The New TV

How I watch TV – my laptop hooked up to the flatscreen

There’s an article in today’s New York Times about how Conan O’Brien’s millions of young fans never really tuned in to his show. Conan’s ratings among 18-34-year-olds were higher than David Letterman’s, but lower than the Colbert Report’s and, amazingly, Jay Leno’s when he hosted the Tonight Show.

According to the article, young people – especially young men – “don’t watch television regularly”, and when they do watch late night TV they are more likely to watch ESPN, Adult Swim, or Comedy Central. Young men are also more likely to play video games or use DVR recorders, which kept them from watching Conan’s show while it was on.

I have to admit that this article pretty much describes the way I, a 23-year-old male Conan fan, watch TV. The only episode of Conan’s Tonight Show I watched on cable was the finale, and the only reason I watched that was because I happened to be hanging out with friends who wanted to see it right then. Otherwise I would have watched it on hulu like I always do.

If Conan’s finale had been only a few days earlier, in fact, I couldn’t have watched it on cable at all, because we only got cable installed in our apartment about a week ago, after living here for almost six months.

It’s not that I don’t like TV. I’m not one of those guys who brags about not being addicted to the “idiot box.” I like The Office, South Park, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia enough to watch every new episode – online. Every once in a while, I watch The Colbert Report and The Daily Show on hulu. When I visit my parents in the suburbs, I watch whatever new episodes there are of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Bored to Death and Hung on HBO on Demand. I own DVDs of Seinfeld and the Simpsons that I watch pretty regularly. I have downloaded many episodes of the Sopranos on Itunes.

After reading that Times article, I realized that the Tonight Show is the only TV show whose airtime I know, and the only reason I know that is because it’s been on at that time for about half a century. I don’t even remember for sure when The Office and South Park air (is it 8 o’clock Thursdays, 9 o’clock Wednesdays?).

What’s the point of watching a show live on cable if you can watch it for free on the internet? When my friends and I were watching the Conan finale, we remarked on how loud and stupid commercials are. It’s almost insulting. We made fun of them for the first few commercial breaks, and then we muted the TV when they came on. When I used to watch Conan on Hulu I only had to watch a few 30- or 60-second ads that seemed much less obnoxious than the ones that were on last Friday.

A possible downside of watching TV shows on the internet is the small size of computer monitors. This hasn’t been a problem for me since I bought a few cords at Best Buy that allow me to connect my computer to our flat screen TV. They cost forty or fifty bucks total, but they’re worth it.

I was going to write that television will go through some big changes soon, but it already has. If Conan had started hosting the Tonight Show in 2004, his young fans would have had to watch his show while it was on cable instead of recording it or watching it online. His ratings wouldn’t have been so low and we wouldn’t all be gossiping about the Leno/Conan feud all the time.

I wonder if the whole concept of a TV show suited to a particular time, like the Tonight Show, is kaput. We’re all busy, and there’s usually something we’d rather be doing than watch what happens to be on cable at the moment. Plus, we hate those stupid commercials.

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