Shared Experience of Viewing

A picture of a many lying down on a bed watching TV and texting on his phone at the same time.
The Shared Experience of Viewing (credit: AdWeek)

Dear Ms. Smartphone: This year I have to watch the Super Bowl alone because everyone is out-of- town. I have the big screen TV and Fox channel to watch it on. Most of my friends do not and asked me to try to stream the show for them. They also want me to text back and forth while we watch. That sounds OK, but sort of not. I miss the wings, the chips, and the party- the shared experience of viewing! Wes

Dear Wes: You are not alone as a lot more people are having to watch alone. Like your friends they may be away. Even if they were home, they have cut the cord on cable TV and over-the-air antennas.

That’s had a big impact on how we watch- on the shared experience of viewing. For the past ten years the number of Super Bowl viewers has decreased annually, from about  52.2 million viewers in 2011 to under 33 million in 2022.  Note: This data is for ages 18 to 49.  It’s not just football. Cutting the cord has impacted the audience for other big ticket events like the Grammy, Emmy, and Academy Awards.  

Together, Lonely?

Your question, which gets to the heart of the matter is whether we are lonelier watching alone and whether there is less of a shared experience of viewing. Did watching these big events help bring us together?

There are a couple of ways to think about it. You now have the option to seek a local movie theater or bar that is live-casting the game.  But you are a stranger there, not with close friends. Since you are more likely to watch from home, chat or text lets you continue to share the experience. In fact, you may end up chatting not only with them, but scanning the posts of millions of others through  #hashtag commentary. According to AdWeek (see picture) over 170 million social media interactions happen during the Big Game.

But, these new conversations do change the shared experience of viewing. If you were very old, or very young, you might not understand what is going on in the room. Ostensibly it’s seems quiet, personal, yet solitary and social at the same time.


But back to this week’s kick-off:  The Wall St. Journal makes a good point that if you are watching the game live on cable TV, don’t be a spoiler. With cable TV the latency of your data feed will be only 15 to 30 seconds behind the on-field action. Your friends using streaming will be behind, sometimes up to a full minute. Even though it’s a shared experience, it’s taking place in asynchronous time!

Finally, one funny observation as you and your friends get ready to share the game on mobile devices. There’s an urban myth that the water supply of cities becomes stressed at the half time of these games because audiences rush to their bathrooms and flush almost simultaneously. This apparently is a half-truth because the water supply is not stressed but there is a drastic uptick in the demand for water at the start and end of the halftime show and at the end of the game. Perhaps the draw on the water supply will level out throughout the  game now that your many viewers are watching the Super Bowl in more mobile ways.