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Essay/Term paper: Television and the internet

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Technology

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Television and The Internet

Having already done my fair share of internet surfing, I was excited to
finally have the opportunity to do a research paper that involved this vast and
seemingly boundless electronic world. It is easy to passively interact with the
rest of the world and scan effortlessly through millions of pages of information,
some of which is useful, some of which simply takes up space; the problem that
many researchers and interest groups face is making sense of the whole thing.
What effects does the internet have on people? This question is no doubt an
immense one. In this paper I will attempt to explore the effects the internet
has on one major aspect of our everyday lives: television. The internet is not
only linked to television in the sense that they both convey vast amounts of
information, but they both seem to complement each other. The internet is
presenting vast amounts of information about our favorite television shows as
well as providing an arena for discussion about the programs. I will present to
you what is available out there and hypothesize how this can enhance or alter
one's experience with television. Included in this paper will be actual
responses from individuals around the world who responded to a survey I posted
on various internet newsgroups devoted to specific television shows. The most
relevant responses are attached as an appendix at the end of this paper.
I will first briefly define the terms that I will use to avoid any
ambiguities. When I refer to the internet, I refer to the vast encyclopedia of
information presented through a graphical interface as pages, or web sites.
Newsgroups refer to a different aspect of the world-wide web. They consist of
over ten thousand separate and specific forums or centers where people post
comments or remarks and read other's replies or comments. Each newsgroup is
devoted to a different theme. For example, there are over two hundred devoted to
television; one or two for Friends, one for Party of Five, one for the CBC, etc.
Chat groups are an interactive aspect of the world-wide web in which people can
talk in real time. There is an unlimited number of channels one can speak on,
although there are more popular ones with specific themes; for example, the
channel alt.tv.simpsons is a popular channel for Simpsons fans to discuss the
show. These are the main aspects of the world-wide web which can handle affairs
dealing with television. The broadest, of course, is the internet. I will refer
to those who browse the internet as "surfers." (Please note that most of the
information I am presenting refers to The Simpsons since it is by far the most
popular television show portrayed on the internet, having what appears to be the
most web sites, by far the most newsgroup postings, and the most chat lines)
The amount and variety of information available on the internet is
beyond comprehension. Television guides from around the world (including
TVGuide) are all on the internet in their entirety, in a searchable form
including descriptions of the episodes, reviews etc. Features include the
ability to search TVGuide for all shows in the next two weeks that have the any
given word in it, "shark" for example. This not only increases the amount of
television one watches (i.e. they don't miss interesting shows they would
otherwise not know about), but most likely enhances the experience of watching
the show since they can learn much about the episode beforehand. For example, in
the description of the show they might link you to a site that gives you extra
background information on sharks. All major networks have their own sites with
complete time grids for the week, descriptions of shows and actors and various
additional information, such as David Letterman's Top Ten Lists. Countless web
sites are also devoted to specific television shows. For example, while
performing a search for the show X-Files (a unique name), I came up with over
20,000 direct references to the show. The sites essentially expand on the
experience of television for the viewer. Any individual can find any information
they require about a series, specific episode, or character. The information on
characters can include both their fictional roles and their real-life situation.
(Sites devoted to some of the better looking actors and actresses seem to be a
very popular attraction). Therefore, if someone wanted to inquire about an
aspect of a series, which will most likely enhance his or her experience for the
show, the information is available in minutes. For example, I was curious as to
who wrote one of my favorite Simpsons episodes, The Monorail. Within one minute,
I had discovered that Conan O'Brien had written it, enhancing my appreciation
for both The Simpsons and his talk show.
Most "official" sites, either sponsored by the show or the network,
provide scripts to past episodes and details on, or clues to, future episodes;
often explaining the motivations and/or hidden agendas behind many of the
episodes. People from around the world can either follow a show that they don't
have access to (see responses 5, 15), perhaps in a different country, or read
the summaries of episodes that they have missed. Included in these sites are
popular images and sounds of the characters, trivia based on the episode,
internet "treasure hunts," as well as other interactive elements; all promoting
increased interest in the show as well as rampant discussions on the chat lines
and newsgroups. One of the most popular interactive events on the internet was a
"Who Shot Mr. Burns?" contest. In the season finale of The Simpsons, Mr. Burns
was shot and a long series of deliberately intricate and ambiguous clues were
presented in the episode. Throughout the summer, the "official" web site held a
contest. Each week new clues were presented and a new suspect analysed while
surfers were allowed to cast their votes. The contest ended when the season
premiere revealed the shooter. This method for enhancing viewers' interests in a
series has grown in popularity, with similar contests appearing at other
programs' web sites. Another interesting interactive aspect of the internet has
been a "cyber-series" of Homicide, the series. An entire season of the show,
which is actually a pseudo-spin-off of the series, was presented on the internet.
Each week a new episode added to the series, with short movies, pictures, and
text, all in an interactive context. As you can see, the internet has provided
not only the viewer with all the information he needs to enhance his experience
and interests in the series, it has provided the networks and/or producers a
medium to advertise the program and stimulate interest in the show in a unique,
engaging, and seemingly effective manner.
The newsgroups and chat lines provide the most interactive and by far
the most absorbing facet of the internet which is having an effect on our
experience with television. This is where the fans (or non-fans…) can express
themselves and learn about the interests of others. The newsgroups are filled
with questions, comments, remarks, and replies every day pertaining to an array
of issues surrounding their series of choice. Typically each television-related
newsgroup gets between 100 to over a thousand posts a day from fans around the
world. Some sample numbers of posts per day include: 155 for Friends, 324 for
Party of Five, 310 for Seinfeld, 800 for X-Files, and 1106 for The Simpsons
(data collected once a day for three days). The newsgroups and chat lines are
where the true uses and gratifications of television are enhanced. The diversion
that television provides is augmented, while the maintenance of personal
relations and social interactions are no doubt the main feature of these
services. They allow viewers with common interests who live down the street, or
on the other side of the planet, to bond with each other and reinforce or
reconsider each others opinions. Para-social interactions no doubt arise as well.
In response number 3, the fan believes he has established a relationship with
one of the Beverly Hills 90210 characters. Assuming this person is serious
(which can never be safely assumed), we quite noticeably see the extent to which
the internet has elevated viewers' experiences with television.
The topics presented in newsgroups and chat lines are tremendously diverse
and at the same time quite interesting. Common themes that come up include:
favorite episode, favorite line (from any character or one in particular), who
dresses the best, ideas for future shows, and hidden messages or meanings in any
given episode, or in the series in general. The endless search for hidden
messages or alternative interpretations is the most intriguing aspect of the
internet that has shaped or enhanced our experience with television. Producers
typically convey a dominant ideology in mind when creating a series or episode;
a meaning or message that they want to communicate to the audience. The true
message transmitted by any given episode or series is determined by the way we
decode the semiotics or messages that are portrayed to us either through text,
sound, or image. What happens in newsgroups and on chat lines is that hundreds
or thousands of individuals come together to discuss the series or episode, ty
pically soon after it airs. The result of this negotiated-reading is the
unveiling of new meanings, some intended by the producers, some unintended. This
type of analysis is of great interest to most, as it allows for a deeper
involvement into the series that you love. Other chat lines and newsgroups are
more simplistic. The newsgroup for Beverly Hills 90210, for example, usually
consists of fans' remarks about how good Valerie looked or how upset they are
that Steve said what he said about Brandon. Either way, these facets of the
world-wide web allow for people who truly love the show to get together and
discuss it, in whatever fashion they choose. The end result is the same:
interest in the show is augmented and the uses and gratifications derived from
the show are enhanced. The viewers, however, are not the only ones to benefit
from the opportunities the internet provides.
Networks and producers have gained an immediate link to the audiences that
they are seeking to interpret and satisfy. Producers, writers, executives, and
presidents are uninhibited from anonymously going onto these chat lines or
newsgroups and asking questions and reading comments or feedback. (To prove this
fact, when I posted my question on the internet for this essay, I received two
replies from executives from Due South (Story Department Coordinator) and an
unspecified show who both wanted a copy of this paper or some sort of showing as
to how people responded.) All major networks and television shows provide
special nights on selected chat lines in which a writer, producer, or actor will
appear on the line to answer questions in real-time. Networks and most
"official" television series sites also have e-mail addresses which are directly
linked to the head offices. Viewers can therefore send comments or suggestions,
or questions (direct answers are rare however), to the executives. This also in
creases viewers' interest in a program since he or she might feel that they have
had a say in what is happening in future episodes.
With all the benefits that the internet provides, surfers must be aware
that the internet has its drawbacks. The most obvious problem that has recently
become a reality is the fact that there is simply too much out there. When you
want to access specific information it is often difficult to find it very
efficiently. There are many official sites, yet there many out there who are
simply fanatics of the program and post personal information about themselves
and what they like about the show. The potential problems with this are twofold.
Firstly, copyright laws are virtually ignored on the on-line world. This may not
concern us, but for the networks and producers this is of primary importance.
Countless images and sounds are distributed at will by die-hard fans. This may
promote the television series to a certain extent, but copyright laws are no
doubt being infringed upon. Secondly, there is no limit to the amount of false
and misleading information that can circulate on the internet, newsgroups, or
chat lines. For whatever reason imaginable, some people get a kick out of
starting rumors or misleading people with respect to an aspect of a program.
Therefore, with all its benefits and enhancements, one must always be cautious
as to how they interpret the information they are being doused with.
I hope that I have provided a broad enough scope of the internet in this
short space to allow you to realize the powerful impact that it has had on our
experience with television. I did not directly include all the responses to my
question in this paper, as it would have taken up too much space. Rather, I
attempted to use their opinions as support for my hypothesis, and instead
included a selection of the responses in an appendix for you to read. The world-
wide web and its many facets have no doubt been exploited by television viewers
to enhance the uses and gratifications that television provides them with. The
reason the world-wide web has become so popular is not simply because there is
so much information out there, but because it appeals to the individual.
Whatever you personal interests may be, however strange or uncommon, chances are
that you can seek refuge in this vast electronic universe. Whether you are
looking for simple textual facts, a picture of Courtney Cox, what Homer said to
Bart right after he stole his wallet on last night's episode, or simply looking
for someone to share your interests with, the internet provides it for you in
the comfort of your own home. In conclusion, the internet a complex and
interactive medium that, as I have shown, greatly enhances one's personal
experience with television.


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