Monday, April 17, 2006

Technology and Social Interaction -- TiVo Edition

Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen muses about how the availability of TV on the internet will affect TV shows. Here's a taste:

1. Individual episodes are more complex and less likely to be self-contained. To watch only one show of Lost or BSG leaves you baffled. But who can make sure he catches every episode? What if you want to leave the country for a while? Now if you have missed a show, you can use the Web to keep in touch with the longer and more integrated story. You will do this even if you, like I, find web viewing distasteful and inconvenient. Not everyone can afford TiVo, and some of us still need Yana to operate the remote and indeed the service itself. This mechanism will raise the intellectual quality of TV.

2. Perhaps the time lengths of programs will vary more. Has The Sopranos gone on a nearly two-year hiatus? How about a fifteen-minute web shortie to keep us interested?

I think he has some interesting ideas. However, I am more interested in how the availability of shows on the internet and the availability of DVRs affect the decision to engage in social interaction. Putnam argues that television is one of the main causes of the decline in social capital. While, as we discussed in class, I am not sure the decline in social capital is as big as Putnam argues, TV certainly raised the opportunity costs of social engagements (particularly during prime time). It seems quite plausible that there is some non-trivial fraction of the population who would pass on the opportunity to do something social because they didn't want to miss an episode of "24". Thus, the introduction of DVRs (and now shows on the internet) reduces the opportunity costs of social activities during your favorite shows and thus should have an effect on the amount of social interaction we observe.

If you are interested in this topic, it might make for a good term paper. I am not sure what data is available on DVR use, particularly DVR use matched to information on social interaction. I also don't know, off the top of my head, what kind of exogenous variation in DVR use is available to exploit to produce cleaner causal estimates. We can look though. Further, if looking specifically at DVRs is not feasible, I think that a paper on social interactions and TV can still be written using the American Time Use Studies and TV re-run schedules (the basic idea being to infer the effect of new TV shows on social decisions by comparing time spent in social activities during weeks with mostly re-runs to weeks with new shows controlling for a variety of things).

It would obviously be hard to find data on DVR use. However, I bet you could do something similar to the Fox News paper; that is, I bet cable provider provision of DVRs is (relatively) exogenous. And it probably wouldn't be hard to track down when they were introduced as options to consumers. Of course, this is all probably in the last 2 years or so, so it might be hard to match it to outcomes
Good call Dave.
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