Real-time Reactions

2 Dec

In the introduction of The Television Will be Revolutionized, Lotz discusses the implications of various viewing devices, technology, and the internet on television viewing practices. There is not one single habitual television viewing behavior, and we no longer watch one of three networks as a mass audience. Old viewing habits have changed, and new ones have appeared in what Lotz calls the multi-channel era and post-network era. We have discussed some of these, like bingeing on a show, or the fact the phrase “watching TV” is ambiguous (Watching on the computer or tablet? Watching a DVD?). We have also touched on fan interaction with shows through the internet, and the ability to go back and rewatch episodes with DVDs, DVR, or streaming video. Now, live events like the presidential election is one of a few instances when a large portion of the country watches TV communally, in a manner somewhat similar to the broadcast network era. Although we are all experiencing the event together, everyone may be experiencing it through a different channel or looking up other information on the internet, combining these new technologies and viewing behaviors.

However, there is also something to be said about the way this has changed how we react to television. While watching something broadcast live on television, people can go online to react in real time. From my experience with recent events, particularly the presidential debates, it’s important not only to watch the debate live but also to follow what people are saying about it on the internet, whether you’re looking at Politico fact-checking, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc. If you don’t follow along with both the actual broadcast and the internet reaction in real time, or shortly after, you’ll miss out on a great part of the experience, be it national opinion or just a fan community. I know that immediately after my roommates and I watched the season finale of Legend of Korra in the spring, we went straight to the show’s Reddit page to see everyone’s comments and jokes about the episode.

It is great to be a part of a community reacting to a show or event in the moment, but there are a few problems with this. One of them is the issue of spoilers. In our discussions this week about whether “TV” is going through a transformation, someone in my group brought up Arrested Development’s 4th season, which is being released all at once on Netflix. You won’t really be able to pace yourself in watching, say one episode per day, because you’ll need to avoid the rest of the internet to avoid spoilers. Although time-shifted viewing and streaming videos give us the ability to watch on our own schedule, the possibility of immediate responses on the internet makes watching later a perilous choice.

Additionally, when this happens, people are commenting on television in the moment, instead of waiting until the next morning to talk about it with their coworkers. There is no time to really think about the episode and process what has happened, and what you want to say about it. I don’t know that there is much additional thought required to comment on whether your favorite contestant on American Idol went home. However, many of the series we have discussed in class, as well as other narratively complex shows, require viewers to think about the episode to have meaningful, intelligent comments. Does when you expect to react (in the moment, or sometime later) affect how you’ll watch the show? Are you thinking about connections to other episodes or themes, or scrambling to be the first to make a “binders full of women” Tumblr? In the post-network era, the “mass audience” has divided into two overlapping groups: a simultaneous-viewing audience and a community of viewers. It’s interesting to think about the disparity between live events and shows that lend themselves to immediate reaction online, compared to more drawn out discussions that occur with shows like The Wire and The Sopranos

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