What Dancing with the Stars Taught Me about My Beat

Bear with me for a minute, because I’m about to tell a long and self-involved tale. Ultimately I think it might say something interesting about platforms for television consumption, but of course that’ll be up to you to decide.

Before last fall, I barely had a television my house and had only ever really watched TV shows over the last five years on DVD or iTunes. But then I started watching Dancing with the Stars through ABC.com’s downloadable player (the one that’s powered by Move Networks). I had personal connections to a few of the “celebrity” contestants — like our favorite web video hater Mark Cuban — and also wanted to use some of the software I was writing about. But let’s just say I went above and beyond just research.

The glitter, the famous people out of their element, the thrill of the live reality show — it drew me in. Soon, I was regularly watching episodes on my laptop the day after they aired. I stopped being so self-conscious about watching the show and started talking about week’s latest drama and excitement to my boyfriend, who occasionally would come watch the highlights and cheer for Jennie Garth and Mel B with me.

And while I regularly write here that online television watching has to at some point replace traditional television watching, I was a perfect example of an additive viewer. For the season finale, I actually plugged in a old CRT to watch live (well, live in my timezone). And OMG, Mel B was robbed.

I didn’t pine after DWTS over the winter, but when the latest season started ten weeks ago, I returned to that special section of ABC.com. I caught up with most every episode, often the day after they aired (they’re released at about 2 a.m. PST, I think — but I’m not that rabid of a fan). With all the entertainment feeds I monitor (for work, of course!) I sometimes had the weekly elimination cliffhanger spoiled, but usually I was able to beat my own curiosity.

But as the season wore on, with a nicer TV available to me, I started to watch the show in my family room. And since I don’t have a DVR (I know, I know, I’ll get one soon) I would sit down for my appointment TV when it aired. A few weeks ago, though, when I was busy with dinner and started watching 15 minutes late, I checked YouTube and noticed that someone had uploaded all the relevant bits from the East Coast broadcast that night. During commercials I caught up on what I had missed just minutes before.

Tuesday was the season finale, but I ended up working late and missing it. Rather than wait till today to load up ABC.com (and most likely have the final result spoiled before then — although it was clear Kristi Yamaguchi was going to win), I checked in with the hardworking YouTube posters. Sure enough, all the key dances and reveals were there, minus a little bit of the endless pratter and filler. It wasn’t a matter of evading ads or beating the system, it was just — as in the good old days of YouTube — available when I wanted to see it. Twenty minutes later, I was satisfied. Till next season.

My conclusion is pretty simple. Different platforms make sense in different situations, and in this hectic day and age, people are less set in their ways than you might think. The better you can serve your viewer in any one situation the more likely she is to watch. Most of the time, ABC had it right enough for me, but when it failed, it was easy enough for me to get my fix elsewhere. So basically, cater to the addict, and you’ll do well.

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