American fans who record and watch their favourite shows on PVRs like Tivo (and Sky Plus in the UK) or download them from the web could be helping to kill off those same shows. That's because Neilsen popularity ratings do not take into account the people who record shows to watch at a later date.
Thus, the millions of people who 'Tivo' their favourite shows are not registered as actually watching them. Consequently advertisers are less keen on them, and the programmes make less money. And in the case of Fox's cult sci-fi hit Firefly, among countless others, this can lead to them being cancelled.
This is all to do with the fact that if you record or download a show, you can easily skip the adverts. And so those ratings are apparently not taken into account by advertisers.
When the apocalyptic post-armageddon US television show Jericho was canned, dedicated fans sent 25 tons of peanuts and dumped them outside the HQ of network CBS. This devotion has led to the show being renewed for seven more episodes.
But people working on the show are warning fans that if they continue to Tivo Jericho and watch it online, the official ratings will not improve and the show could become re-cancelled.
"The biggest problem with our show is that so many people were watching it on the internet or Tivo so I think the fans are now aware to watch it when it's on," said Brad Beyer, one of the show's stars.
"We want them to watch on Wednesday at 8 o'clock or whenever CBS schedules the return of the series later this year," added Nina Tassler at the CBS network.
"And we need them to recruit new viewers who are going to watch the broadcast."
Tivo is a hard disk recorder which can be automatically set to record all your favourite shows so you can watch them whenever you want. It's been reasonably successful in the US, but was condemned to an early death here thanks to the popularity of Sky's Sky hard disk personal video recorder.