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Log on, tune in, drop out

By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)

16:29, May 06, 2013

Chinese couch potatoes love American TV drama - they just don't watch it on a couch. Whether out of necessity or out of choice, the Chinese way of receiving video content may well point to how people receive information and entertainment in the future.

When Netflix made all 13 episodes of House of Cards available for streaming online earlier this year, it created somewhat of a revolution in the viewing habits of the American public. Some binged on the Web-only drama series about Washington politics, while others complained about the glut of spoilers revealed by those already ahead in the story. The lament about the end of the collective experience of TV viewing reached a mini-crescendo.

This would not have raised a single eyebrow in China. On this side of the Pacific, television drama has never been consumed in weekly morsels. Even before the advent of online video, television stations were prone to daily broadcasts, sometimes airing as many as three episodes a day. A 60-episode series regularly runs for three weeks or less, accounting for the abundance of such programming throughout the nation.

While habits vary from place to place, the shift from so-called "appointment viewing" to the on-demand kind may reflect a larger trend, that of instant gratification. People do not want to wait a week for the next installment of their favorite show. They want to watch on their own terms, which usually means several episodes in a sitting. Some of my friends have formed the habit of finishing a season's worth of US programming in one weekend.

And naturally, they take to an online platform to discuss what they have just watched. As a matter of fact, so many people in China have forfeited their television viewing that, according to one survey last year, the use of the dominating TV set in Beijing homes has dropped to below 30 percent. In my home, the three sets are rarely on, and even when they are on, they are used as monitors to play videos. A friend of mine at LeVision gave me a set-top box so I can plug my computer into the TV so I am able to watch online videos on the big screen. But my four-year-old sets are too ancient for - and therefore incompatible with - their new gadget.

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