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With the rise of laptops, college students begin to deem TVs obsolete

Published: Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Updated: Sunday, August 17, 2008 12:08

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Aalok Kanani/Tufts Daily

Conventional TV watching has seen a decline among college students.


TV executives behind shows like NBC's "The Office," and the ABC Family's "Greek," were ecstatic last January when Nielsen Media Corporation announced that it would begin mapping the television-viewing patterns of college students and factor college residence halls into its annual programming tally.

Television shows with younger viewer bases, they thought, would finally be able to recognize their full audiences, and thus could conceivably begin to generate more revenue from advertisements.

But Nielsen's decision to count its younger viewers may have come a little too late. An increasing number of today's college students are using laptops to watch their favorite shows, forgoing flat-screen TVs for computer monitors and switching from NBC to NBC.com.

Glenda Manzi, who teaches the ExCollege class "21st Century Television: Media in the Age of YouTube, Facebook, and MP3's," explained that television-viewing habits among young adults have undergone revolutionary changes in the past few years.

"When my daughter started college six years ago, every single dorm room had a television," Manzi said. "Two years later, my son started college, and barely anybody had TVs in their room - there were maybe three people on his floor who had them. Now, I can't even imagine what the case would be."

Manzi also noticed this transition among the students in her class, and has seen a difference in the two years since she began teaching it.

"I first taught [the class] in the spring semester of last year, and even in one year, the amount of video consumed by students on laptops has doubled," Manzi said. "When I first taught the class, maybe half the class would say they watch [TV online]. Now, virtually everyone raises their hand."

This recent, fast-growing trend has been attributed to a number of factors ranging from the Internet's ease of accessibility to Web sites' increase in viewer interactivity.

Most students, however, claim to turn to TV online because of its sheer convenience.

Sophomore Matthew Salzberg, a member of Manzi's class, watches TV online because he finds it more suitable to his schedule. "Online video formats are better for my lifestyle, where I don't have time at 9 p.m. to sit and watch a TV [show], and because there are few, sometimes zero, commercials [online], the show becomes shorter and less annoying without two minutes of ads every six minutes," Salzberg said.

But Salzberg said that, while he prefers to watch television online, he hasn't yet given up on his television set.

"I watch a lot of TV in my free time," Salzberg said. "Some of it - maybe 40 percent - is done on an actual television set, but most of the time, I tend to watch TV on Web sites such as Hulu.com, ABC.com, NBC.com, or I'll download shows from iTunes."

Manzi said students like Salzberg tend to prefer online TV formats over offline ones because of the Internet's extreme flexibility.

"The biggest benefit about online television is that you watch it when you want it, where you want it and in which format you want to watch it," Manzi said. "Choice is the difference between online television and actual television."

Freshman Jack Dilday, who said he watches television online about once a week, agreed with Manzi's statement.

"I watch NBC's 'The Office' online because it's easily accessible, whereas if you were to watch it on TV, you'd have to watch it at the specific time [that it airs]," he said.

In fact, according to a New York Times article published last month, one in five viewings of an episode of "The Office" occurred on a computer screen instead of a television. Although the episode attracted a broadcast audience of 9.7 million people, the same episode was also streamed online 2.7 million times through the network's Web site.

According to Manzi, most networks began making their shows available for audiences online around the fall of 2007, and are attracting both viewers who were once loyal to their television sets and those who previously used sites like YouTube.com and Alluc.org to obtain video clips.

"I think people are just now realizing that those sites are available, and they will continue to turn to them because they've established a brand," Manzi said. "Also, the difference in quality [between online video sites and network TV Web sites] is like night and day."

Salzberg agreed, claiming he prefers streaming shows rather than watching them in segments due to the superior image quality.

"All of those [network] Web sites stream the entire episode, and some do so in actual HD," Salzberg said. "I've found that watching shows on Web sites such as Alluc.org and Peekvid.com just isn't a lot of fun."

Although online video sites may be losing viewers in the wake of high-quality TV network Web sites, sites from other fields have found ways to profit from college students' interest in video.

Earlier this year, for example, Anastos Interactive Media launched HotNewz.tv, a site tailored directly towards college students, which features televised news, advice and specific programming aimed to young adults.

Audrey Walker, the site's associate producer, explained how the concept of HotNewz came about.

"When you're a college student, you eat breakfast in 90 seconds while studying for an exam, checking your e-mail and updating your Facebook page. It's safe to say you don't have a lot of time to keep up with the news," she said. "Our program tries to bridge the gap between television and Internet for these college students."

Another TV-like Web site for the college-age set, CareerTV.com, targets seniors and recent college graduates on the search for their first job. The site hosts videos that have been uploaded by employers, along with general career-help videos, produced by the site itself. Although it may seem chronologically backwards, CareerTV recently spawned a broadcast TV show after the success of its online version. The show covers different topics each month and is shown on university TV stations at schools like Columbia University, New York University and the University of Chicago.

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