August 03, 2012
Watching the Olympics in a Post-Television World
Posted by Christine Hurt

So, one week into the 2012 Olympics, I realize that watching the Olympics is completely different now and will be even more so in the future.  In 1976, my family ate dinner (at the table, yes) quickly so we could be back in front of the TV (in the living room) by the time Nadia was up again.  Watching the Olympics was an event, like a 2-week Super Bowl, that we savored during Prime Time.  If the Olympics were half a world away, we didn't seem to notice that events we were watching may have already taken place.  Unless someone from Austria or Yugoslavia called us long-distance, we were none the wiser.  And we were sad when it ended.

In 1998, I first noticed a difference.  If you wanted to view the Nagano Olympics as an experience, you had to not listen to the radio during the day.  I was intent on having an experience one Friday night watching the women's ice skating finals.  I walled myself all day and warned everyone at my law firm not to tell me whether Michelle Kwan or Tara Lipinski won.  I settled down to takeout and ice skating, when a commercial for the local news came on:  "Stay tuned to News2 Houston after the Olympics -- Tara brings home the gold!""  My disappointment and anger knew no bounds. 

Today, it's a whole new ball game.  We all know that the London Olmpics are going on right now as I type.  Our hometown favorite Tyler McGill is swimming against Michael Phelps at about 1:30 CST.  If I wanted to make an experience out of watching the "Prime Time" broadcast, I would have to shut out all social media, my NYT email alerts, my WSJ email alerts and of course the radio.  But why would I?  I'll just watch it streaming live from my work computer (with a code from my TV content provider).  I could stream it on my phone or an iPad.  Even our Prime Time experience is eating dinner at a leisurely pace, then starting the DVR-recorded broadcast whenever we want, and fast-forwarding through commercials or commentary or boring things.

After the Olympics, we are getting rid of "television."  We aren't throwing out our actual TV, but we are terminating our content provider (Dish).  We realized we were paying ungodly sums of money basically so we could watch Phineas & Ferb any time of the day.  So, a cheap computer is now hooked up to the TV, and we are going to watch content through something called PlayOn, Roku, Netflix and Hulu.  As far as we can tell, our only sacrifice is the Super Bowl (network) and the Olympics. 

But, I think by 2014, it's a whole new game.

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