Watching TV Alone Together

Julie and I watched 4 episodes on Sunday, 3 on Monday, 2 on Wednesday, and 1 on Thursday to finish the first season of “Game of Thrones“. The last show I watched this quickly was 7 seasons of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” in 1 summer during high school, so we’re enjoying “Game of Thrones” a lot.

For awhile, I was quite stubborn about watching “Game of Thrones”. My friends watched last season together on Sunday nights, and I even attended a few viewing parties and just did other things instead. Out of pride or forgetfulness, I can’t recall why I refused to watch, but with the 3rd season starting last weekend and Julie reading the books, it made sense to catch up as quickly as possible to share the experience with my friends.

Binge-viewing is now a recognized behavior among TV viewers. Thanks to services like Netflix, people can easily watch an entire TV show over the course of a few days instead of needing to get the DVDs or wait for re-runs or new episodes. An interesting consequence noted in the NYT article is that cliffhangers aren’t as relevant for binge-viewers who are launched straight into the next episode. In fact, the so-called “hoarders” even prefer to wait for a TV show to finish its run before watching it all in one go.

Another hidden cost to increased availability of past TV shows is that TV doesn’t have the same global feel to it, where everyone was sharing the experience simultaneously, albeit individually at home. One factor is that we don’t have to watch TV live. A few years ago, it was unfortunate when you couldn’t be home for your favorite show and needed to tape it. And if it took more than a day to watch, you had to deal with spoilers at lunch the next day. Another factor is that current TV may not garner the same audience. Why should I spend my time watching a possibly bad show when I can watch a classic instead?

I have mentioned a few shows I have watched recently, and I’m sorry to say that I often wasn’t keeping up with those well, either. Every few weeks, I would catch up on the last few episodes of “30 Rock” or “Dollhouse” or “Avatar”, while my friends bugged me about the past episodes I hadn’t watched yet. Without Hulu, I might never have kept up, and without Netflix, I might never have watched Arrested Development and missed out on those experiences. But with these services, I don’t feel the need to be in front of my TV at a certain time, and I’m losing out on the shared experience around that.

That shared experience is what I’m hoping to reclaim with “Game of Thrones”. There are politics and battles everywhere, and I would like to be able to speculate wildly on what might happen next. For example, I went out to dinner with family friends last week, and we realized that we had been watching the BBC “Sherlock” show, which ended the 2nd season with a cliffhanger. We had different theories about the mysteries and how they would transition into the new season. Despite having not talked about it before, TV situated us both in the same experience without having shared anything before, and that’s pretty cool.

Anyways, I recommend that you all watch “Game of Thrones”. It’s bloody, and there’s more nudity than the plot requires, but it’s HBO. And maybe we’ll never be able to speculate wildly, since the TV series is following the fantasy books, but it’s enraptured a lot of my friends, and sharing this experience seems like an okay application of peer pressure.

3 thoughts on “Watching TV Alone Together”

  1. I just started watching the 3rd season yesterday after doing the very binge viewing that you describe for seasons 1 & 2. I’m an American living abroad, so binge viewing is really the only way to enjoy American television.

    In the “alone together” fashion, I host a Monday evening potluck with friends so that we can do this sort of stuff together. We watched all of “Six Feet Under” that way, long after the series was off the air and there was a round with True Blood (although it was too grisly for some). We’re now doing House of Cards.

    You’re certainly right that this is a new way for folks to appreciate television, but will the industry figure that out? I have to use all kinds of proxy and P2P solutions to get my TV fix. And waiting for it to come out on DVD is a joke. When will the networks come up with a model that works for them and us)?

    1. Hooray for binge-viewing! Clearly you’re better at it than we are, since we have slowed down significantly since that first season and are currently only half way through season 2 =(

      I have to admit, I’m not quite as big into watching TV or movies with friends as doing other things. It always struck me as strange that a group activity would be to focus our attention on a (hopefully) entirely absorbing, passive activity. I guess it just doesn’t really feel like I’m doing something in those cases. But I think I’m just being an overly analytical downer here, since I’m hoping to catch up on Game of Thrones so I can join the potluck with my friends.

      That’s a bummer that you have to use so many workarounds to get American television. It’s actually become quite easy here: Game of Thrones is all on HBO GO, Netflix covers most older shows, and Hulu offers most current, broadcast television. I think things are changing, but I don’t really blame the industry on moving slowly here. The money isn’t as good with convenient, asynchronous viewing through streaming. Until that is sorted out, though, know that I sympathize with you and needing workarounds when I try to find various sports games.

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