From the Archive: Why does “on demand” feel so… demanding?

A kind tweet today from my friend David Daniel reminded me of this post, first published October 1, 2006. A look through my site found it a casualty of a domain transfer, but the always-useful Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive brought it back from the dead. Original version (with original comments) can be found here, and a subsequent story by CNN can be found here.  I don’t remember where I coined the term “TiVo Guilt,” but this at least is where the thinking comes from…

Having the best of the media world at my fingertips via cable VOD, TiVo, DVD, the internet and the metric ton of videotapes still lying around my garage can be a drag.

A couple nights back I cleared out the episodes of “House” piling up in my TiVo because they had ceased to be a special treat that I was saving for myself and started to feel like a homework assignment I’d forgotten to turn in. Similarly, my wife and I have had the many-many-Emmy-winning “Elizabeth I” in TiVo since April– April! We’ll never watch it, but we can’t bear to raise the white flag.

TiVo works best for short delays… watching something 15 minutes after it starts so I can blaze through without commercials,* or later that night, or the next night, but not much after that. I saw the second episode of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” on Tuesday night and loved it… almost as much as if I’d seen it on Monday night when it aired.

A short delay preserves that sense of sobytiinost — the “eventness” or connectedness with other people that I’ve talked about before — but eventness doesn’t last long. Like a delicate radioactive isotope, it has a half-life measured in mere hours.

The longer a piece of media lies around unseen, the more my satisfaction index declines. To be more precise, as a piece of media lies around, I find the prospect of watching it less satisfying. If I actually hurdle the barrier of my lack of desire to watch something once it’s no longer new, then I’ll probably enjoy it, although not, I suspect, as much as if I’d watched it when it was newer or live.

This is not just true of media that I can get in my home. With big, tentpole movies that have had expensive marketing campaigns and been drilled into my consciousness, I’d better see them close to the opening weekend or I’m going to wait for it to surface on HBO. If I’m only dimly aware of a movie — or if I’m seeing just about anything with my daughter who brings to the theater her own eventness — then this dynamic doesn’t happen. And as a corollary, with a sleeper like “Keeping Up with the Steins” the expectation — the sense of being about to be in on something that the unwashed multitude hasn’t heard about — brings its own anticipation.

Late at night, beached on the couch with the dog at my feet while the rest of the family sleeps, the last thing I want to do is make a well-informed, thoughtful, right-thinking decision about how I’m going to spend the next hour. That all sounds like such a commitment: I just want to relax. Dredging something from TiVo’s bowels means that I’ll have to make judgments and decisions: Should I have recorded this? Should I cancel the season pass? Is it more important that I watch this thing than that other thing? It’s supposed to be entertainment for heaven’s sake… not a test of my skill as a TiVo user.

The Year Five data from the Center for the Digital Future found that Americans now log onto the internet with no objective… just to spend time having fun. That’s a key distinction between self improvement and self renewal– between an ought to do and a want to do. If I wait too long, TiVo transmogrifies the former into the latter.

Comments, please?

* To all my brand marketer friends out there… yes, I admit it: I use TiVo to skip the commercials. Sorry, y’all.

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