Peter Kafka

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“Modern Family” Guy: Please Take My Big, iPad-Loving Hit Show Off the Web

“Modern Family” is a hit for ABC. And it’s also a hit online, attracting some two million sets of eyeballs a week on and Hulu. But Steve Levitan, the show’s creator, wants it off the Web.

Is Levitan a Luddite? Nope. Just a businessman. And while he’s all for the Internet, he’s not for giving away his product without getting anything in return.

He talked about the online/offline gap–the fact that Web views don’t contribute to Nielsen ratings or any measurable benefit for his show– at the D8 conference in June. And now he’s pushing the idea to its logical conclusion. Here’s the Hollywood Reporter, filing from the Television Critics Association’s bi-annual schmoozefest:

During an ABC-sponsored coffee break at TCA, Levitan said he’s unsuccessfully lobbied Disney-ABC TV Group president Anne Sweeney to remove online versions of his hit show.

Noting there’s roughly 2 million people watching “Modern Family” episodes online whose viewership is not fully monetized Levitan said that, in theory, those viewers could be watching the comedy on regular ad-supported TV.

“I’ve asked very specifically to use our show for a test market,” Levitan said. “We’re making it far too easy to watch it on other mediums and not getting proper credit for it. If we weren’t on Hulu and, why don’t we try that? … I’ve actively lobbied to look at the big picture.”

Between online viewership and DVR viewing, he said, “we could be a Top 3 show if you add all that in.”

“The idea isn’t to remove ways for viewers to find the show,” he added, “but to see what [would happen to the ratings].”

This is the part where Web readers will castigate Levitan for not understanding the value of online promotion, and the threat of piracy, and not “getting it” in general. They may also call Levitan ridiculously naive: Disney (DIS) has made a point of promoting free Web TV–on its own site; on Hulu, which it co-owns with News Corp.’s (NWS) Fox and GE’s (GE) NBC; and on Apple’s (AAPL) iPad. There’s no way they can pull a hit off the Web, they’ll argue.

And they may be right! But Levitan’s point is fair enough: Why not just test the theory that Web views lead to offline views?

Of course, all of this would be moot if the ad business figured out that online views were as valuable as offline views. And we may get there some day. (And when that happens, the end result may be that online views increase in value while offline views decrease, but that’s another story.) But it won’t happen soon. So why not try?

Meantime, since you can indeed watch “Modern Family” on the Web, here’s a clip featuring lots of iPad fondling.