By Megan Whitfield
Watching television has always been a part of my daily routine. However, unlike how I consume programs today, through mediums like Netflix and online streaming, growing up I only understood television as being the free-to-air shows offered to me on the TV in the lounge room- be that Hi-5 after Kinder, or The Simpsons at 6pm every evening after school.
What I watched was dictated by the broadcasting schedule offered to me, as it fit into my extra-curricular and schooling commitments. Further, if I missed a program, I relied upon my family or friends to fill me in on what I missed.
However, this relationship with television changed on a family holiday to Queensland. As my brother and I flicked through the channels in our hotel room, we made the found out that we had pay-tv. We discovered that we had access to Nickelodeon, and a new world of entertainment was opened up to us. It was a luxury, one that we were all too aware would disappear in a matter of days and so we made the most of it. We spent hours marathoning shows like the Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy and Spongebob Squarepants- my first experience with binge-watching.
Planned ‘flow’, when used in this context, describes the entire televisual experience- from programs watched, down to the order in which they are shown, and even the ad breaks. It reflected how the broadcasting schedule is developed to structure viewing over a sustained period, attempting to prevent viewers from ‘flicking over’ onto another channel at any stage (even once an episode is finished). In part, this is at the control of broadcasters, using ads for upcoming programs and relevant advertising relatable to the viewers, but is also moulded by the typical daily routines of viewers- hence prime-time viewing falling when families have typically finished work and dinner for the day, meaning that viewing will be less distracted.
Unlike during the school-term, on holidays I had no commitments to pull me away from the TV. I wasn’t confined to Saturday morning cartoons or prime-time shows. Typical broad-casting schedules didn’t apply to me as strongly, my televisual experience reflective more of my viewing habits today. Where previously, yes, I could be lured into watching a new TV show once mine had finished, the later shows ran, the less suitable and appealing they would be for me.
In contrast, Nickelodeon was a channel primarily focused on the interests of my brother and I. We were the assumed mass audience, around 10 years old, looking for some simple cartoon entertainment to fill our day, and as such the planned flow of the network reflected this. Ad breaks were vibrant and typically only fell at the ends of episodes, keeping us watching entire episodes so as not to miss any content. The episodes themselves were short enough that when our concentration levels waned, we could still easily pick up what was happening, and the seemingly endless loop of cartoons meant that we never had to wait long until our favourite shows were back on. Coming from free-to-air TV, watched only in the lounge room, this was a novelty that had me hooked and began to alter my interpretation of what television was.