Critical Writing's Gail Shister quoted in Daily Pennsylvanian article on TiVo

Can television withstand the test of TiVo?

The Daily Pennsylvanian
October 31, 2008

College senior Kaarina Romero loves watching television, but rarely turns on a TV. Still, she hasn't missed an episode of Grey's Anatomy this season.


Instead, Romero catches Grey's, Top Model, Heroes and the multitude of other shows she is "obsessed with" on the Internet or on DVR, a digital video recorder.

"I just don't have time to catch them when they are on," she said. Prime time television interferes with Romero's prime study time.

She is not alone. Television networks are realizing that their viewers are increasingly watching shows out of pattern - not at the time of their original broadcast. It's changing what it means to "watch TV."

Gail Shister, a professor who teaches TV criticism in the critical writing program, has seen the phenomena anecdotally in her students, and was surprised with what she found.

"The shocking thing to me is that its not even a situation that they miss the show and go on-line," she said. "The students go directly on-line. The computer has become a TV set."

The preponderance of on-line television shows and the ability to record and watch episodes later on a DVR has affected television watching habits.

"Networks are going to eventually have to change the whole way they show shows," Shister said.

Nielsen Media Research, which measures network ratings, has already taken note.

"We've been … reporting time shifted viewing for several years now," explained Anne Elliot, Vice President of Communications.

Nielson has been using what is called an active/passive meter for the past three years to measure how many times television shows are viewed after their original air time.

Nielson research has found that 24.4 percent of all US homes have a DVR, up from 8 percent only three years ago.

Households with a DVR watch more than 10 percent of their prime time television on the device, Elliott said.

Not surprisingly, the phenomenon seems to be generational, with older viewers sticking by their live viewing habits and younger viewers turning to the Internet.

"They're diametric opposites," Shister said.

Two types of shows that seem to be exempt from the trend are sports and "group" shows, which are watched as a social event, according to Communications professor Joseph Turow.

College junior Yoni Gol echoed that sentiment.

"You can always make up a TV show," he said. "If I didn't watch the Phillies game last night … it's clearly not as much fun and I know what already happened."

Of group shows, Shister added, "when there's a really big event that is more fun to watch in a group, that can't be replicated on a computer."

Romero, for example, has a weekly viewing party with her friends to watch Gossip Girl and The Hills.

"Usually people bring a lot of their own food and we watch and talk during commercials," she said.

When not watching with her friends, Romero gravitates towards both legal and illegal streaming Web sites, although the legality does not worry her as much as the picture quality.

There can be a downside to online viewing, though.

"Those friggin' commercials that are the same commercials every break, they're so annoying!" Romero lamented.

Gol agreed. "Sometimes if you have bad Internet, [the show] freezes or is bad quality."

But for the moment, Internet TV seems to be here to stay.

"Everything in terms of television is a brave new world" Shister said. "Everything is changing."