record the shows I like: Good Eats, CSI, Numb3rs, House, and until now, Jericho. And then I watch them at my convenience: in the morning when I'm trying to wake up, in the middle of the night when I can't sleep, in a stolen half-hour when I've come home for lunch or on a Saturday morning when the cat and I are the only ones awake. If I had a Nielsen box, my "votes" for each show (it is, after all, a popularity contest; reality shows have proven it's not about quality) would not count--not because I wasn't watching, but because the old ways of measuring how popular a show is are no longer relevant to many of us in the coveted 18-49 demographic.
And CBS has not apparently learned to listen to the fans; the very forum they set up has turned into a place where viewers plan their attack against the network that brought them together and gave them a place to come together. CBS seems to have misunderstood the power of the communication tools they provided: downloads and chats and discussion threads and all the things they did to fill the time between episodes meant that the time slot was no longer an issue. They failed to understand that we no longer use TV as we did, so the old ways of evaluating how we use it aren't valid.
I'm very interested to see how this Jericho thing comes out. You see, the Church knows a thing or two about changing how we communicate in changing cultures and times. And we learn (slowly, more often than not) that each new technology, each paradigm shift in communication and worldview and politics, gives us new opportunities if we will only use them. It's not about changing the message, it's about learning how to use a new medium to communicate the message. And that, I think, is the point: part of the point of Pentecost is that we use the tools we have (which change) to proclaim the message of the resurrected Christ (which doesn't).