HBO Now, MOOCs, and Time

By Joshua Kim

I just signed up for my 1 month free trial of HBO Now. I clicked on the link, I downloaded the app, and I created the account. My guess is that after the free trial ends that I’ll be paying HBO the $14.99 a month to keep the service.
What impact will the availability of HBO Now have on MOOC participation? The question may not be as crazy as it sounds. Every minute watching season 5 of Game of Thrones is one less minute available for an edX or Coursera course.
Up until about 10 minutes ago, I had no way of watching current HBO shows. Without a cable subscription, my only recourse was to a) beg friends for an HBO Go account (which I didn’t do), b) try to find dodgy online copies of shows (which I was too afraid to do), or c) wait until the DVD’s become available on Netflix (which I did do).  With HBO Now, I plan to not only watch Game of Thrones, but Silicon Valley, True Detective, Boardwalk Empire, and maybe even Veep, Girls, and The Newsroom.  (What am I missing?)
Both our work lives and our solitary screen entertainment lives now flow through our laptops and our smart phones. How much work could you get done if your internet connection went down or your computer, tablet, and phone all died?  Our work, learning, and entertainment lives have converged.
Come to my house on any given night and you will see 4 people (ages 16, 17, 45, 45) staring at 4 different laptops. Sometimes we are in one room, sometimes in separate rooms, but we are all on our devices. You may think this is sad, but I think that this is actually great. The kids are not passively watching TV. They are either creating something on their laptop (doing their homework), or they are making active choices in selecting what they watch. The videos that they watch, when they watch video, are usually pretty short.  They don’t spend hours watching other people’s programming. They don’t sit through advertisements. They’ve never watched a rerun. Sometimes, they will even sit with a book. (Although a paper book, not an e-book, which I have trouble understanding).
When I was 16 I watched, I don’t know, maybe 2,000 hours of television. In 1985, when I was 16, the shows that I remember watching are: The Cosby Show, Cheers, Family Ties, MacGyver, Cagney & Lacey, Miami Vice, Magnum P.I., T.J. Hooker, 60 Minutes, St. Elsewhere, The Fall Guy, Hill Street Blues, Trapper John M.D., Moonlighting, Airwolf, Remington Steele, and The A Team. With the possible exception of St. Elsewhere and Hill Street Blues, I bet that the worst show on HBO is better today than the best show available from the networks in 1985.
The digital world that is coming in our laptops and tablets and smart phones can be, if one chooses, a world of quality choices. The expansion of alluring things to do on our screens, such as the availability of HBO Now, means that competition for our attention will only grow more fierce. MOOCs are not just competing against other MOOCs, but against HBO Now and Hulu and Netflix. All of which competes against books (which I read on a screen, maybe you read on dead trees), games (which I don’t do), and reading this blog post.
Can open online education at scale compete with Game of Thrones?
Will you be signing up for HBO Now?
Are you now finally ready to get rid of your cable subscription?
How do you spend your non-working screen time?

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