Online vs. live: How students watch TV


Students are split in the way they watch television shows. Whether it is live or online, both viable outlets of entertainment.

Maia Zewert

A new student at Iowa State has plenty of opportunities to meet friends. For Alex Daly, sophomore in computer engineering, bonding with other people on his dorm floor came over a shared love of the show “How I Met Your Mother.”

“When the poster sale was here, I bought a poster of ‘How I Met Your Mother’ to hang in my room,” Daly said. “People would see it and tell me how much they loved the show, and we’d get to talking about it. It helped me meet new people.”

Daly was then invited to a viewing party celebrating the premiere of the show earlier this month.

Once a popular method of watching shows when they air live, watching television in large groups is slowly becoming less prevalent as online streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix are on the rise.

“When you watch a show online or with a DVR, you have the ability to pause and rewatch something that you might not have if you were watching the show live,” said Thomas Arce, graduate in educational leadership and policy studies.

Arce is currently teaching an honors seminar about how television portrays the college experience. Like Daly, he enjoys watching a few shows with a group.

“I think getting to watch television shows with friends who like the show is more enjoyable than watching it on your own,” Arce said.

Recent trends in the Nielsen ratings show that viewing television shows when they air live is on the decline. When the “M*A*S*H” series finale first aired in 1983, it was the most watched television program in history, with 125.59 million viewers. Since then, the Super Bowl has over taken the top spot several times, with the 2013 game drawing an audience of 164.1 million viewers.

By comparison, 10.3 million viewers watched the finale of AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” This is a 442 percent jump from two years ago, when a mere 1.9 million viewers watched the fourth season finale.

To help give networks a more accurate portrayal of how many people are watching their shows, Nielsen ratings are now factoring in DVR data. The above-mentioned Hulu and Netflix, as well as iTunes, are also used to help determine how big a show’s audience is.

Even then, this might not give the whole picture, with other sites that are not vetted by the networks hosting the episodes as well.

“Sometimes you’re busy when the show airs live and so you have to watch it online,” Daly said. “It’s really convenient.”

In addition, Hulu and Netflix have also started producing their own shows, completely redefining what it means to be a television show. The latter’s series “House of Cards” received 14 Primetime Emmy Award nominations, the first online original web television series to do so, while the new series “Orange is the New Black” is drawing critical acclaim.

Netflix releases all episodes at the same time, as opposed to a week-by-week basis television shows are typically bound to. This setup allows people to watch episodes on their own timetable, whether it be once or twice a week, or binge-watching an entire season in one day.

“Binge-watching is something you need to be careful with, because you can lose a lot of time,” Daly said. “Watching an episode or two during a study break can turn into watching seven.”

Although he sees the appeal in watching shows online, Arce said he still prefers to watch the shows when they air on television, as he said it allows him to get more out of the experience.

“There’s much more of a thrill to watch it right when it airs,” Arce said. “You’re seeing it the first time it airs, as opposed to after it has already happened. Also, the show and members of the cast will be online tweeting during the episode, so it really enhances the experience of watching the show to see what they say.”

Once “How I Met Your Mother” wraps up its final season this May, Daly intends to start watching a show he’s heard a lot about: “Breaking Bad.”

“I’ve seen a couple episodes, and I’ve always wanted to watch more, but I never really had the time to keep up with it,” Daly said. “Now I can just watch all the episodes online.”