Spending as much time as I do writing about, researching, teaching and making screen media I have been reflecting on my own media consumption behaviours; what do I watch and how do I watch it? I’m not referring to specific shows but rather means and mediums of their delivery and consumption.
The past 5 years have seen a great level of consistency in my modes and habits of viewing - perhaps to some degree garnered from having a family and regular job with pseudo regular hours.
In collating the data below I seek not to make bold assertions or draw broad assumptions about the viewing habits of the wider public but I do come to 2 interesting observations (in lieu of conclusions). The first is how surprised I was by how radically different my viewing habits are now than they might have been 5-10 years ago. And second, that whilst this data-set may be specific to me I strongly suspect that my pattern is neither unique nor an anomaly. I may be ahead of the curve in some regards but I doubt I will be ahead of it very long as the next 3 years evolve.
BROADCAST TV = None
Yep. I hadn’t noticed until I thought about it but, leaving aside odd minutes of walking past the TV whilst it’s on, I don’t watch any broadcast TV at all and haven’t done so for the better part of 5 years. Watching a broadcast show at the time it is scheduled on air is just not a part of my reality. The 6 o’clock news hung in there for a little while as the last stand of scheduled TV consumption, but it too is - for me - no more. News, as a broad category, is something I gather during the day continually from other media, not something I sit down to watch as scheduled. Simply put, I have no interest in watching anything on someone else’s timetable. I’ll watch what I want when I want and pause for piss breaks when I feel the need.
TIME-SHIFTED TV = 1hr/week
I own a media-centre pc that serves as hard-disc recorder connected to our TV. As I never sit in front of the TV at a scheduled time the only chance traditional broadcast gets to be seen in my house is through time-shifting: record now and watch later.
Not so long ago the number of hours attributable to this means of watching would have been more substantial but things have changed. Broadcast shows that I do want to watch are mostly available elsewhere without having to record. A simple case in point being ABC iView where I can watch a show online streamed anytime I want in the 2week window after its air-date. Since my TV receiver is a Media Centre pc and so it’s just as easy to watch online shows as broadcast, this kind of viewing has greatly shifted what would have otherwise been broadcast viewing. What I once watched ‘live’ or recorded for later I now watch online.
STREAMING ONLINE VIDEO = 5.5hrs/week
Whilst it would be easy to rack up hours watching videos of people lighting their own farts on YouTube, I’ve focused this category on measuring more substantial content. There are 3 main contributors to my viewing online - ABCNews24, a live 24hr streaming video service that mirrors its broadcast signal. Second is online viewing of TV programs (such as through the iView service mentioned earlier). And the last component of streaming video I watch is original webtv shows that I subscribe to and watch as episodic serials. There is an ever growing number of these shows I watch and there is little doubt that they will become an increasingly substantial part of my viewing diet. More significantly however is the space in which I view original web serials has shifted from my laptop to the lounge room. This shift is profound in that it further normalises the viewing process of streaming media and breaks down artifical divisions between broadcast and streaming content.
TV SHOWS ON DVD = 8hrs/week
Its widely reported that illegal downloading is ‘killing’ the ‘industry’ (and I use the term loosely as I’m yet to find anyone who can succinctly define what ‘the industry’ is) and yet when I walk into a major DVD retailer such as J+B HiFi a good 1/4 of the store is dedicated the TV show DVD season and box sets. Indeed there are just as many aisles devoted to TV DVDs as there are to feature films. Is it safe to say that J+B wouldn’t dedicate to much stock and floor space to a product unless it was selling and it wouldn’t be selling if everyone was illegally downloading…?
So anyway, this brings me to my own viewing. I buy and own a lot of TV DVD sets. In this golden age of the TV drama we seem to be in, such viewing is the mainstay of my nightly entertainment (far in excess and above feature films). I buy them as physical products because of a number of reasons:
- Its cheaper to buy then to rent
- I like visual quality and online downloads are often 2nd generation with compression artefacts.
- The costs of downloading the many hours a month I would watch would cost me more in ISP bandwidth than it would buying the DVDs from the shop.
- I’m a collector and love great cover-art and DVD extras which are often not available in a download.
Above practical elements that make me prefer buying a DVD set over watching as broadcast is a consumption behaviour. My preferred mode of viewing is continuous - I want to watch a TV series like I read a book. I want to knock over a few chapters each night - the story fresh in my mind and processed during the day then extended each night. Just as with a novel, I feel I gain the most from the experience when I can plough through it in a couple of weeks. The idea of reading a novel 1hr/week and waiting 7 days between reading sessions seems absurd. And I see it being no less absurd for a complex TV drama series like The Wire, Deadwood, MadMen, Breaking Bad or East West 101.
In this light it’s interesting to re-think the role traditional broadcast TV plays in what I buy on DVD? Scheduled becomes the sampler and, much as I may choose to buy music CD’s based on hearing particular songs on the radio, so to does the TV become the means to try before I buy. There are numerous programs in recent years that I have seen an initial episode (usually time-shifted), liked what I saw and gone out to buy the DVD (or waited for the DVD to be released). There is much to suggest that feature films are not that far off such a model whereby the theatrical release is simply the advance advertising for the DVD (or blu-ray) sales.
RENTED DVD’s = None
I haven’t rented a movie in 6 years. Simple as that. One one hand I don’t watch many feature films (not by comparison to other media) If the film isn’t a new release its often only marginally more expensive to buy than to rent it. And downloading it is infinitely more convenient. If I watch more features than I do I’d be much more likely to go to NetFlicks or a download service.
THEATRICAL FEATURE FILMS = 2hrs/month
After a lifetime at the movies I now find myself in the darkened theatre no more than once a month (and even then its most likely to be a kids film with my family) Why do I go to the movies so rarely? Of course it’s not because I don’t like movies - my career is movies. There are many factors - time, money, family constraints, a feeling that a measly 2hrs can never hope to be as satisfying as the 40+ hours of a great TV series…
But there is another factor that I can’t escape: I don’t feel like I gain anything from the movie-theatre - for me there is no perceivable advantage, benefit or positive point of difference.
The theatrical big screen dark cinema experience (popcorn and all) has long been held as the ‘gold-standard’ of screen experience. But in 2010 I can’t help but think ‘fuck the theatrical release’, I just don’t care about the movie theatre. I care about movies but I don’t care about seeing them in the theatre.
Knowing full well that i will incur the ire of many colleagues and my students, I declare openly that to my eye (and dare I say a reasonably well trained eye with 15 odd years in production) movies do not (as popular opinion may hold) “look better” at the theatre than in my living room… Them’s blasphemous fightin’ words so allow my to explain.
My substantially large HD LED TV and home-theatre system playing from BluRay discs offers an audio-visual experience I am every bit as aesthetically happy with as going to the cinema. Even the primacy of the size of the ‘big screen’ seems a largely defunct argument as the ratio of screen-width to viewing distance is comparable to the cinema screen from the auditorium. Using this Calculator a screen of 100cm in width [48” to 50” TV] has an optimal viewing distance of about 3m (hence why computer-based media-centre GUI’s are designed to a 10foot standard). A cinema theatre screen of 10m across has an optimal viewing distance of 29m; which is about the centre back third of a full size theatre. These two ratios are near on identical - I watch my 48” TV from about 10feet away and when I go to the megaplex I sit in the back third of the auditorium at about 25m from the screen. The movie theatre may be physically bigger but its proportion to viewing distance means the apparent scale of the image is really not all that different to a good linge room TV setup.
All this may be debated but what cannot be questioned is that my couch is more comfy, I can pause rewind and break when I want. I can have dinner on my lap and have the volume as loud or as soft as I like. Moreover, I certainly don’t like the rest of humanity enough to want my movie-watching a communal experience. I wanna watch movies with a few people I like not a crowd of people I don’t know from proverbial bars of soap.
So, whilst I still watch feature movies my cinema-going has dwindled and I cannot seeing it recovering anytime soon. Home theatres and home TV’s and projectors look better every year whereas the quality of the theatrical projection hasn’t tangibly improved in 20 years (and no I don’t count 3D - it just makes me nauseous and gives me an eye-strain headache; hardly an aesthetic improvement I’d pay more or even leave the house for. I saw Avatar in 3D at the cinema and 2D on blu-ray at home and it was sharper, more vibrant and looked better to my eyes in crisp 2D blu-ray at home than soft 3D in the cinema)
FEATURE FILM AT HOME = 2hrs/week
I may not be going to the cinema very often and the bulk of my screen diet may be non-feature but I still have steady diet of a movie a week. Sometimes they are recent releases, more often they are catch-up films, picking up movies I missed when they first came out. Still regularly again they are re-viewings of films I have seen before. Consistent but hardly a dominant part of my viewing behaviour.
BLOGS +WEBSITES - 7hrs/week
Deviating from moving-image forms it is interesting to reflect on the amount of written material I consume as screen-based media (and reading which is often mixed with rich-media elements: photos, video and audio).
My Netvibes page drags score of RSS feeds to my attention but there are a set few pages that are daily read and of which some I am a subscribed member (such as The Escapist). These readings constitute a daily diet consumed usually at the beginning and end of the work day. Some longer articles get filed away in my Evernote account for later in-depth reading, others get Tweeted on to recommend to others. In any case 7hrs a week represents a very consistent reading commitment and engagement with text-based screen media.
BROADCAST RADIO = 5hrs/week
Good all radio (the one that killed the video star) yes you are still with me. This is one that is very specifically tied to a space and strangely is the only form of media I consume that is still attached to a traditional schedule. I listen to the radio in the car to and from work. If it wasn’t for the car I would be unlikely to listen to radio at all; and programs I did want to hear I would likely source as podcast and experience in the time-shifted manner akin to TV. But in the car I’m unhurried and unable to engage in other media (or distractions) and so the morning and afternoon radio news and current affairs programs become a solid consistent of media consumption.
STREAMING RADIO = None
Whilst Streaming Radio might represent the same attraction and advantages as streaming TV does over broadcast TV for me, the truth is I don’t listen to streaming radio. Either I download a program as a podcast to listen off-line or else I’m in the car. if my car had an wireless internet receiver so i could listen to streaming radio through my car stereo, then we might be on to something. but until then, streaming radio is off my radar.
PODCASTS = 30mins/week
Not as much as I once did, but Podcasts still deliver to me a kind of media content I can’t obtain from other forms. Mostly in the vein of documentaries, interviews and discussions (witness the outstanding Life Well Wasted) the key attractor with podcasts is that they are non-exclusive - I can listen and do other things. As such they are a small but consistent from experienced mostly at work under headphones whilst I work on other things.
MUSIC (CD+Download) = 3hrs/week
There was a time when my consumption of music would have dominated all other forms (my high-school and uni days no doubt - times when music was everything) but these days music is confined to weekend affairs of family rock-out sessions. My music collection is massive - over 1000 cd’s and almost as much on vinyl and it is slowly being converted to mp3’s on the media centre. But its a collection that isn’t really growing. I don’t new music very often. Not by conscious choice, just a greater interest in other things.
VIDEO GAMES - 21hrs/week
This is probably the most telling stat of all, not least because games represent at least 250 per cent more weekly time devotion than any other media. 21hrs sounds like a lot and the figure stems from a clear and consistent 3hrs/night 7 nights a week. I stay up late and my partner goes to bed early so I get a clear 3hrs every night of guilt-free game-time as time not taken away from other things (save sleeping)
I move seamlessly from game to game, starting a new game immediately after completing (or growing bored of) the previous.
With the 20-120 hours that a narrative-based game may occupy coupled with my nightly diet of long-form drama TV shows running at a similar commitment of hours, it seems no wonder that I find feature films all to often a shallow and unsatisfying experience. A disposal 2hr story can’t hope to possibly compete with complex density of multi-series TV shows and epic narrative games.
The other interesting shift in consumption of games worth noting is a change in how I buy them. I’m PC gamer predominantly. I engage very little with the lowest common denominator of Xbox’s and Playstation console games and their clumsy, fumbling control pads. Instead I favour the dexterity and finesse of mouse and keyboard and the richer experience of game-mods and customisation that gaming PC offers. In the past this has meant buying boxed-games from the local game shop but a number of factors have combined of late to change my buying habits. First, an australian dollar running at an exchange rate of 1-1 with the US dollar means buying overseas in US dollars is the way to go. Second is that a change in ISP sees me now able to download games from STEAM (online game download retailer) without it counting on my monthly data download limit. Thus my current pattern is to by a game every 3-4 weeks and do so via online download through STEAM.
So…. What does all this mean? I’ve tried to embed perspectives on each of these stats and the details they embody but what they add up to in totality is a pattern of consumption that is a challenge to all the traditional patterns dominant for the past 50 years.
The summary goes something like this:
- I watch a lot of TV but I don’t watch it on the ‘air’ and I Never watch ads.
- I love movies but rarely go to the movies and don’t see any visual benefit in the ‘big screen’.
- I’m watching more and more original webTV shows and I’m watching them in the lounge room at night rather than my laptop during the day.
- I’m playing a shit load of computer games and downloading them from an online store.
- I don’t rent DVDs at all and only listen to radio because I’m in the car each day.
- I don’t record TV to watch later, I download or stream it later.
- I don’t buy magazines or newspapers, but I read extensively online.
- I don’t watch the nightly news, I gather news from multiple sources all day.
This is my profile.
What does this summary say about me? Am I unique in my media consuming behaviour? And if I’m not what does that say about the future of the screen content industries? If I and my media consumption patterns are normal what skills and ideas should we be teaching future screen media makers currently enrolled in ‘film schools’? What financial models should screen producers be exploring? What sort of stories should we be telling and where should we be telling them…?