For more than two years, I badgered my wife about getting a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) as a part of our DirecTV package.
“Oh, that’s just a waste, we don’t need that,” she maintained.
But when we got one, there was an instant feeling of liberation. Now, when the kids stayed up until 8:20, we could start watching our show at 8:21, instead of waiting for it to finish recording at 9:00. In fact, it was better, because we could wait until then to start and still “finish” when everyone else did.
Maybe you felt the same way about liberating your songs on iTunes, being able to carry a lifetime of music passions in your pocket. One dial away from every tangible memory.
That feeling is addictive; and it is both powerful and empowering. The great impact of personal technology did not really manifest until it put us in charge of our own schedules again. We are no longer captive to the time and place that another is sharing – we choose when and how we will consume. It’s a powerful feeling, and I was certain that I would never go back. I knew that my daughter would come of age as part of the generation that “dictates to” and does not get “dictated to.”
Boy, was I wrong.
The Power of Serendipity
It hit home when I was in my bedroom organizing a drawer, when my daughter asked for help. She wanted me to hurry up and help her with something in her room, because the Harry Potter movie was coming on television in a few minutes.
Mind you, this is the same Harry Potter movie that we’ve owned on DVD since before my seven-year-old daughter could speak. She had just watched it last week. And she wasn’t interested in seeing it again, except for the fact that it was going to be on TV!
I told her that we could take a few minutes to get things settled in her room, and start the DVD whenever we wanted to.
Exactly. There is something there I didn’t quite understand. She was supposed to be growing up in an age where the consumer controlled everything, and had the upper hand.
The Mass Experience
I don’t know if you realized it, but the ratings for the Super Bowl were up. And the ratings for the Oscars were up. It wasn’t because either of these live events were any better than predecessors – but because part of the show is our participation in a great communal experience. People who might have been on the fence about watching the Academy Awards did so, just to follow along with the bitter snark and commentary from their friends on social networks. Not a gigantic impact, but enough to turn the tide of declining viewership.
We are still social animals, and when we are so empowered for individual consumption of media we will still yearn for and cling to those communal moments. Hosting a Super Bowl or an Oscar Night party takes effort. Jumping into and out of online clusters of people is easy – because we are empowered to do so!
The traditional broadcasters should keep things well in mind that the way to remain relevant and deliver eyeballs is to provide campfires for us to huddle around. It must be the kind of experience that makes you feel like you’re missing something if you aren’t there in real-time. No offense to fans of “How I Met Your Mother,” but the scripted situation comedy doesn’t provide the level of “OMG WTF Did you see THAT!” one finds in discussions of “Lost.”
We’re Not Immune
None of us are immune to this pull. I thought I was.
The other night, while checking my DVR to make sure I was going to record the shows that I would get yelled at for missing, I noticed something.
Right there, on DirecTV’s 101 – Rush, live in concert.
I’ve seen them eight times myself, and own everything they’ve released. I am a huge fan. And you’d better believe I watched a few minutes and recorded it. Even though I own the DVD set it was edited from.
And last month, while driving a rental car with satellite radio, there was Limelight on the Classic Rock channel. And there I was, listening to it, even though I had the disc sitting right there in the passenger seat.
There’s something about the serendipity and randomness that is a draw. And there’s something else about that communal experience. I wasn’t listening to Limelight because something new and unexpected might happen. I wasn’t live-tweeting the lyrics, nor was I chatting it up with friends online.
There was something magical about knowing that somewhere – tens of thousands of somewheres, in offices and automobiles across the country – there were others who put aside the alienation, and got on with the fascination. The real relation, the underlying theme. We were all experiencing it alone, together.
The broadcasters who figure this out will survive the implosion of traditional media.