Yesterday The New York Times published a series of articles under the umbrella title, Sofa Wars. The focus of the series is on how people watch TV and what might be happening in the viewing/TV industry as more and more viewers move away from cable to other types of services.

Today I read through some comments on a New York Times blog post on the topic of cable vs. other forms of access – Hulu, Apple TV, NetFlix, and so on. I started to think, what does this change in TV access mean to teens? Do we know how teens prefer to watch TV? I know that some are definitely using Hulu and other web-based tools (we can’t forget YouTube) for content viewing. What are their favorite methods and how do these methods have an impact on library programs and services? And, of course, this isn’t really just about traditional TV types of content. NetFlix recently announced a deal which provides the company with the ability to stream a large number of feature films as a part of their Watch Now service.

Do librarians serving teens need to think about this and consider what it means for their collections for teens? Is it still necessary to collect TV of interest to teens on DVD? Or, do we expect that services like Hulu, Google TV, and Apple TV will take the place of DVDs? While I understand that some of these services have a price tag, is the price tag worth the cost in comparison to something like cable TV? Does the ease of access, not having to visit the library to pick up the DVD, outweigh that cost for a teen, or a group of teens who might chip in together in order to view content of their choosing? Does this take the place of going to the movies? Does it take the place of going to a movie at the library?

As I think about this, I wonder, what is the library’s role in providing access to movies and TV to teens? For those who show movies in the library, it’s probably at least in part related to the social experience of watching a movie with a group of people. That being the case, maybe the library needs to sell the viewing experience in that way. The library doesn’t make the fact that you can see the movie at the library the selling point, but instead focuses on the social experience, and perhaps in some cases the experience of watching on a high-quality large display.

Maybe it’s about the opportunities libaries provide teens before or after the viewing. The events a library might sponsor in order to give teens a chance to talk about what they saw, or are looking forward to seeing. Or, the video trailers librarians might have teens create that promote a new season of a TV show they are looking forward to.

The thing is, as viewing behaviors change for teens, and others, perhaps librarians need to think not just about access to the content but instead focus on connecting those interested in the content. It’s not a focus on checking-out content, but a focus on checking-in with teens about the viewing they do. Having discussions, providing outlets for expressing ideas about the content, and providing social opportunities for experiencing that content.

And, think about this too, if you aren’t spending money on movie and TV DVDs what might you spend those dollars on? Perhaps it’s on hardware and software so teens can create TV and movie trailers. Or, it’s money that can be spent on bringing in an expert to talk with teens about movie or TV production.

If you find out from teens about their viewing behaviors you’ll find that you’ll want to change your library behaviors accordingly.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.

4 Thoughts on “Viewing: How It’s Done & What Do We Do

  1. I think it depends on your community. If you’re in a poorer community, the assumption that everyone can use Hulu (or another paid service) may be wrong, ditto that everyone is getting premium channels and able to watch Dexter or True Blood. As for the “group viewing” experience, it might be a good idea to get the really popular shows for marathon viewing.

    What you should do with the money depends on how much your budget is being cut, though, doesn’t it? In many places, cutting DVD purchases may be an easy way to make cuts less painful.

  2. Maybe I missed it, but who’s making the assumptions you mentioned, Laura? (And I think it’s a little disingenuous to compare Hulu, which still has a pretty rich set of free offerings despite now also offering paid content, to other paid services.) I don’t assume everyone pays for HBO, but I also don’t assume that being in a poorer community means never paying for entertainment.

    What about libraries who have Netflix subscriptions? I’ve always thought it was a pretty cool idea, though I’m not sure how it would/could work in a school setting. Right now the only DVDs (and, unfortunately, VHS cassettes) we have were at some point tied to curriculum. I think it’s interesting that a lot of people have no problem with a school library collecting fiction books that don’t directly tie to the curriculum (other than in the way that all reading Technically fits with ELA standards) but can’t consider films or TV shows in the same way.

  3. I assume (I hope not incorrectly) that whatever librarians decide in terms of programs, services, collections, and so on that those decisions are dependent on the needs of a particular community. There is definitely not a one-size-fits-all for library services to teens, or any group.

    In terms of access to various services, as mk mentioned Hulu is free unless one subscribes to Hulu Plus, which I think is mostly of interest to those wanting to watch Hulu on a device like an iPad. While other services do cost some amount, I don’t think that that precludes teens, even in lower income communities, who at least occasionally go to movies or subscribe to cable from these services. With the advent of tools such as Apple TV, Hulu, etc. it’s possible that what some of these teens and their families will decide is to not pay for cable anymore and instead use one of the other services to access entertainment/media.

    The report from Pew earlier this summer on mobile access points to the need, from my point of view, to not make assumptions about access and use. Of course the only way to be sure is to talk to the teens whom we serve and find out how they are accessing media and entertainment and how libraries can best support that access – whether it be through providing the access, supporting the access by helping teens to connect to others who are interested in the same media/entertainment options, or something else entirely.

  4. Mary Hastler on August 26, 2010 at 8:45 pm said:

    What a shift in perspective that this brings to libraries. We have been focused for so many years on what we are going to do when DVDs are no longer popular and circulation goes down. Without making a general assumption, many teens have moved to accessing entertainment through new sources/formats. Not all teens have equal access but history shows that as trends become mainstream it becomes part of the wider population. Cell phones are a really good example of this. Anyway, teens are leading the way with accessing entertainment in new ways which means their siblings will follow suit and then parents. Where does this leave libraries?

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