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    Posted March 6, 2012 by

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    The General Hospital Recording Blackout - Manipulation Disney Style


    Flo DiBona
    (c) March 6, 2012


    March 2nd, 2012 was set to be a huge ratings winner for the Disney/ABC daytime drama General Hospital. Recent increases in viewership were expected to reach an all time high. Along with it being a Friday cliffhanger, One Life to Live crossover characters were slated to appear in the Friday episode. This crossover was expected to draw even more viewers from the cancelled One Life to Live fanbase.


    For the past couple of months fans have been rallying to raise General Hospital ratings in an attempt to save the show from its seemingly inevitable cancellation. Week-ending February 24th ratings were significantly higher than previous weeks and General Hospital easily beat the new reality show, The Revolution, which replaced iconic One Life to Live, in ratings. In particular, the Friday, February 24th ratings were significantly higher. Going into the week of March 2nd, there were great expectations ratings and viewership for General Hospital would reach new highs.


    Then, on March 2nd, a tweet went out by a soap fan asking if people who recorded the show got Friday’s episode. The response was both perplexing and widespread. Many people across the country, using multiple cable and satellite providers, who had DVRs and Tivos set to record General Hospital on Friday, March 2nd, did not get the episode recorded. Further, a significant amount of people reported that their DVR series programming task for General Hospital was gone and needed to be reprogrammed.


    As the investigation into this matter began, a couple of factors emerged. One was that the Friday March 2rd episode had been mistagged with the same episode date and synopsis as the Thursday, March 1st episode in some markets. Second, the week contained an extra day in February due to the leap year. Could these be factors? Or could other factors be involved such as severe weather or the mode the show was set to record in? Or do none of these factors apply?


    The March 2nd episode was mistagged March 1st with the March 1st episode synopsis. For some, this could be the reason the March 2nd episode did not record – because the system thought it was a repeat of the March 1st episode. For recording devices that were set to ‘First-Run’ it would have skipped the mistagged episode, thinking it was a repeat. Except that many viewers who had their devices set to ‘First-Run,’ did get Friday’s episode recorded.


    While leap years can often cause coding nightmares, in this instance if the leap year was at fault, the issues would have occurred on Wednesday, February 29th, or even Thursday, March 1st. If the leap year were a factor it would also have likely been a global issue affecting every recording device. Not all recording devices were affected.


    There were severe storms in certain areas of the country on Friday, March 2nd. Could they have played a roll in this recording blackout? The storms hit in only certain geographic locations and some recording issues can be attributed to weather. However, recordings did not occur in many geographic locations around the country where there was no severe weather.


    To understand this dilemma two questions emerge: 1) How did this happen technically - was this purely a technical issue; and 2) If it wasn’t’ a technical issue, what the heck was it and what could there have been to gain from it.


    To troubleshoot the issue we looked at common denominators but the only common denominator was General Hospital itself. Other programs set to record were not affected, multiple service providers were involved, multiple modes of recording (first-run and all episodes recordings) were affected in multiple geographic locations. Weather, while a factor in some geographic locations, was not a factor in others.


    The issue transcended to SoapNet (a Disney-owned property) where for many the same incorrect March 1st synopsis accompanied the March 2nd episode. Many thought there was no Friday episode when seeing the listing and as a result did not watch or record the SoapNet rebroadcast.


    If the General Hospital video feed from Disney/ABC is the only common denominator, how could the video feed have any kind of effect on recording devices? Any computer file we create contains metadata (information) about the content. If the file is a document, it contains the formatting instructions to view and print the document along with when it was created, who created it, the file size, type, etc. Metadata is configurable. Systems that integrate with or access the content are able to read the metadata and behave accordingly. For example, if a metadata field for printing is set to “NO,” then the document cannot be printed. If a metadata field for modifying a file is set to “NO,” no one can change the file.


    With that in mind, if the Disney/ABC video feeds (and by extension networks in general) had metadata fields encoded into the files, they could be triggers for such things as date identification, episode number, etc. What if those metadata fields also contained flags or coding that could manipulate or control a recording device? In the easiest example – a wrong date could trigger a recorder to think it had already recorded that episode. What would prevent the metadata from containing a Yes/No switch for series recordings? Could Disney/ABC, or any network, have the ability to manipulate a recording device’s behavior based on code embedded directly in the video file? What would the implications of that be?


    In an article published in the March 5th edition of the LA Times, Charles Kennedy, Head of Research, Disney/ABC discusses viewership and ratings. Mr Kennedy, in speaking about primetime show Modern Family ratings, viewership, and live-plus-three days versus seven-day numbers said, “…we’ve had to build in a fudge factor when we know… that the total number will be significantly higher.” A fudge factor? Will this fudge factor be applied to General Hospital numbers for Friday, March 2nd, or could the General Hospital recording blackout be classified by Disney/ABC as one of their fudge factors? Paul Lee, President of ABC Entertainment is quoted in the same article as saying ABC is able to “capture about 93 percent” of the value of the Modern Family audience with C3 (live-plus-three days) ratings. That means, according to Mr Lee, 93% of the viewing audience watches a show within three days of its airing. According to Mr Lee’s logic, it also means only 7% of viewers record programming and wait until the weekend to watch it. These numbers seem a bit ‘fudged.’


    Preliminary data shows that at least 25 states and at least a dozen different cable/satellite providers were affected by this blackout. A third of those reporting that General Hospital did not record on March 2nd also reported that their recorder’s General Hospital series recording was erased.


    The intentional or unintentional affect of this snafu is blatant manipulation of General Hospital ratings. Because of this recording blackout in many areas, true General Hospital viewership for the Friday, March 2nd episode will never be known. Meanwhile, viewership for Disney/ABC replacement reality shows continues to decline dramatically while General Hospital’s increases. Unfortunately, last week’s viewership will likely be drastically discounted and marginalized due to the lack of viewership on Friday, March 2nd. This matter needs to be formally investigated and the public deserves answers. How does a device located in a viewer’s home get reconfigured without their knowledge or the knowledge of their cable/satellite provider? Viewers deserve an answer.


    Author's Note: If you experienced an issue recording General Hospital on Friday, March 2nd, or have experienced issues since, please report it via the March 2nd DVR Blackout form at http://savethesoapgenre.com/march-2nd-dvr-blackout#dialog:close .  Also, please call your local affiliate and your satellite/cable provider to report the issue and let them know that you want to know what happened.

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