Disrupting Fall TV

Jake Keyes   September 25, 2012

Reach out and touch the fall lineup. (photo by Ars Electronica)

The 2012-13 TV season is nearly upon us, and some of us here at Scatter/Gather are starting to get excited about it. But we’ve noticed that the sites, services, apps, and devices that affect the way we watch TV also affect the way we anticipate the coming of the new season. In this post, Jake and Rachel share some of the ways their fall TV habits have evolved.

1. The new line-up. At one time in my career, I worked at the website for Entertainment Weekly. The Fall TV issue was always one of my annual favorites, even after I stopped working there. I would anxiously await learning which time slots my favorite returning shows had been assigned to, and reading up on the new ones to see which ones I was going to try. I’d pour through it and mark down premiere dates and start setting my DVR.

While I still look forward to that issue each year, the internet readily provides the information I need far in advance of EW’s publishing schedule. TheFutonCritic.com has ongoing coverage, sortable tables, and detailed grids. Starting when the previous season ends in May, they keep a running tally of which shows have been renewed and which have been cancelled, and they keep that scorecard going all season so you’ll immediately know when the lame shows get cancelled. EW may have more thoughtfully written preview articles, but Futon Critic has ongoing data that I’ll use throughout the season. – Rachel

2. The Rise of the Pilot – Like Rachel, I used to discover new shows based on coverage in print magazines and newspapers. I’d follow each show for a few weeks, watching episodes as they aired. But now that I watch TV over the internet, I sample shows in a totally new way. On-demand pilots and season premieres have taken on more significance. They serve almost like a video game demo, a little downloadable slice of the experience, available without a subscription or commitment, and increasingly released in the lull of summer, several weeks before the season officially starts.

As a result I sample more new shows, and I find that I’m willing to watch things way outside my normal tastes, so long as they’re free and easy to get. I think free and easy goes a long way here: if the conditions are right, there’s almost nothing on air that I wouldn’t watch, at least once. – Jake

3. The not-quite-arrival of the second screen. A lot of people are getting excited about Social TV, but it’s still largely in the realm of potential. Sure, I use my laptop, smartphone, or iPad while I watch. But most likely, after I check into GetGlue, I’m using them for things that have nothing to do with the show I’m watching. We’ve tried a lot of apps in the past few months, and we’re still optimistic, but nothing we’ve seen so far seems to actually enhance the experience enough to become a regular viewing companion. Is this the season that will change all that? – Rachel

4. Season shmeason – There’s no doubt that binge viewing, the practice of watching many episodes back-to-back, affects the way we experience TV. In a way, it’s the next evolution of time shifting. Now, instead of waiting until a day when it’s convenient to watch that week’s episode on DVR, on demand, or online, I’ll wait until a huge, season-long portion becomes available, and then consume it all at once, in a matter of weeks or days.

If you watch TV in this way, the “beginning” of a new TV season is not when the show airs, but when a good chunk of the season becomes available on iTunes. And, because it’s hard to make the feverish 20-hour time commitment needed to plow through so many episodes, it can be difficult to coordinate with another person (even if you live together). So the modern TV watcher sits alone, watching dozens of hours of TV, without anyone to talk to. And then, in ten days, has finished the season.

Soon the most meaningful TV time-gap may not be the days that pass between episodes, but the months that pass between seasons. – Jake


So, what about you? Let us know how technology has changed the way you watch.


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