How to distribute access to a shared television?
April 13, 2006 1:42 AM   Subscribe

What's the best (most fair) system for distributing access to a shared television?

My college dorm building has one large-screen television on the first floor. I've noticed that arguments often arise between people's conflicting shows/videogaming/moviewatching. It's a complete free-for-all right now, so the more persistent can often harass whoever's on to leave. Videogamers sometimes 'set up camp' and monopolize the television for days at a time - literally. They set up shifts, and take turns sleeping on the couches, eating, and going to class. I doubt that I have the power to enact a system to fairly solve these disputes, but it's an interesting problem to think about. Would a simple sign-up sheet do the trick? Or perhaps some kind of weighted lottery? (i.e., someone who just watches one show every week for an hour is more likely to get it than someone who wants to play videogames every night, all night).
posted by nervestaple to Society & Culture (17 answers total)
Been there... for three years. IMHO whatever you do will crumble and it just falls into a natural cycle.

The closest we ever came to anything was to publish a schedule with all the 'big' programs blocked out, eg 'lost' as a lot of people will watch. In the gaps, its a free for all - first come first served. Gamers are lowest in the pile, if you want to watch TV, grab some friends and tell the gamers to leave.

Welcome to democracy b*tch!
posted by daveyt at 2:39 AM on April 13, 2006

Yes, you have to work out a weighted voting system to decide which programs to watch.

Everyone gets (just to pull numbers out of my ass) five votes worth 10, 5, 3, 1, 1, and you use them to vote for up to five programs you want to watch, or maybe to throw all your votes (20 points) on one program. The program with the highest score goes on the big screen and everyone not watching it has to get the hell off the couches and allow people to watch it in peace.

I suggest doing it only with prime time shows, though. If you leave the gamers to hog it during the idiot hours, maybe they'll spend their votes on programs that a number of people might want to watch with them rather than on taking over the screen so a couple people can play a game. And do the vote in public, not anonymously with software or anything. Get the people together once a week so everyone can get an idea of what everyone else really likes, and so people who share interests can agree to vote together.

Don't allow people to cast proxy votes for friends who can't make it -- that would create a black market for votes and encourage annoying finagling such as buying votes from non-TV folk and using them to vote against a popular show by voting for an opposing show. If you don't show up for the meeting (maybe just dropping in at a certain room between certain hours), you don't vote. To people who don't care what's played on that big screen, the system is invisible. To people who care, the effort required is low but it does require them to actually go and vote, not just to select a few numbers on a screen and then maybe forget all about it.

But it works only in theory unless you can get the dorm bosses (whatever they might be called) to declare it an official rule.
posted by pracowity at 2:43 AM on April 13, 2006

Have one person in charge of a sign up sheet, in theory a don or floor-rep or somebody in a similar authority position. If people try to do ridiculous things like sign up for 6 hours of videogaming, all with different people, then they can be vetoed by the person in charge of the list. And you can book out for all the big shows and stuff if it becomes a serious issue.
posted by antifuse at 3:25 AM on April 13, 2006

Are the consoles used owned by the community or by the gamers? If the latter, ban people from plugging them in. If they can afford consoles and games they can afford their own TV. You can still turn a blind eye to it when noone else wants the TV however.

How you divide up time after that is more difficult.
posted by edd at 3:53 AM on April 13, 2006

I don't know the current uni culture, but don't blanket disregard daytime TV. Sometimes something rises up and becomes very popular. Sometimes even 'stupid' soaps become interesting, if lots of people you know watch.
posted by Goofyy at 4:17 AM on April 13, 2006

There's a whole branch of mathematics devoted to solving problems like this one. Maybe you could try to find a math major.

Failing that, here's something you might consider when trying to create a fair system:
Don't make value judgments. Video games are just as worthwhile an activity as watching Meet the Press or whatever. Sure, some people might prefer one or the other, but that doesn't mean that one is objectively better or more important. Do, however, recognize that, while Halo isn't going anywhere, the Oscars and the Super Bowl are once-a-year live television events (and Three 6 Mafia's acceptance speech, let alone Janet Jackson's nipple, won't be replayed).
posted by box at 5:22 AM on April 13, 2006

Randomly assign "ownership" of the various hours and allow people to trade their hour(s) for whatever it pleases them to accept in exchange.

And if at all possible, hook it to a Tivo or similar so that hour-of-watching need not coincide with hour-that-it-airs.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:42 AM on April 13, 2006

I always thought that this is what RAs and RDs were for. Seriously.
posted by jdroth at 5:55 AM on April 13, 2006

Break the tv. Then, everyone is equally disenfranchised.

But seriously, it's incredibly complex to come up with something fair in a system like this. You need a person who is the designated coordinator, ideally someone who has real authority of some sort, like an RA or RD as mentioned above.

Then come up with a small set of simple rules defining how it will be decided, and have the process be open and transparent, and post the schedule prominently, laminated behind inch-thick vandalism-resistant plexiglas.

And definitely, the TiVo idea could avoid a hell of a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Though, because people are assholes, you'd have to have it locked up somehow so people can't delete each others' shows. Ideally it would be hidden and locked up entirely, and the only person with the ability to get to it and queue up recorded shows should be the RA or other authority.

I really think it's easier not to have a TV at all.
posted by beth at 6:15 AM on April 13, 2006

Have any thrift stores nearby? A decent television (read: old television) is probably only $10-30 away. We set one up in our lounge across the lounge from the primary tv, and put a notice on it that it was for all to use. The gamers were more than happy to oblige, and didn't mind that it had no cable. Also, when things get testy, mob justice prevails. If you have a big enough posse, you get the tv. That's just reality.
posted by potch at 7:10 AM on April 13, 2006

I agree that there should be a second TV just for games.
posted by luneray at 10:28 AM on April 13, 2006

As with most group or shared activities, situations like this in my experience are settled by majority rule. Simple, straightforward and expected.

It may not be ideal for the one person who watches the antique road show, but with a shared resource..whatever serves the interests of most
posted by skinnydipp at 10:50 AM on April 13, 2006

Don't make value judgments. Video games are just as worthwhile an activity as watching Meet the Press or whatever.

I think I can convince you otherwise.

The number of people watching a television program is limited only by the number of people that can fit in the room comfortably within the viewing radius of the screen, and the level of enjoyment is limited only by the quality of the program and personal tastes. Finally, programs end in a half hour or an hour, or a few hours if a movie, so there is a finite limit on how long a single program (which may or may not be enjoyed by all potential participants) will be showing.

However, the number of people playing a video game is extremely limited, by the number of players permitted by the game, the number of controllers available, and whether or not the person who owns the console wants you to play. Meanwhile, watching someone play a video game, but being unable to play yourself, is not nearly as enjoyable as playing it. Finally, some of these games have no ending, or at least no ending that can be defined clearly -- the games are either too short to limit to one playthrough, or are open-ended.

So when a small group of people monopolize the television to play videogames, they are (a) creating a limit on the number of people who can enjoy the television at once (as the room can normally hold a significantly larger number of people than the game console will let play), and (b) doing so for a length of time that cannot be determined in advance, except by arbitrary limits set by an authoritative body (which here does not exist).

Meanwhile, if the decision is made to watch "Lost", you know that (a) you can fill up the room with lost-lovers, until room capacity is reached, and (b) the episode will end one hour after it begins, so that lost-haters can pick a show to watch (which may or may not be enjoyed by one or more of the lost-lovers).

So I'd say video games are not just as worthwhile an activity, if you are measuring the amount of happiness they bring to all potential participants.
posted by davejay at 1:43 PM on April 13, 2006

Sorry, forgot to throw in a solution to your problem. heh.

Here's my suggestion:

#1: the parental controls on the television are activated, and the password is known only to the RA/RD in charge of the television;

#2: based on voting or whatnot, each week is broken up into seven recurring (ie not unique each week) 24-hour period (starting at a time when it is convenient for the RA/RD, such as when they wake up) is dedicated to a single channel. The channel for each day is determined from the voting, and exceptions are only made when a huge majority wants it (new year's eve countdown, or christmas special marathon, or somesuch) -- and one of those seven periods is set aside for video games (probably the crappiest TV night);

#3: anyone who doesn't like it can buy their own TV, because they're really cheap these days, and if there are nights that regularly have little or no turnout, the channel for that day is reconsidered, since nobody's really using it.

In short, nobody wins altogether, but most people get at least one night a week where they can use "the big teevee" -- the rest of the time they should be studying anyway. I mean, come on, it's optional entertainment, right?
posted by davejay at 1:48 PM on April 13, 2006

Oh, and like the video game night, one night a week is for a movie channel, whatever crap HBO is putting on is what everyone watches for "movie night" (personally, I'd say put on Starz, as they play the best/worst garbage movies that exist)
posted by davejay at 1:49 PM on April 13, 2006

Show some of the suggestions here to your might not have the authority to enact any of these but he or she certainly does.
posted by apple scruff at 2:39 PM on April 13, 2006

I have another possible option that worked when I was in school. When there were two major shows on at the same time, dorms would host different shows. For example, one dorm would show "Gilmore Girls" and the other would show "Friends."

It made it more of a social event and resolved the issue when there were two popular shows at once.
posted by annaramma at 4:20 PM on April 13, 2006

« Older Self addressed stamped package?   |   Fuzzy logic search to find international... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.