The Perils of Time Shifted Television

Time shifting is one of those cool, hip terms we use today to describe how we consume media on our own schedule. The phrase is commonly used to describe DVR’ing a show for later viewing, but in it does happen with other forms of media as well. (Radio show podcasts for example) Inevitably this will be one of those terms that dies in 20 years, when we’ll amazed that “live” television was a thing.

Time shifting gives fans an enormous amount of flexibility in how we watch our favorite shows. With work schedules becoming ever more malleable, personal schedules becoming more chaotic and our limited free time under assault from competing mediums, being able to dictate when and where we watch our favorite shows is a boon for us. Being able to fast forward through commercials isn’t so bad either, although I’ll argue that by doing so we’re eliminating the current motives behind good television. Alas, that’s another blog post.

But as nerds, this world of on demand viewing can have detrimental effects on our overall satisfaction of a program. Unlike the average viewer, nerds enjoy their favorite shows well outside of the 60 minute time slot it takes to watch an episode. Nobody cosplays as Joey from Friends or attends a Cheers convention. (I may have to fact check that Cheers comment actually)

Time shifting our television has some side effects that we’re passively aware of, but may never truly factor into our overall experience satisfaction. As nerds we’re social beings! We love interacting and talking about our favorite TV shows. My cursory observations would say that, the nerd community is a much more engaged audience. And that’s where things run afoul.

The Social Impacts of Time Shifting

Social Media

I’m going to use a broad definition of time shifting here. With Netflix and Hulu, the window for time shifting has gotten incredibly bigger. I know some folks who only watch shows once they’re released on Netflix, which puts them even further behind the curve. While this doesn’t fit the strict definition of time shifting, I think the same hurdles exist.

One thing I love about watching television live is the social media buzz about it. People are on Twitter talking shows up, almost like live running sports commentary. You’re starting to see hashtags in the bottom right corner of broadcasts to entice this behavior. Networks want you tweeting about their product, so they’re going to continue encouraging it. In my household we watch The Following as close to live as we can. But if we’re behind, the rule is NO SOCIAL MEDIA! Because social media during primetime hours is really just a digital marquee of spoilers.

Taking part in that conversation is fun! But if you’re behind on your show, you’ll miss out. Imagine if they had Twitter in the 80′s and someone tweeted “I can’t believe Kristin shot JR” four days after the episode aired. News moves a lot quicker these days as does the attention of the Twitterverse.

Real Life Interactions

Things don’t get much better when you make the move from the keyboard to the water cooler. A lot of the really interesting conversations about the show have already happened. Thank God we’re nerds, so we love rehashing a topic to death. But we’re also humans. And as humans we get a certain satisfaction from adding something new and fresh to the conversation. But when you’re a week late it’s a stream of

“Oh yeah, Fred mentioned that.”

“We were totally thinking that too! We talked about it a few days ago.”

“You must have missed when Sarah made that post making that exact same point.”

It may sound vain, but things are what they are. I know as a nerd, I’m not always interested in being a passive consumer of the conversation, I want to be in the conversation. That can be tough to do when the conversation ended 4 days ago.

Another well experienced downfall of time shifting is the accidental spoiler. Everyone has experienced the accidental spoiler. It’s not deliberate on the point of the person committing the spoil. It might be a simple glance, a smirk or even the lack of a reaction at all that tells you things aren’t what you thought they were.

Me: “I can’t believe what a punk-ass Mickey is on that show.”

Shawn: “Just wait!”

Those two simple words act as a spoiler. Not because I know intricate details that will spoil the plot. It’s that a hint to the future has been provided. I know a change in Mickey is coming. Just because I don’t know what that change is, doesn’t mean I’m not bracing for the impact. The act of bracing lessens the dramatic shock of the actual event or worse, it raises the stakes to an unobtainable point. Then when the reveal happens, you’re let down by what has happened. (See the final season of LOST)

On the same line as spoilers is that search for someone to match your excitement level. You just finished season 2 of Doctor Who and you’re in love! David Tenant is brilliant! You run to your friend and exclaim your love in a way that only a fanboy/girl can, just to be fed the classic line “Oh just wait until next season!” Mixed feelings here. While you’re excited that the show does indeed get better, the excitement for where you are right now in your journey is relegated to the “Eh, it’s good, but not great” category. It doesn’t mean what you’re experiencing isn’t real, it just isn’t current and therefore the people around you are not in the same place. Not to keep picking on LOST, but if you’ve finished the series, try talking to someone who just watched Season 1. By the time the conversation is over, I’m sure you’ve accidentally shit all over their hopes and dreams for the future of the show. But back in 2004 you were just as excited as they are now. And that excitement was infectious. But if you’re behind in the show, you’ve now got a disease that everyone else is immune to. Boo.

What to Do?

This article has already gotten longer than I intended, but I want to wrap things up and clarify something. I’m not saying that time shifting is bad per se. I’m simply arguing that thanks to time shifting, we’re missing a vital part of the experience, an experience that nerds thrive on.

It’s also not the intention of people who are current with shows to create a less than optimal experience for you. They’re begging for you to catch up with them! They have the exact same problems us time shifters have, but in reverse. Constantly having to think of what not to say or how not to react. It’s really a problem on both sides.

I remember hearing about something the AV Club was doing where they selected old television series and treated them as if they were being viewed today. Unfortunately I couldn’t remember the name of the group and couldn’t find it on their site, but I thought it was a terrific idea! You could pick a series, choose a date to have everyone watch, pick a hashtag and you’re off to the races. This was an awesome use for the Netflix party mode before it was removed by Microsoft.

I think it would be cool to tackle a series you’ve wanted to watch, but quickly fell too far behind. Doing it with a group of people that are also behind could be fun and exciting too. You just have to resist the urge to skip ahead and as nerds, the temptation may be too much.

3 Responses to The Perils of Time Shifted Television

  1. The_Lex says:

    I kinda disagree with the straight up anti-spoiler stance taken here. I plan to address it more in full on my blog in near future, but I like the experience created by some spoilers. Then again, a lot of those fun because of suspense spoilers occur before initial broadcast. It’s fun to feel like you’re in on “intelligence” as long things don’t get too spoiled, if that makes sense.

  2. Jeff Smith says:

    I’d be interested in hearing it. Let us know when its posted. Or do a guest post on :-)

  3. The_Lex says:

    Time is my enemy. . .I’ll let you know when it’s up.

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