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How the Internet Has Changed the Way We Watch Television

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Remember the days when you used to watch your favorite show at 9 p.m. on a Thursday night and if you missed it you had to wait for the rerun? Or maybe you set the VCR to tape the show and hoped it started recording at the right time. When a new episode of a show came out, you would phone your friend immediately after the hour and discuss each dramatic turn of events.

There were special televised “events,” such as the first release of a brand new episode or the live feed of a sports tournament or awards show. When something exciting was on TV everyone would make plans to get together and watch the show or live broadcast.

Television watching has changed quite a bit in the past decade or so. These days any television show is on demand 24/7 at the click of a button, via the laptop, smart phone, tablet or other device. Television viewers are no longer bound by the schedule of the TV Guide; they are able to watch their favorite shows on their own schedule with a DVR or by accessing them online. Television is not contained to the big box in the living room anymore; a continuing collection of media is spread throughout a number of different devices.

The ability to watch TV online is changing the very nature of how we watch television. For example, online TV is eliminating the communal experience of watching shows together with family, as well as making watching a TV show a more individual experience akin to reading a book.

I’ll Watch This, You Watch That

According to a dissertation by Jakob Bjur from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, social TV viewing is seeing a serious decline. Bjur has observed in his research that we are becoming more and more individualistic when it comes to watching television and the programs we choose.

In the past, the entire family would sit together and watch a television program together. This was a widespread practice, so when social groups or co-workers met up they would be able to talk about the program they watch the night before and share their commentary.

These days, most families watch TV on a number of different devices including tablets, laptops, smart phones and multiple televisions. They might often sit in different rooms and watch different programs. This means that families are sitting together to watch TV less and less. It also means that television programs are less likely to be shared topics of conversation in the break room at work anymore. TV was once a unifying social force that brought us together, but it does not function in that way anymore.

As a result of the disparate way that we now watch television, the channels are becoming more and more diverse and are concentrating on creating niche programs rather than shows that will attract a huge audience. These days, if people are to talk about their favorite show it might be in an Internet forum dedicated to fans of that specific program. Competition is fierce and there are more players on the scene, so television programmers must diversify to stay in the game.

TV Shows Have Become Like Books

Rather than a communal type of media that we would watch in the company of others, television shows are becoming more and more like books — private media that we consume on our own schedule.

Thanks to the Internet you can download the newest episode of “Once Upon a Time,” “Doctor Who,” “Arrested Development,” “Modern Family” or “How I Met Your Mother” straight onto your laptop and watch it whenever you want.

This is very similar to the experience of reading a book. You take in the story on your own in private and then perhaps discuss it with others who have also watched the episode. If you watch a particularly good show, you might recommended to a friend and transfer them the files in the same way that you might lend them a great book you just read.

It’s quite fascinating to think about the way that the Internet has changed our viewing habits and how they might continue to change in the future. How have you noticed your TV watching habits have changed?


About the Author: Marisa Milford is a freelance writer who is always too busy to catch shows when they are on TV, so she downloads them to her laptop and watches them while cooking dinner. 

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