It’s hard to turn away from the television when your favorite show is on. So what if your shows are always on? For sophomore Tori Hamachek, that’s the problem she faces everyday when she sits down at her computer to do homework.

“It’s definitely a distraction, said Hamachek, who goes on Hulu about four days a week. “When you want to procrastinate, would you rather watch a show or do homework?”

Hamachek is one of a growing number of college students who frequents Hulu.com. It’s a site becoming increasingly popular among students today, featuring recent episodes from television shows that people can watch for free, whenever and wherever they want.  With more and more websites offering free on-demand shows and movies, the distraction is a growing problem.

In 2007, Nielsen released the statistics that an estimated 81 million watch television or movies online out of the 129 million people who own computers with Internet access.

A study released by Alloy Media and Marketing in 2009 found that a third of college students watched more webisodes than the previous year. In addition, the study found that 61 percent of students who watch full movies watch them on their computers.These statistics illustrate the growing trend of teenagers who flock to their laptops to consume media.

It’s bad news for students who sit down at their computers intending to do homework and end up watching shows online.

But for Hamachek and many others, online television makes it easier to watch shows she likes at her convenience.

“I only go to Hulu the day that I know my shows are posted,” Hamachek said. “I don’t go on random days just because I don’t like the shows that are offered.”

Many agree, arguing that the convenience is a positive for students with busy schedules.

“I would say the Internet in general can be a distraction in general because of everything it offers,” said junior Nick Forslund. “But I like Hulu. You don’t want to wait for a rerun (when) you can just go watch it anytime.”

Many broadcast companies offer their shows on their own websites like NBC.com or TBS.com. But students seem to flock to sites that offer a broader range of shows.

Randi Huard started using Hulu in the dormitories last year when she didn’t have a TV in her room. She explained that there are definite benefits to online television.

“I mean it’s good because I don’t have to worry about watching the show that night,” she said. “I think my productiveness is good. It hasn’t declined (since I started watching shows online). I usually watch Hulu during the day between classes when I have spare time.”

An article published last year by Christen Steinkamp of Rochester Institute of Technology found that “College students prefer broadcast when viewing with a group of friends and Internet when they are busy.”

So while online television does jive better with college students’ schedules, it does not serve as a complete replacement for television. Many college students, like Huard, use it in the dormitories when they have access to Internet but not a television.

Recently, premium online packages, such as Hulu Plus and Netflix, have tried to replace television with more complete online compilations of shows and movies, increasing the distraction to college students who dole out the monthly payment.

In an attempt to reach out to teens’ demands for online media, Hulu is offering a free, month-long trials of their premium service to college students. The premium service offers current episodes of more shows along with around 800 movies, which is similar to Netflix. Like Netflix, the service costs $7.99 per month.

Forslund, who now purchases a monthly subscription from Netflix, uses Hulu much less than he used to. He finds that the paid subscriptions are helpful because they offer a wider range of shows without commercials. But for those not wishing to pay, sites like Hulu offer a free easy way to access television shows throughout the day rather than waiting until night when many college students do their homework.

“It wastes time in the fact that it provides an easy way to procrastinate, but I can watch my shows during my convenience,” Hamachek says. “I don’t have time to watch TV when my TV shows are on. It’s a good way to have access to television.”

Huard is torn. She realizes the helpfulness of online television because it’s there whenever you need it. But at the same time, she says, it is an added distraction to a busy college schedule.

“I mean, it’s good because I don’t have to worry about watching the show that night,” she said, laughing. “But it’s also bad because I procrastinate. I’d say it’s 50/50.”

— Matt Hanlon


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