Grantland: Why live sports are better than on DVR

Thu, Jun 9
Michael PhelpsRobyn Beck/AFP/Getty ImagesMichael Phelps' 2008 Olympic feats would have been much more dramatic had we watched them live.

My life is broken into two halves. They're not equal halves, but sometimes they feel that way. The first half is spent trying to figure out how reality works, if time is real, and what it means to be alive; the other half is spent scheduling my life around sporting events I am compelled to watch, even though I don't care who wins and won't remember anything significant about the game in two weeks' time. It makes no sense: All winter long, I'm constantly trying to catch random mid-major college basketball games between second-tier teams going nowhere, all while realizing I can't remember who played in the Final Four just three years ago. It's a (very minor) paradox. But a less minor paradox is why the achievement of my second goal is so consistently unsatisfying, even though technology has made it remarkably simple.

This is where the two halves of my life intersect.

If that statement makes no sense, let me rephrase it as a straightforward question: Why is watching a prerecorded sporting event less pleasurable than watching the same game live?

This phenomenon is inescapable (I'm sure some might disagree, but not any sports fan I've ever met). It's going to be the principal issue TV audiences have with coverage of the Summer Olympics since live events in London will almost never match up with the prime-time window when NBC will want to show them. For most North Americans with normal jobs, the 2012 Olympics will not be experienced as living history; they will be experienced as recent history. And that will create the same intangible loss.

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