If there is one thing that can generate a discussion, it is asking someone about their television viewing habits. The typical knee-jerk response is that they don’t watch much at all. As the discussion continues, it is only then that their true viewing habits are revealed: “I don’t watch much TV at all… except for this show and that show…” Love it or hate it. I know you watch TV. I do too. Statistics show that the average Canadian watches 16.9 hours of television a week. Although television remains the predominant mass communications device worldwide, consumption patterns have changed as new technologies have entered the market. Apparently, we are still watching our favorite shows. But how we watch them is changing.
Let me start with this: I have a love-hate relationship with television. I love watching it, but I hate watching it. For six years I worked at a television station doing their PR. I had a television in my office so that I could monitor our channel. So for eight hours a day, I watched TV. I watched it on-air. I watched it being created in the studio. I watch it from the control room as the director called out camera shots to the crew. I watched the product placement, the scripting and a slew of other technical and creative aspects. I watched how a show came to life. I watched how the producer determined the content of a live show. I watched how the director lead a team of cameramen, floor directors, production assistants, audio, video and graphics teams to fulfill the creative vision.
When my workday was done, I went home… and watched more TV.
Television shows were an obvious choice for water cooler discussions. Whether you work at a TV station or not, one can agree that discussing TV shows is an easy way to bond with new people as you get to know one another. In fact, one of my close friends and I met, and instantly bonded, over our love for Buffy The Vampire Slayer. However watching all this TV came at a price. I wasn’t reading as many books. I wasn’t practicing my violin. And, if I’m being honest here, I wasn’t really using my brain as much. Like many people, I like to watch TV to “zone out” when I’m feeling drained after a long workweek. I want to spend time with my “friends” on CSI solving cases. I want to explore freakish events as part of the Fringe team. And although I am solving these cases alongside these characters, television is still remains a passive medium. It doesn’t ask me to do anything other than to turn it on. But too much television viewing made me sluggish. It was time to shut it off.
After conducting what I’m sure were many costly studies, broadcasters realized that during the summer months, people watch less TV. So the traditional viewing season now ends as the warm weather beckons us out to play. I noticed that during these summer months, I am a happier person. The effects from the added Vitamin D aside, I recognized that this was in part because I was watching less television. I read more books. I socialized with friends more. I had more ‘free time’ as I was not tied to a broadcast schedule.
Over the years my personal viewing habits have evolved as technology has evolved. The creation of the DVR/PVR has freed us from the traditional broadcast schedule and allows me to watch my shows when I want. My time has become my own again… and I feel liberated. As newer options to view content are growing, audiences, such as myself, are now able to choose how, when and where we receive content. I now have the option to watch show on my iPad, phone or laptop. I can get programming through Netflix and iTunes. I rarely, if ever, watch live television.
For me, my love-hate relationship with television comes down to finding balance. It’s about watching my favourite shows – guilt free – by ensuring that my viewing habits do not cannibalize other aspects of my life. It’s about the freedom to choose when I watch these shows.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch True Blood.