Media Love Triangle: I Love My TiVo More, But Live TV Always Gets Screwed

I'm caught up in a bit of a media love triangle right now, and I've recently noticed some differences in how I treat the parties involved. See, live TV and I have a somewhat dysfunctional relationship: I almost never watch live TV without the company of my laptop computer. It works for us; I've been doing this for years. But I've started to notice that the computer companion is not present when I'm watching my TiVo programs.

As a busy commuter in the middle of planning a major life event, I have little free time in the evenings. It seems such a waste to sit in front of the TV to watch live programming without also checking my personal email, catching up with world news or conducting wedding-related research. I have always been one to complete other tasks like cooking dinner or folding laundry with the TV on. In fact, I don't think it's possible for me to fold laundry without the TV to distract me from that tediously boring task. My dependence on the laptop while watching live TV is, however, is a bit different than mindless laundry folding while watching "Law & Order" or "CSI."



My laptop commands my attention over the TV programming when I am exposed to both concurrently. I tend to give my RSS feeds or email more attention than I give TV programming. When I watch TiVo, things are different. I usually save my TiVoed programs to watch after I've accomplished my online or computer-based tasks for the evening, so I can give them my uninterrupted and undivided attention. I almost never bring my laptop to bed with my TiVo -- that would just be wrong.

As I consider the distinction I make between live and recorded TV, I notice several trends: 1) I treat advertising and programming differently during each mode of TV watching; and 2) TV switches from a passive and secondary medium during live TV to an active and primary medium during prerecorded TV.

First, let's talk about my astonishing lack of discrimination between advertising and programming when watching live TV (and, of course, using my laptop). It is not the ads I'm neglecting during live TV, it is all content across the board. Ads and programming alike take the backseat when I'm designing my invitations, emailing my mom and sisters about Christmas gifts or furiously poring through a foreign policy news brief.

When I watch TiVo, however, I don't watch advertising. I skip through ad pods gracefully and expertly as I anticipate the next segment of programming. But the fact that I fast-forward through ads when I watch recorded TV shows isn't about a raging desire to avoid ads. Rather, I get so into my episode of "Boston Legal" that I want to get back to the story as quickly as possible. I want to know what happens next on "Burn Notice," so I skip the ads rather than sit through an interruption.

I suppose you could look at my behavior and lament the fact that in both scenarios I am not paying attention to advertising. But, I prefer to note that in the case of prerecorded shows, I AM paying attention to the programming, and that is at least an improvement over not attending to any content whatsoever. The trick, I suppose, is to figure out how to interest me in the advertising as well -- make it relevant to the story I don't want to leave in the first place, perhaps?

The question of how to engage me in all types of content brings me to the fact that TV becomes a primary and active medium only when I watch my recorded shows. As I've noted before, my computer tasks take precedence when I watch live TV because I am actively engaged with my laptop. Thereby, my relationship with live TV is passive and the TV is the background, secondary medium in this equation.

This tendency for TV to be secondary when used concurrently with other media is one that the CMD has discussed in our Middletown Media Studies II reports and in a subsequent whitepaper, Engaging the Ad-Supported Media. This notion of different levels of engagement was extended ever further in a white paper for the ARF Audience Measurement Symposium in 2006. Mind the Measurement Gap discusses "6 degrees of engagement," noting the ways in which we tend to engage with media differently depending on 1) whether we are exposed to a medium in the context of other concurrent life activities and 2) whether the exposure is concurrent with other media. When used-alone TV is primary; add other activities or media and TV will tend to be secondary.

That I move away from my laptop when I want to focus all of my attention on the TV (i.e., when I watch my TiVo programs) also supports this finding. I don't want my computer to take attention away from my programs. The key difference here, I believe, is that my recorded programs are appointment viewing and most of the live programming I watch is not. I choose my favorite programs, record them and save them for a time when I can afford to watch them without my laptop in front of me and other tasks at hand.

In other words, I make time for my TiVo and treat it with a respect that I don't show for live TV because TiVo gives me what live TV cannot: my favorite programs when I have time for them, and the opportunity to watch only the programming that I enjoy without interruption from unrelated content. If live TV offered me the same opportunity, perhaps I would treat it the same way I treat my TiVo: put the laptop away and give live TV the undivided attention it wants. Whether VOD or iTV will accomplish this relationship change remains to be seen.

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