For a long while, I’ve been secretly maintaining a long-term relationship with free-to-air TV, despite the chorus of disdain from just about everyone I know. Most of my friends have Foxtel, Netflix, Stan, Presto, apple TV, or something else like that. They download. They choose and watch, and decry the awfulness of what’s on free-to-air. I tried Stan. I’ve downloaded a bit, when forced to, because my local video stores are gone. But every week, I still prefer flicking on the TV and finding some movie unexpectedly. And I think I finally understand why.

A little context. I started my PhD this week, and among the first papers I read was one about how “suspension of disbelief” works when we read or watch fiction (it’s actually the opposite – we belief by default – disbelief actually needs to be created according to the theory). Within that paper it talked about control over our fiction – that a movie seen in the cinema is different to one watched on DVD because we can more easily control the DVD. Tied to this idea is the one of taking action – more immersion is possible where your ability to act is diminished, because calls to “action” (which make us test the truth of the narrative) actually disrupt our acceptance of the story and therefore, our immersion and pleasure in it.

I’m sure I’m not putting it as cleverly or clearly as the paper, but it makes sense to me why those random finds on free-to-air can give me so much pleasure – I take almost no actions in finding them except turning on the set. That’s a very different experience than the effort of searching and selecting from an on-demand player. So, see, sometimes cognitive neuroscience can justify not moving with the times 😉

(paper is: Holland NN. Spider-Man? Sure! The neuroscience of suspending disbelief. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews. 2008;33(4):312-20.)

2 thoughts on “I finally understand why I still like free-to-air TV

  1. This makes perfect sense to me. I often enjoy the randomly found tv show/movie because I have no preconceptions or expectations, same as reading a book without looking at the jacket blurb.

    On the flip side, I find over-hype about a book/movie/tv show off-putting, even when it’s something that receives excellent reviews.


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