We look at TV-watching trends and their impact on the
By Michaela Sinclair Special to MSN TV
Watching television continues to be America's favorite pastime, with adults
averaging upwards of four and a half hours of it per day. But with the rise of
recent technologies, traditional television-watching habits have been
challenged, revolutionizing the way that we consume TV. As we evolve from
channel surfers to binge-watchers, this affects how programs are being created
and how networks and advertisers have adapted.
Years ago, we were tethered to our televisions and at the mercy of broadcast
networks and their scheduled lineups. Watching TV was a Friday night ritual for
families during ABC's "TGIF" programming block, or on Thursdays for young
professionals during NBC's "Must See TV" night. In college, I would huddle
around my neighbor's 17-inch television in her dorm room to watch "Felicity" on Tuesdays.
Every Tuesday, come hell or high water, we had a standing date with Felicity,
Ben and Noel.
But then something magical happened, something I would even consider
life-changing. VCRs and DVD players were replaced by DVRs, TiVos and Roku boxes.
Cheap streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu became powerhouses with the
rise of broadband and faster Internet connections. Suddenly we didn't have to be
selective about what we watched but when we watched it.
The decline of "appointment television"
Television schedules no longer dictated my social schedule. I could go out
for drinks on Thursday night, knowing that my precious episode of "Grey's Anatomy" was
being safely recorded on the DVR and waiting for me when I got home. It no
longer matters to us which shows air on which days -- especially not when we
have VOD (video on demand). Essentially, the days of "appointment television"
are over and being overruled by what television executives are calling "time
shifting," which means programs are being self-scheduled and viewed at the
Television watching has become an increasingly personalized experience with
literally hundreds of options at our fingertips. Streaming services and
on-demand features allow us to relish our favorite shows like a Shakira song: "wherever, whenever."
It's 3 a.m. and a new mom is breastfeeding? She can catch up on "Dexter" on her iPad.
It's 3 p.m. and a teenager is riding home on the subway? She can watch reruns
of "Gossip Girl" on her
The "binge-watching" phenomenon
With streaming services and the ability to hoard multiple episodes of
multiple shows on your DVR (or DVRs -- plural!), television viewers are no
longer channel surfing but strategically practicing a new ritual: devoting hours
of time (and days) to "binge-watch" their favorite series. (Heck, I've hoarded
episodes of "Hoarders" on my DVR for
consumption on Sundays. It motivates me to clean.) Even TV producers and writers
are binge-viewing. David Miner, producer of "30 Rock" and "Parks and Recreation"
famously shed 25 pounds while watching three seasons of "Breaking Bad" and
jogging on his treadmill.
Binge-watching, or "marathon-watching" as Netflix executive Todd Yellin
prefers because it sounds more "celebratory," means viewers are purposefully
self-administering a huge dose of any given show. If you missed a whole season
of "Game of Thrones," you
can marathon-watch all of it in one weekend and catch up before the next
season's premiere. This practice has actually helped boost ratings for "Mad Men," introduced
new viewers to "Lost," and
even given "Arrested Development" a
second life on Netflix and an extended fan base.
Enhancing the storytelling method with Internet
TV producers are taking note of the binge-watching phenomenon and indulging
audiences possessed with this new viewing trend. Not only has Netflix created
and released a new season of the aforementioned "Arrested Development," it kept
the binge-watcher in mind so that each episode is centralized around one
character and occurs simultaneously with the others.
Knowing they have a captive and focused audience
with marathon viewers, series creators now have the luxury of enhancing heavily
serialized scripts with richer character development and more elaborate
storylines. And because they don't have to consider pacing a show around
commercial breaks anymore, cliffhangers and teasers have become moot. Netflix's
political thriller "House of Cards"
starring Kevin Spacey recently made Emmy
history with nine nominations, including best drama series, the first (and most
likely not the last) time an online program has been recognized. Its much
buzzed-about prison dramedy "Orange Is the New
Black" was renewed for a second season before the pilot even aired.
The impact of advertising on live television
Due to the increasing popularity of streaming services, some households are
opting out of the traditional broadcast or cable services. Known as "cord
cutters," those without broadcast, cable or satellite signals save hundreds of
dollars every year streaming programming through their smart TVs, game consoles,
Roku boxes and/or Apple TVs.
Cord cutters and a reported 90 percent of 18- to 39-year-olds who
self-schedule their television watching (according to a recent study from the
Harris Poll) have television networks, media buyers and advertisers in a
conundrum. During television's glory days before DVRs and VOD, networks counted
on audiences to tune in for the "Seinfeld" finale. High
ratings and viewership translated to more money from advertisers. Why else would
Doritos pay millions of dollars for a 30-second commercial during the Super
Bowl? With live TV watching on the decline, TV ratings are languishing, DVD
sales are sinking and TV advertising is slowly descending as even advertisers
are favoring streaming services instead.
Here comes social TV!
Even though sporting events can now be streamed over the Internet, networks
can still rely on people to tune in for live sports. And while there's no
communal feeling in binge-watching alone, co-workers are still talking about the
rose ceremony on "Bachelor" while
standing around the water cooler at the office the next day. This need for
interaction has remained constant and hasn't gone unnoticed.
Television audiences, especially of the younger demographics, are
increasingly multitasking on mobile devices while watching their favorite shows.
Networks have reacted by integrating social media elements during live shows to
strengthen viewership. "The Voice" attracted
more viewers when the judges' tweets were posted on the bottom of the screen.
Many are using apps as a "second screen" to complement a show. For example, "Project Runway" asks
its viewers to rate the designers' outfits online during the show. And who can
ignore the hashtags that have been popping up all over television? Even C-SPAN
is streaming tweets from U.S. senators during the quorum call.
Whether these television-watching trends will become the norm is still
debatable, especially with ever-changing technology. There's already backlash
from some television critics who have disparaged binge-watchers for guzzling
episode after episode rather than savoring them one by one. But if marathon
viewing means Netflix continues to produce Emmy-worthy shows, does this mean
people will eventually turn their backs on Honey Boo Boo and the Kardashians? We
can only hope.
How have your TV-watching habits changed? Tell us at MSN TV on Facebook and Twitter.
The TV Networks have ruined it for themselves by showing too many commercials! A 30 minute show now has about 18 minutes of content surrounded by 12 minutes of commercials. Has anyone noticed towards the end they will show 5 minutes of commercials followed by 30 seconds of the actual show followed by another 3 minutes of commercials? I for one am tired of being assaulted with so many commercials.
I never had a cord to cut. I've never had cable. My parents didn't get it until I moved out and when I moved out I couldn't afford it. Then when I got a little more money I had to choose between high speed internet and cable. Internet won. Now I could afford both but with what I can find online, netflix, what I can rent at the library, and broadcast TV who needs it?
I am discovering TV shows that started 10 seasons ago and love it. I like watching them on my schedule, maybe two or three at a time, like CSI Miami and Game of Thrones. I do miss, however, the family time when all of us gathered around the TV to watch a movie or some special event like the Oscars. Don't think those times will ever come back.