When I was a kid…


This is not a nostalgic post, nor is it an attempt to judge the present on the standards of the past. And I’m not trying to tell any kids to get off my lawn.

Rather it just struck me that there’s a pretty big shift in the media ecosystem. Actually, this isn’t news to anyone who is paying even marginal attention, but what came to me today is a crystallization of a certain aspect of that change: when I was a kid, consumption was simultaneous and timely, while feedback was variable and subject to time-lag. Today, media consumption is variable and subject to time-lag, while feedback is more simultaneous and timely. The timetables for consumption & feedback have swapped places.

Case in point: Costas Now. Tuesday night, April 29, a live HBO show featured some roundtable discussions about sports & various media. The segment on the internet featured Deadspin‘s Will Leitch and “serious sportswriter” Buzz Bissinger, who proceeded to rant and rave about how blogging will destroy civilization in a way that needs to be seen to be believed. In the old media landscape (overlooking the fact that the content was all about the new media landscape), the live broadcast would have been consumed simultaneously around the country by whomever was interested, and millions of other people with nothing else to watch. Any reaction to it would have filtered out slowly – perhaps a few newspapers would mention it the next day, maybe it would generate some watercooler buzz that resulted in follow-up interviews with the participants, and if it really hit, magazines would catch on to make it a relevant slow-boiling story for a few weeks. While millions would have seen it, only those who caught it live would have been able to experience the segment beyond a few clips that might have been rebroadcast if TV news did a story on the topic.

In the digital world, the reactions are fast-paced and furious. Within a few days, excellent commentaries were posted on Deadspin, the great Joe Posnanski, the also great Fire Joe Morgan, and the still great King Kaufman. These are simply from the sports blogs I read regularly, but Technorati points to hundreds of posts in the last five days. I’ve yet to see any trying to defend Bissinger.

But more interestingly for me, the experience of viewing is much less compressed – I doubt many people watched the show live, as HBO is a niche premium channel reaching a small portion of the television audience. Additionally, most sports fans were more likely to be watching one of the many NBA or NHL playoff games, an MLB game, or anything else besides a bunch of sports media folks navel gazing. But the segment has been seen by many online, as the feedback frames the viewing in an accelerated loop. Personally, I’d TiVoed the show (as I do like to watch media navel gazing), but only finally got a chance to watch it last night, thinking I might have something meaningful to say about the issues it raises. But by the time I watched it, everything has been said – except perhaps for a long commentary about what this instance tells us about the timing of new media!

This cycle ties into concerns about spoilers, as the ability to watch a show via an online, DVR or DVD delay for convenience raises the chance of stumbling across a revelation in an RSS feed or unlikely website. For instance, we missed the first season of Friday Night Lights (based on a book by noted blog-hater Buzz Bissinger), but are catching up on Universal HD via our DVR. We’re heading toward the end of the first season now, but I’ve already seen accounts about a major plotline from season 2, coloring my experience of the first season.

Today, we have much more freedom to watch on our own timetable, and many more opportunities to make our thoughts, opinions, and commentary public than in the classic network era – but the timetable for online reactions seems to be moving much faster than the more relaxed pace of viewing on DVD or DVRs. Perhaps the next killer app for the internet will be a really nuanced filter that allows you to stipulate what episodes of your shows you’ve seen, and hide revelations and commentary further on in the narrative. Or even more impressive would be a way to publish backwards to the web retrospectively, allowing you to post commentary to your blog about programs you haven’t gotten around to watching yet. Let me know if anyone comes up with Firefox plugins like that…

All of this is just a long way of saying this: the main reason this site has been distinctly more Not Quite TV than Just TV lately, is that my television consumption has been lagging in both quantity and timeliness.

I’ll try to do better.

2 Responses to “When I was a kid…”

  1. 1 Pete

    I’ve definitely suffered from this problem with The Wire. It wasn’t until I read so many positive reviews from people whose opinions I respected that I finally tried the show. And sure enough, I’ve loved it. But the problem is that I’ve just finished season 3 and have had to actively ignore hearing/reading information about later seasons. Every time a writer or actor is interviewed on Fresh Air I skip that day’s podcast, every time the show i’s mentioned on blogs I read (this one and Sports Guy most often) I skip a couple paragraphs down trying to filter out any new information. Unfortunately I’ve learned a couple things about both Marlo and McNulty from seasons 4 and 5 but nothing too important that it affects my viewing.

    This is one of the reasons that I have caught up to “live” with both The Office and Lost. I really enjoy http://www.lostpedia.com reading about other fans’ theories, and this is something I can’t do with The Wire. I hope that once I finish season 5 as part of coming to terms with finishing the series, I’ll go back and read those blogs and listen to those podcasts, but I doubt it. If you miss it the first time through, it’s hard to capture that connection to a show that comes with watching it on first-run.

    Rather than ask technology to try to fix the problem, I’ve looked at that there are advantages and disadvantages to watching a show time-shifted. I get to watch it on my schedule and at my speed, but I don’t get to share in the ongoing conversations. I don’t expect others to be on my schedule so all I expect is a spoiler warning from the writer.

  2. 2 Mike

    I think the autonomy of Television’s singular vision of itself is a thing of the past; the next few years (heck, the next 2 probably) will show a real shift towards the audience blurring the lines of production and consumption.

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