We used to have to watch a TV show in real time to experience it start to finish. Now, we can pick up mid-series (or mid-season) and catch up, thanks to Netflix, Hulu, iTunes etc. But there is still a difference in the experience of watching TV as it airs and watching it on demand.
I’ve experienced this phenomenon twice now. With both Battlestar Galactica and LOST, I started watching the episodes on demand and caught up to the latest episode right before the series finale aired. In other words, I got up to “real time”, and watched the finale with the rest of the world.
With both series, I got to experience people’s immediate reaction with the ending as it unfolded online and in print. What I noticed, in a general sense, is that people who watched the series as it aired struggled more with the endings. People who watched the show mostly on demand were more accepting of the endings.
When we watch a show as it airs, we wait at least a week between episodes, we mull over what happened, we talk about what might happen next, we think about what we want to have happen. We know that (effectively) no one has seen the next episode. We internalize the show at a different level.
When we watch a show on demand, we have the immediate gratification of knowing that the next episode is readily available. We don’t need to think or talk about what might happen next because we can just watch it. Even if we take time between episodes, there’s more of a sense of the next episode being “written in stone”.
Those that watch the show live have more time to impart themselves on the show. They have more of a feeling that something should happen a certain way (and that it could because the next episode has yet to air). They have lived with the questions for a much longer period of time, and, in return, want deeper more complete answers. It’s much harder to simply accept what the creators of a show put in front of us, when all of that is going on in our head.
When I watch a show on demand, I have an easier time quieting the voice of “what I want the creators to do” and am able to accept the story they present. I may not like everything about it, but I can appreciate and enjoy it for what it is. And I suspect I’m not the only one.