Via Marginal Revolution, an essay exploring the psychology of watching a sporting event after the fact on your DVR.  Is it less enjoyable than watching the same game live when it happens?  I love this question and I love the answers he gives.  Strangely though, he divides his reasons into the “rational” and the “irrational” and with only one exception I would give the opposite classification.  Here are his rational ones:

  1. Removing commercials reduces drama.  I suppose he calls this rational because he thinks that its true and perfectly sensible.  The unavoidable delay before action resumes builds suspense.  But even though I agree with that, I call this an irrational reason because of course I can always watch the commercials or just sit around for 2 minutes if I’d rather not see yet another Jacob’s Creek wine commercial.  If in fact I don’t do that, then that’s irrational.
  2. If you know it has already happened then it is less interesting.  Again, this may be true for many people, but to make it into the rational category it has to be squared with the fact that we watch movies, TV dramas, even reality TV shows whose outcomes we know are already determined.
  3. Recording gives me too much control.  Same as #1.
Now for the irrational ones:
  1. I don’t get to believe that my personal involvement will affect the game. This one I agree with.  Many people are under this illusion and it would be hard to call it rational for someone to think they are any less in control when the event is already over.
  2. If this were a really exciting game I would have found out about it independently by now no matter how hard I tried to avoid it.  I would call this the one truly rational reason and I think its a big problem for most major sports.  If something really exciting happened that information is going to find you one way or another.  So if you are sitting down to watch a taped event and the information didn’t find you, then you know it can only be so good.  Even worse, if the game reaches a state where it would take a dramatic comeback to change the outcome, you know that comeback isn’t going to happen.

I would add two of my own, one rational and one irrational.  First, you don’t watch a DVR’d sporting event with friends.  The whole point of recording it is to pick the optimal time to watch it and that’s not going to be your friend’s optimal time.  Plus he probably already saw it, plus who is going to control the fast-forward?  Watching with friends adds a dimension to just about anything, especially sports so DVR’d events are going to be less interesting just for the lack of social dimension having nothing to do with the tape delay.

Second, there is something very strange about hoping for something to happen when in fact it has either already happened or already not.  Now, this is irrelevant for people who easily suspend disbelief watching movies.  Those people can yell at the fictitious characters on the screen and feel elation and despair when their pre-destined fate is played out.  But people who can’t find the same suspense in fiction look to sports for the source of it.  For those people too many existential questions get in the way of enjoying a tape-delayed broadcast.

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