Monday, August 21, 2006

Timeshifting The Family

I love TiVo.

For one of my startups, I was traveling almost non-stop (wearing the hat of "bag-carrying salesman"). There was absolutely no way for me to ever see my favorite TV shows. Until I got TiVo, and could watch them on my schedule. Finally, TV was adapting to me instead of the other way around. Many thanks to the entrepreneurs, investors, and employees who created that business. The TiVo box has gone many years without major change - a testament to the fact that these folks got a lot of it right (or, at least, "good enough"). Congrats to them. You have fundamentally changed the way that we consume television.

However...

Amy and I were talking this weekend about some of the old, classic movies that we love and about a miniseries or two that had a big impact on us. Amy insists that I should see the miniseries Lonesome Dove, so I've added it to my list. For me, I remember, at 13 years of age, watching the miniseries Roots with my family. My family, and most other TV-watching families in America, were glued to their seats, day-after-day, to follow along with the trials and tribulations of Kunta Kinte and his family.

At that time, the concept of "miniseries" was a new one to television and, according to Wikipedia, Roots had a heck of a following:
The term became well-established in the mid 1970s, particularly with the success of Rich Man, Poor Man, based on the novel of Irwin Shaw, in 1976. Alex Haley's Roots in 1977 can fairly be called the first blockbuster success of the format. Its success in the USA was due to its schedule: the twelve hours were split into eight episodes broadcast on consecutive nights, resulting in a finale with a 71 percent share of the audience and 130 million viewers.

Yes, that's 71% share with 130 million viewers. I imagine that this was primarily a US-only viewership.

Amazing.

Remember, these were the days before TiVo. You had to be up-front and center to experience the show. To some, TV was even a reward. Your shows started and stopped whether you were ready for them or not. TV, and the shows your family loved, was a forcing function. In the days before TiVo:

  • You HAD to be in front of the TV with your full attention (no rewind)

  • You HAD to finish your chores or homework in time, else you didn't watch (no record)

  • You ENJOYED the commercials, since they gave you a chance to use the restroom or get a snack (no pause or fast-forward)

  • You WATCHED and COMMENTED on the show WITH your other family members (no "I'll watch it today, you watch it tomorrow, then delete it")

  • You BRAGGED to your friends on Monday morning that you stayed up late to watch Saturday Night Live (now it's Saturday Night TiVo'ed)

  • You EXPERIENCED the show the same time as the rest of the nation, so you could talk about it around the office cooler the next day (no checking user-contributed reviews to see if you will even bother watching what you recorded)


Roots captured the attention of the US viewers, culminating in an amazing miniseries finale. Most importantly, it was a national shared experience. The fact that we all sacrificed in some way to see these 8 back-to-back episodes at the same time seemed to enhance the collective experience.

Of course, TiVo doesn't take any of this away. TiVo is just a tool. I still love TiVo.

When you Timeshift, and many of us do these days, don't let the tool allow your family to miss those shared experiences.

These days, the nation gets its shared real-time experiences through shows like American Idol, which must be watched with that same attention because the viewers have to vote for their favorite performers within a short window following the show. Hey, you do what you've gotta do to keep America's attention and to keep those forcing functions alive.

Like TiVo, TV is just a tool as well. Use your tools wisely.

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