Wednesday, May 21, 2014

"Something Is Different (And To Me 'Cause I'm Old, It's Not As Good)"

Here’s my question.  It may relate to the rest of the post, it may not.  I don’t know because I haven’t written it yet.

As a consequence of DVR technology, television viewing habits have radically changed.  It goes without saying that I do not have a DVR – player?  machine? –  nor do I know what the letters “DVR” stand for, although being not stupid, I can probably figure it out. 

(NOTE:  The following has been recreated from an earlier conversation in my head.)

“DVR.”  Okay.  The “R” stands for ”Recorder.”


Okay.  The “V”, lemme think here.  Um… “Video!”


Okay!  “Something with a ‘D’…Video Recorder.”  Last one.   What does the “D” stand for?  (A COUPLE OF BEATS)  I don’t know.  Detroit?


No, wait! – “Digital!  That’s right, right?  “Digital Video Recorder?”


So where’s my “DING!  DING!  DING!  DING?”

“I’m sorry.  You said ‘Detroit’ first.”

That was a kind of a joke.

“A joke that was also a mistake.”

Anyway, a lot of people DVR shows.  I know that because I ask them “Did you watch such-and-such a show?” and they said, “I DVR-ed it.”  Meaning they’ve got it recorded on their device and they are planning to watch it later.

My question in this context is this:

Do they?

I am aware that people are continually DVRing programs with the intention of watching them later.  What I am asking is, how many shows do they DVR and never watch? 

I mean, there are so many shows on TV today.  HBO premiers a new one every twenty minutes.  That’s an exaggeration for comedic effect, but they do crank out a lot of new series.  It’s impossible to watch everything on TV.  There is not even time to watch what they recorded to watch? 

I have the feeling that DVR-ers have this huge backlog of DVRed material that they ultimately “Delete” without ever checking it out.  Sure, they watch some of it.  But how much?

And what about the ratings?  Do the ratings measure the number of people who DVRed a program, or the number of people who actually watched it?  That’s a significant distinction, don’t you think?  Is the technology keeping up?

“The Witches of Westwood was the most DVRed program of the week.”

“How many watched it?”

“No idea.”

And while we’re on…whatever we’re on here, one of the most important jobs of a network president has always been to strategically schedule against what the opposition networks are programming against them.  With DVR’s, isn’t that whole strategy out the window? 

“‘Tuesday at 8’, we are scheduling CSI: Saskatchewan.  What are we programming against?”

“Everything that was ever on television.  Ever!

Man!  That’s a hard job!

All right, enough of that.  Now.  We know about “niche programming.”  You do not program for “the masses” anymore.  Hundreds of channels, there is something for everyone. 

And we know that means that the “universal viewing experience” where the whole country’s watching the same show on the same night is over.  Which either says something meaningful about us as a people, or it doesn’t.   Whatever.  It’s fragmented; it’s gone.  And I have already talked about “Recorded But Not Watched.”  So what’s left?  Am I done?  Wait, not quite. 

Here’s the deal, and some of this is nostalgia and some of it matters.  You can decide which is which.

TV, when it first arrived in people’s lives, was a miracle.  Talented people were  performing in your house.  For nothing!

“Didn’t we already have that with radi…”

And you could see them!

“Okay, yeah.”

This went beyond “Event Programming.”  It was an event just to have programming.  In time, the screens got bigger, there was color – it was orange but it was color – then came remotes so you no longer had to get up to change the channel.  (By the way, I would like to see a study examining whether it was high fructose corn syrup that triggered our obesity epidemic or people no longer having to get up to change the channel on their televisions.)

So far that’s all technology, unrelated to content.  (Except that NBC’s Bonanza was filmed specifically in color so that the network’s parent company RCA could sell color televisions.)  Then came the proliferation of channels (and now original programming from Netflix and computer services like amazon), as well as the aforementioned recording devices.  It was an entirely new ballgame.

Regular readers may know where I am going with this.

“I am not a regular reader, and I have no idea.  And can we move this along, please?  I have things to do in my life.”

No problem.  The issue is “special.”  When TV first arrived, the experience was unquestionably a treat, a “treat” being a delight of limited availability.  Now, because the programming is entirely – Time-Warner even calls it this – “ON DEMAND” – television today, in its ubiquitousness, is the opposite of a treat, and something valuable, I believe, has been lost.

Unnecessary Analogy:  I used to take pictures, using cameras where you had to change lenses and adjust focal lengths; then you took the film to the drugstore and had to wait multiple days you see what you’ve got.  Today, you can take pictures with your telephone and you can view them immediately. 

At the point when the effort to produce a meaningful photograph got too easy, I immediately stopped taking pictures.  And I never went back.  

It’s the same with television (though I find it more difficult resisting its grip.)  It got too easy to watch a show.  If you are old enough, you will recall receiving a phone call at an inopportune moment, and shouting, “I can’t talk now; I’m watching my program!”

Nobody will ever say that again.  Because there is no unalterable time when you have to watch a show.  With modern technology, the concept of “missing a show” has entirely disappeared.  And if the phone rings while you’re watching it, you can always put it on “Pause.” 

Somehow – he argued – that ease of access has eliminated “the essentiality of the moment.”  There is no moment anymore.  The Mary Tyler Moore Show is no longer on at Saturday at nine (eight Central Time, nine-thirty in Newfoundland.)  It’s on whenever you want it to be on.

This is clearly an essentially different way of interacting with the medium.  And to me,

It is not nearly as much fun. 


Wendy M. Grossman said...

You have nailed here why breaking news and live sports are the kings of TV right now: they are things people are compelled to watch live and they will put up with the ads to do so.

There are also some TV shows whose fans are so obsessive they have to see them at the instant of broadcast. GAME OF THRONES, I think is one (although I can't get into it myself).

One result, of course, is binge-watching. (A friend of mine, in his 80s, refuses to do this, apparently believing once a week is TV as god intended it to be.) This is having some interesting effects on how shows are devised. THE GOOD WIFE, for example, has several times had continuous action from the end of one season to the beginning of the next - which is ideal for binge-watchers, but a little odd when you have to wait three-four months to see the next episode.



Chase Fields said...

Don't own a DVR myself cuz there just isn't that much on worth recording. I too look forward to seeing a 1st run weekly show. The anticipation adds to the total experience. But thanks to Netflix I also do some binge watching...which was super-binging when a friend turned me on to Breaking Bad a few years ago. And that led to other cable shows that I can't see on TV but can watch on Netflix - more binging. Eventually, it's almost like work - I have to watch these 6 episodes tonight so I can get the disc back in the mail and get on to the next one!

Don't recall where I was going with this so I'll stop rambling.