The rise of the attention economy has accelerated our habit of engaging with our hobbies in a data-driven way.
When Jon Schneider watches Saturday Night Live, he doesn’t just tune into NBC at 11:30 p.m. eastern on Saturdays. He also takes notes on his laptop, and as soon as the episode ends, at about one in the morning, he goes live on his YouTube account to discuss the sketches for a small but dedicated following. During the week, he rewatches every sketch and tracks show-related data on a spreadsheet, including the number of appearances each cast member made.
Watching SNL by doing more than simply watching SNL began as a personal project to appreciate the series on a deeper level, Schneider told me. What he does—participating in obsessive, sports-like analysis of a TV show—might sound uniquely intense, but he’s not alone. Since late 2018, he’s found a community of like-minded SNL superfans, including Mike Murray, who has about 85 spreadsheets and creates charts every week for each performer’s screen time. This isn’t typical fan behavior, or even superfan behavior, such as going to conventions or cosplaying as favorite characters. This also isn’t behavior meant to make the viewing experience more entertaining—such as playing drinking games or, in the way an audience watching the cult film The Room traditionally does, tossing spoons at the screen. This is work, the kind of hard-core analysis that yields beyond in-depth knowledge. Schneider and Murray can tell you when Pete Davidson said “Live from New York!” for the 16th time and when Mikey Day appeared in his 100th sketch. And to an average TV watcher, such activities might sound like too much work.