Thursday, April 29, 2010

Time Zones and Television

Here's a question: given the choice, and ignoring geographical factors, which time zone would you rather live in? When I say "ignoring geographical factors", I mean ignoring the fact that if you want to live in the Pacific Time Zone, you have to live out west somewhere. This is a theoretical question, as if to say, if you could convert your home state to any time zone you wanted (and have sunrise and sunset times automatically adjust along with it), which time zone would it be?

"But Chris! Time is arbitrary. And if you're ignoring geographical factors, and also ignoring the influence time zones have on perceived sunrise and sunset times, what difference does it make what time zone you're in?" It doesn't, except for one thing: television. This discussion is purely about television. Not just sports, either, although sports are more impacted by time zones than anything else on television.

(Speaking of sports, there won't be a Sports Saturday post this weekend, because I'll be back in State College, PA for another wedding. More on that tomorrow. My heckling of Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the Washington Capitals will have to wait another week.)

So...let's look at the pros and cons of each time zone! I'm going to limit this discussion to the six primary United States time zones, but I will say this: living in the Atlantic Time Zone - or worse yet, Newfoundland Time Zone - would be miserable. On the other hand, that means you'd get to live in Canada, and that might - oh, right, we're ignoring geographical factors. Never mind, then.

Eastern Time: More Americans live in the Eastern Time Zone than in any other time zone, and it includes our largest city and national capital. So, naturally, everything caters to the Eastern Time Zone as much as possible. Any time you hear an advertisement for a television show or sporting event, you know the time they give you is Eastern Time. No arithmetic necessary, and no confusion, either. That is nice.

On the other hand...everything in the Central Time Zone happens an hour earlier. How is that fair? And most major sporting events are timed to end between 11:00 PM and 11:30 PM, because that is when national television ratings peak. If you're like me and are usually in bed by 10:00 PM, that stinks. But if you usually stay up past midnight, that's great, right? Back in my college days, the Eastern Time Zone was absolutely perfect for me. But now...I don't like it.

Central Time: So, yes, everything happens in Central Time one hour earlier. Your 8:00 PM shows are on at 7:00 PM. But is that too early? I don't think so. Sure, you have to subtract one hour from everything, but I imagine you'll get used to that, and eventually you'll automatically make that adjustment in your head without even realizing it.

Disclaimer: I have never lived outside the Eastern Time Zone, so I don't actually know what it's like on the "other side". With that in mind, I'm probably the last guy who should be conducting this debate, but I don't care. "The grass is always greener", right? I'm sure there are some downsides to living outside the Eastern Time Zone that I'm completely unaware of. That said...aside from the one hour mental adjustment, I see no downside to the Central Time Zone whatsoever. If I were to guess, I'd say that most Americans would prefer Central Time.

But is Central Time my favorite? Nope. That honor goes to...

Mountain Time: Now...Mountain Time is a bit confusing, and it's often completely ignored in the national discussion. When ABC says "Catch an all new 'Lost' at 9, 8 Central", what they won't say is that 'Lost' will also be on at 8 Mountain. I think. So, subtract one hour for network television. Or, if it's cable you're talking about, subtract two hours. I guess. The Mountain Time Zone kind of does its own thing with television, and it's probably confusing as hell when you first move there.

On the other hand...whereas major sporting events end between 11:00 PM and 11:30 PM in the Eastern Time Zone, in the Mountain Time Zone they end between 9:00 PM and 9:30 PM. For me, that's perfect. In terms of sports, the Mountain Time Zone would be ideal for my sleep schedule. And I'd be willing to deal with the confusion that comes with living there. I'm a smart guy; I could figure it out.

Pacific Time: I think Pacific Time would be too much of a change. In terms of sports, having NFL games start at 10:00 AM, and college football games start at 9:00 AM...that's a little much. Having most sporting events end by 8:30 PM, or even as early as 7:00 PM, would be too early. Having things end early is great, but only to a point. I think Mountain Time is good enough in that regard.

Meanwhile...in terms of network television, and also cable channels which have split East and West feeds, shows are on at the same time as they are in the Eastern Time. When ABC says "9, 8 Central", that means "9 Pacific". That's convenient, but the problem is this. If you're in the Eastern Time Zone, and you want to talk to your friend who lives in Oregon about that show you just watched...guess what? They won't get to see it for another three hours! And that means if you live out there, you better stay off Twitter and Facebook in the meantime, too, or else you expose yourself to the possibility of spoilers. At least with Mountain Time, the lag is only one hour; in the Pacific Time Zone, it's three hours.

Central and Mountain both leave Pacific in the dust, but I'm not sure where I would rank Pacific against Eastern. I'd have to live there first before I could judge.

Alaska and Hawaii Time: Two more time zones to go. Based on a little bit of research, "9, 8 Central" means "8 Alaska" as well as "8 Hawaii". I think that proves that Central is better than Eastern: Mountain and Hawaii time zones could air these network shows whenever they want, and they've chosen to air them in line with Central Time. On the other hand, Indiana used to be in the Central Time Zone, but now they're in the Eastern Time Zone. Now...why would they want to do that?

For sports, however...Alaska and Hawaii aren't great places to be. If you live in Hawaii, most sporting events are over before dinner. I lived there, I'd have to DVR almost everything.

There's also the issue of Daylight Saving Time, which Hawaii and Arizona do not observe. Does "9, 8 Central" mean "8 Hawaii" all year, regardless of whether Hawaii is 5 or 6 hours behind New York? Or does "9, 8 Central" actually mean "9 Hawaii" during Winter months? I would hope it's "8 Hawaii" year-round, because it would be confusing otherwise. Same goes for Arizona - I think "9, 8 Central" means "8 Arizona Time" year-round.

Finally, I'll close with this: if any of you live (or have lived) in a time zone other than the Eastern Time Zone and would like to shed any light on what it's like to live in another time zone, or would like to correct anything I said about those other time zones, please comment.

4 comments:

bubba said...

Having lived in three of the four, Mountain is by far my favorite. Sports don't start super-early and are done at a reasonable hour to sleep or (on weekends) still go out to the bar.

Eye of the Frog said...

I haven't done the Mountain time yet, but I liked growing up in Central. Prime time started at 7pm, news at 10pm, then Carson/Jay/Conan/Letterman/whoever from 10:30-11:30, and sleep before midnight.

Btw, there is a facebook/twitter blackout in my new location on Lost nights.

James Allen said...

Mountain wins.
Same as Central time (Primetime at 7) but sporting events an hour earlier.

Spartangoogle said...

To honor those of you who look back nostalgically on weeks of Advanced Placement exams in high school - which start May 3 this year - the students in Alaska and Hawaii have to start their tests by 7AM for security reasons. The College Board doesn't seem to want my students texting their friends with "Aloha, here are the questions on the AP Stat exam!"