A couple of weeks ago, on a Thursday night, I came home and put on the DVR, expecting to watch LOST. To my dismay, the recorder, for whatever reason (damn computers…), decided not to record it that night. So I thought I would try watching the free, streaming version off ABC’s web site the following night.
Before my complaining, though, it’s worth discussing a bit about how we use media. Television is one-way — we sit back on the couch, and we soak it in. The Internet is interactive — we proactively click on things to make other things happen. Dan Harries, in an essay titled “Watching the Internet” from his 2002 The New Media Book, summarizes these two somewhat opposing media practices, and calls for something new:
…one of the central modes encouraged by the internet is that of ‘viewing’, literally the online viewing of movies in a manner that loosely emulates the viewing of films in the cinema…A second mode is that of ‘using’ new media with users following more ‘computer oriented’ activities, such as exploring hyperlinked Web pages or playing online games…Yet what happens when both of these modes are integrated in a manner where the using affects the viewing, and vice versa?…I call this third emerging mode of spectatorship ‘viewsing’ — the experiencing of media in a manner that effectively integrates the activities of both viewing and using…
Viewsing is something like what MIT’s Henry Jenkins calls “convergence.” It’s the new form of participatory media we see emerging all over.
Now, getting back to LOST. The series certainly has strong viewsing elements to it — the fans are completely engaged, and the producers are not only aware of this, but use their fans’ feedback, incorporating it into the narrative. (Season Three’s “Expose” episode, for example, where Nikki and Paolo were killed off, was largely a gift to the fans, who never warmed up to those characters.)
But the experience of watching LOST online was terrible, because it incorporated the worst elements of “using” and “viewing” the web. The HD-quality stream looks great, and, connected to the home theater system, provides a terrific “viewing” experience. We dimmed the lights, sat back on the couch, and soaked it in. Until…
The commercials. Which are fine; we’re all used to that (although watching LOST on a DVR allows you to roll past them). But you’re not just required to watch the commercials — you physically have to click on the “continue” link on the web page to see the rest of the show. And this happens several (five or six?) times throughout the episode.
So much for sitting back on the couch and watching in HD.
Obviously, the producers assume most people watching are doing so at a desk, or on a laptop. But with Apple TV, and other web/video delivery mechanisms that continue to push media onto our 36″+ HD screens, watching the Internet becomes an increasingly passive experience — more “viewing” than “using.”
Until media producers figure that out, I’m hoping my DVR doesn’t forget to record LOST anymore…