When it comes to streaming-shows through on-demand media platforms such as Netflix and watching live broadcast TV, content and culture matter since the type of content that a platform/medium provides and how it provides it, ultimately affects culture. New trends in viewing media content have emerged among on-demand streaming services such as Netflix and live broadcast TV (both have caused/seen a reduction of co-viewing (Auverset, 2017)), that has generated panic among several scholars concerned that it would end water cooler talk which promotes cultural unification (Matrix, 2014). However, on-demand media platforms are still actively promoting cultural unification through the high cultural adaptation of binge watching. Additionally, both on-demand media platforms and live broadcast TV, are still promoting cultural unification through high levels of cultural adaption of social TV. For example, according to Sidneyeve Matrix in her article “The Netflix Effect: Teens, Binge Watching, and On-Demand Digital Media Trends,” Netflix’s ability to enable users to binge watch shows whenever they want not only serves for purposes of convenience and customization but also, helps give rise to connection and community (2014). Furthermore, according to Pablo Cesar and David Geerts in their article, “Understanding Social TV: a survey,” social TV enables remote viewers to socially interact with each other via their PC, television set, smart phones, and tablets, even if they are separated in time and/or space (2011). Moreover, the cultural adaptation of binge-watching content on on-demand services such as Netflix has been significant according to a study conducted by MarketCast which concluded that 67% of viewers, aged thirteen to forty-nine, admitted to bingeing at least sometimes (Matrix, 2017). Furthermore, an increasing number of individuals, 84% of smartphone and tablet users, reported turning to their “second screen” devices to share their reactions instantly through Social TV (Auverset, 2017). As a result, contrary to many scholars’ concerns that new viewing patterns among on-demand streaming media platforms and live broadcast TV, will end cultural unification, due to the significant cultural adaptation of binge watching and social TV that has occurred in society, cultural unification will persist and continue to flourish.
According to Matrix, Netflix is changing user expectations concerning, what, how, and when they watch TV (2014). Moreover, Netflix has also helped popularize the activity of binge watching shows, which involves watching multiple episodes of a show in one sitting (Matrix, 2014). As a result of no longer having to rely on appointment viewing popularized by traditional TV broadcasting (Matrix, 2014) and decreasing rates of co-viewing (in-the same room) (Auverset, 2017), many scholars believe that online-streaming services such as Netflix causes individuals to isolate themselves from society (Matrix, 2014). Such consumption practices, according to scholars, may interfere with cultural unification effects (water cooler talk), which have historically bonded people through shared mass-mediated experiences (Matrix, 2014). However, according to Matrix, on-demand streaming services such as Netflix are still promoting cultural unification through binge watching as several young viewers reported that they binge-watch shows to participate in community discussions that take place both online and off (Matrix, 2014). In addition, according to Matrix, binge watching has also given rise to “media citizenship” which involves users making sense of television not only by decoding but also by critically and culturally interpreting, responding, and talking about a certain show (pg. 133) with other individuals in society. Thus, far from getting rid of the water cooler effect, on-demand media platforms such as Netflix, are expanding (reshaping) the water-cooler effect (Matrix, 2014) that is helping keep cultural unification alive through binge watching.
Additionally, according to Laurent Anderson Auverset, in her book “Social TV is the New Digital Watercooler: Personality Traits, Behaviors, and Trends In Second-Screen Media Activity,” social TV is a growing set of technologies that enable synchronous social interaction between program viewers at a distance, and the use of those technologies during the viewing of both on-demand media platforms and live traditional TV broadcasts (2017). Moreover, according to Pablo Cesar and David Geerts in their article “Understanding Social TV: a survey,” social TV allows individuals to remotely talk and chat with their friends while watching media content, be aware of the media content their friends are watching through providing features such as lists, share media content recommendations based on social network trends and Twitter streams, and talk in-real-time through videoconferencing (2011). Additionally, according to Cesar and Geerts, Social TV can be accomplished by integrations that exist on-screen such as Twitter updates and Facebook applications that allow individuals to comment on the content they are watching (2011). Social TV can also be accomplished through what scholars have termed the “secondary screen” such as a mobile smart phone or tablet, that allow for commenting and communication to occur without interfering with the space/content on the main screen (Cesar and Geerts, 2011). Although, several individuals argue that television viewing has changed from being a primarily shared group experience to a more individualized experience, social TV, has actually led to an increase in “virtual group” viewing (Auverset, 2017). This is apparent through the increased use of social networking sites, text messages, and instant messages that take place on both on-demand media platforms and live TV broadcasts (Auverset, 2017). Thus, helping promote cultural unification among individuals that no longer need to be physically together in the same room/time to connect, make meaning, and share/form opinions, which helps contribute to cultural cohesion through the use of social TV.
In conclusion, although several scholars fear that the emergence of on-demand streaming services such as Netflix and changes in TV broadcasts, will end water cooler talk (cultural unification), on-demand media platforms will still continue to promote cultural unification through binge watching. Additionally, both on-demand media platforms and live traditional broadcast TV, will still promote cultural unification through social TV. For example, in her study, Matrix examined how young viewers engaged in binge-watching on-demand shows on Netflix to participate in community discussions that take place both online and off (Matrix, 2014). Furthermore, according to Cesar, Geerts, and Auverset, social TV functions to connect people that may not be physically present in the same room/time through on-screen features or “second screen” activity, to talk about the content they are watching. Thus, giving rise to what Auverset termed “virtual group viewing” (2017), which helps individuals connect with each other, form opinions, and engage in discussions that help create community (cultural unification) while watching content on both on-demand media platforms and live broadcast TV. Furthermore, the cultural adaptation that has occurred both among binge-watching (67% of viewers, aged thirteen to forty-nine, admitted to bingeing at least sometimes (Matrix, 2017).) and social TV (84% of smartphone and tablet users, reported turning to their “second screen” devices to share their reactions instantly through Social TV (Auverset, 2017), is significant in ensuring that cultural unification will persist.
Additionally, although I agree with Matthew Gentzkow’s analysis that television may generally be “bad” for politics (2006) in his article “Television and Voter Turnout”, I do not believe this is fully the case with live broadcasts of presidential debates when combined with social TV. For example, although several experts and scholars have argued that live TV broadcasts of political campaigns do not focus on real issues but instead focus more on entertainment, a recent study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Missouri’s Political Communication Institute (PCI) have found evidence to support that social media engagement (social TV participation) during 2016’s presidential campaigns produced beneficial effects for individuals engaged on Twitter while watching the debates on TV (2017). One of the main key findings was that greater issue tweeting does appear to facilitate higher political knowledge acquisition when viewing a presidential debate (2017). Although future studies examining the role social TV can have on the political knowledge levels that viewers can acquire through live TV broadcasts of presidential debates, recent studies conducted seem promising in concluding that there may exist a positive relationship between live TV broadcasts of presidential debates and social TV in increasing political knowledge among individuals. Thus, while I agree with Gentzkow that television may generally be “bad” for politics, live broadcasts of presidential debates when combined with social TV, could potentially have positive effects on individual’s overall political knowledge.
Auverset, Lauren Anderson. “Social TV Is The New Digital Watercooler: Personality Traits, Behaviors, And Trends In Second-Screen Media Activity.” 2017, ir.ua.edu/bitstream/handle/123456789/3186/file_1.pdf?sequence=1.
Matrix, Sidneyeve. “The Netflix Effect: Teens, Binge Watching, and On-Demand Digital Media Trends.” Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures, vol. 6, no. 1, 2014, pp. 119–138., doi:10.1353/jeu.2014.0002.
Cesar, Pablo, and David Geerts. “Understanding Social TV: a Survey.” Academia.edu, www.academia.edu/26298520/Understanding_Social_TV_a_survey.
Gentzkow, Matthew. Television And Voter Turnout*. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Aug. 2006, citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.574.631&rep=rep1&type=pdf.
Sossamon, Jeff (2017, Aug.24). Viewers Who Tweet During Presidential Debates Learn More about Political Issues, MU Study Finds. http://munews.missouri.edu/news-releases/2017/0824-viewers-who-tweet-during-presidential-debates-learn-more/
Asmussen, Rene. “Television.”Pexels. https://www.pexels.com/photo/abandoned-antique-close-up-design-333984/