Your television is dying.
Well, not your television per se – I’m sure that 24″ TV/DVD combo your aunt bought you as a high school graduation present is doing just swell – but the medium you grew up on is on its way out. It’s not broken, it’s just dated, waiting for something new to push it aside.
At least that’s the impression I’m getting from the current Writers Guild strike and the recent explosion of Internet-centric business models in the industry. Suddenly all of the major networks are distributing content via the Internet and have plans to drastically ramp up content availability in the near future. The writing is on the wall.
But the idea of watching television on a computer has never really appealed to me. Yeah, if I miss an episode of a show I forgot to DVR it’s a nice resource to have, but that’s basically the extent of my Internet television viewing. But there is an increasing number of people who rely heavily on the Internet for their TV content and seem largely satisfied by it.
Media outlets and networks boast of the increased viability of Internet-based television, but for whom? Can the current Internet landscape satisfy someone who watches conventional television on a consistent basis?
As someone who a Communications professor would term a heavy TV viewer, the only way I could attempt to answer these questions, albeit anecdotally, was by eliminating conventional television from my life for a week. To fill the void I turned to my computer and nearly whatever I could find on it. I limited myself to streaming content and legal downloads if necessary, staying away from Bit-Torrent and anything with the potential to blow up my computer.
I began my journey into the black hole of Internet TV last Tuesday – think “Apocalypse Now” sans Jim Morrison, plus Scrantonicity. Here’s what transpired:
This may be more difficult than expected. I nearly slipped and turned on my TV when I awoke this morning and almost did it again after returning from class. These were habitual reactions, equivalent to flicking a light switch when walking into a dark room. It’s messed up; I know.
The first show on my epic voyage into Internet television came via Hulu, the new legal streaming site stocked with past and present shows from NBC and Fox, among others. An average Tuesday night consists of nonchalantly watching a “Simpsons” rerun and half of “Jeopardy,” but instead I took in two episodes of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” a show I had never previously seen.
It’s Halloween and I’m not watching “Simpsons Treehouse of Horror” reruns on CWBUPN or whatever it’s called now. This might be a first. Good thing the Internet is full of less-than-legal websites to mine for old episodes. I attempt to watch a low-res “Treehouse” episode from the third season but give up 40 minutes later after it hasn’t finished loading through the first act. Nuts.
I’ve settled into a day-late TV schedule, which is a bit disorienting. A new episode of “The Office” is on tonight, but I won’t watch it until tomorrow when it pops up on Hulu. Instead I find a streaming version of last night’s new “South Park,” which allows me to watch animated woodland critters rape Popeye, albeit a day later than usual.
After catching up on “The Office,” I boot up Joost – a free downloadable program that hosts limited content from CBS and other smaller outlets. Joost’s interface is quick and eye-catching, but its content leaves something to be desired. I try and catch up on the last two weeks of “Kid Nation,” but I have to abandon the program when I realize the most recent episode is only available on CBS’s own inadvertently-Joost-killing website.
I have been dreading this day. It’s the 100th playing of the Michigan/Michigan State football game, and my TV privileges are nonexistent. After borrowing a friend’s Windows-based computer and plowing through Google searches and downloading various programs for nearly two hours, I locate an ABC feed out of Boston, where apparently nor’easters are a problem. Unfortunately, the feed is about 45 seconds behind the local cable broadcast and the girlish screaming courtesy of my TV-watching housemates is practically narrating the game. I reluctantly break out some noise-canceling headphones and follow the action through Manningham’s ridiculous end-zone grab in the fourth quarter, at which time I begin to seriously ponder the legitimacy of watching sports online.
And then the game disappears, and I’m left watching Eastern Conference hockey. It seems as if the person controlling the feed got bored and flipped over to the Bruins/Senators tilt with little time left in a tight rivalry clash. So, I turned around and watched the remaining seconds on a TV. I cheated – sue me.
I’m looking at 30″ of non-functioning HDTV and can hear my DVR working away, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I missed the greatest Detroit Lions victory since the Barry Sanders era, a supposedly epic Patriots/Colts game, a new episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and I won’t be able to see tonight’s new “Treehouse of Horror” episode until tomorrow. I think this is what pushed Kaczynski over the edge – someone check the Daily’s archives.
Remember at summer camp when you went on that really long 10-day hiking trip that absolutely sucked ass, but by fall you had actually convinced yourself that you liked the trip? OK, well don’t let me do that. I just missed a week of my favorite late-night shows and now I can look forward to tomorrow when I’ll be removing all of them from my DVR season pass list for the indefinite future.
So where does this leave me? I just spent seven days without television, and I can honestly say this week of my life was less enjoyable than the previous week of my life because I could not watch television. It wasn’t simply worse because I couldn’t watch the “Daily Show” every night, but it was less enjoyable because television is considerably less meaningful by yourself. You can’t move something from the center of the living room to an office desktop and expect a homogeneous experience. The Internet is an isolationist paradise, and when a collective medium is placed in a vacuum, context is lost in translation.
It’s also a far less organic mode of transmission than broadcast television. There’s no stumbling across new shows or specials on the Internet; it’s simply search and consume. Conventional television allows viewers to be as active or passive as they desire, but the Internet poses no such option because of its fragmented content distribution and on demand nature.
Is your television dying? Maybe, but not anytime soon. As long as Internet TV is localized to PCs it will be supplement. It serves a purpose, but only as it relates to conventional television.
Besides, the sun is dying too, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to cancel my “Super Mario Galaxy” preorder anytime soon.