The Power of Now

John posted some interesting thoughts earlier this week on the subject of ‘timeliness‘ which stimulated some debate. The event that sparked this was his watching of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ on Channel 4, and why he chose to view this screening, as opposed to one of the plethora of multichannel airings that have run for the last three years, or why he didn’t simply reach for the DVD box set that he owns and watch it in ‘his’ time.

His rationale for this was the need for “things to be scheduled” and that the terrestrial showing help put the film “back within time”.

This sent me off on a tangent and reminded me of something that I’ve wondered about for a long time. That is, why is it that I seem to enjoy TV and music content ‘more’ when they’re broadcast ‘in time’? This doesn’t, prima facie, make much sense. For example:

– Even though I own hundreds of DVDs, I still prefer watching films on terrestrial TV
– I’ve got an iPod, but the same songs still sound better on the radio
– I love my Sky+, but TV shows still seem more enjoyable if watched when broadcast

It’s weird – I can’t really articulate why the event seems ‘better’ when live, it just kind of, well, does.

Apparently, I’m not alone in this. I’ve asked a few people about this over the past couple of years and many have agreed.

I have two theories on this.

Firstly, as I mentioned as a comment on John’s post, is that humans, as a herd species, have an innate desire to be part of the collective. Thus, when an event is broadcast you know, (perhaps albeit subconsciously) that others are experiencing the same thing, and as such you’re not alone in your enjoyment of that event – it essentially becomes a shared experience. This then equates to a feeling of wellbeing, that in turn translates into an enhanced experience (ie. the song/movie/show is ‘better’).

Secondly, could it simply be down to the fact that your choice is being made for you? Rather than choosing a DVD off the shelf, or picking a song from 2,000 on your MP3 player, a decision is made for you, and this ease of burden could somehow enhance the experience (read ‘The Paradox of Choice‘ for more on this). Perhaps.

Of course, this could well be utter rubbish. I haven’t researched it (though I think I will now) so there may be an altogether simpler (and obvious) reason for it. Or it may not even exist.

Interesting to think about it though, especially in the choice-rich, consumer-empowered environment that we currently live in. If you could ‘capture’ this feeling, the implications for us in advertising could be significant.

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2 Responses to “The Power of Now”

  1. faris Says:

    Wotcha chap,

    Absolutely agree – it’s the collective experience.

    When you watch Eastenders on your own, you aren’t really on your own – there is an assumed audience of millions watching with you.

    But when you watch a DVD you are alone.

    This brings an interesting twist to time shifted viewing – you lose the shared experience.

    So perhaps there will always be a role for scheduling. Although, the more fragmented the audience, the smaller the collective you are watching with….

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Interesting post, and all the more timely as they’re showing another LOTR film on the telly now! Both of your explainations make sense, but I think your ‘shared experience’ theory is spot on.

    To add a very basic example, it’s the difference between listening to a tune on your own, or listening to the same tune in a club / rave. The experience is completely enhanced when you’re surrounded by other people who share the same taste in music.

    Also you raise an interesting point about the human relationship with structure. We like to think we’re in control / independent, but in reality we all feel more comfortable operating within an external framework / structure. Need to think about this more.

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