Newton Minnow, back in more sentient times, called TV a “vast wasteland.” That seems true. Programming and news is aimed at low-awareness viewers. Advertising is the real product – the incessant carnival barking of consumer products. We may find it annoying to see the same ad seven, eight times – advertisers know all about the annoyance factor, but also know that an ad might reach us the thirteenth time we see it, and that will pay for the previous twelve. So advertising, by design, is intrusive and annoying.
We are subscribers to DirecTV, but suspended that service for the summer. The business model for cable/satellite providers is to package the one or two channels we might find appealing with 30 or 40 others, and for a large monthly fee, usually in the $35-50 range. This in in addition to the $35-50 basic service package. The object appears to be $100 per month from each household in the country. ESPN is by far the premium cable channel in the U.S., and carriers complain about the cost, but it is their lever to “high end” packages and the $100 per month goal. (We were basically subscribing to Comedy Central with our DirecTV package. Jon Stewart is a smart guy with a great staff of writers, but not worth $100 a month.)
DirecTV comes with a DVR, so I would record various shows and fast-forward through commercials while watching. There is some better-than-average programming. For a while I recorded “House,” which despite its idiotic premise had an edgy lead character molded in the Sherlock Holmes genre. It got old in a hurry, and I basically settled into the sitcom routine, finding one that was appealing and watching it time and again. For a long time it was Scrubs, supplanted by Two and One-Half Men, and currently supplanted by 30 Rock (which is available sans-ads on Netflix).
The object in having a beautiful Sony TV as our family room centerpiece to find something of value without submitting to advertising. Fast-forwarding is a useful tool, but the advertisers know us and all of our habits*. They will not relent no matter the technology hurdles. If they cannot reach us via commercial breaks, they will simply take over the writing staffs. (Shit – they already have. What planet am I on?) I expect soon that whole programs will be product driven. (Again … what planet?) It’s only a question of tactics.
I purchased Apple TV earlier this year for baseball, and at the current time it is a delight. I can watch a baseball game either live or recorded, and between innings commercials are blocked out. Apple is, of course, as corrupt as any corporation, and is merely building a platform by which it can sell audiences to advertisers**. During the construction phase, we are somewhat free of the ads.
“Hulu” recently came aboard Apple TV offering a $9.00 per month Netflix-like subscription with a free one-month trial. They have some desirable programming, like old Saturday Night Live episodes, but they are interspersed with commercial breaks. I was only paying half attention one evening with Hulu in the background, and suddenly realized that advertising had again invaded the household. Hulu is crap, just another ad platform.
The question arises – without ad-based programming, what will happen to the good programming that does pop up now and then? I don’t care. What happens to baseball without ads? I don’t care. The underlying quality will find a way through to us. I pay $129 per year for baseball, so in a sense I’ve opted out of ads. I’m willing to do that for any programming of quality.
HBO, for instance, has offered some very good programming over the years like The Wire and Sopranos. They have even aired subversive programming like Waco: Rules of Engagement and Hot Coffee. Such programming squeaks through because advertisers do not have outright veto power. Corporations, rather than merely threatening to withhold ad revenue from HBO, are reduced to ordinary lawsuits to block programming. (Do a search for “HBO lawsuits” for a long list of suits filed against the network to block certain programs.)
Of course, to get to HBO currently requires a subscription to DirecTV or Dish or whatever. I expect that to end in the near future as Apple destroys the old business model.
DirecTV comes back on in our house on October 1, and we’ll hang on until late October, when the baseball playoffs are over. Then we’ll have them come get the dish. Once free of ads, it’s hard to go back.
*For example, they injected Alex Trebec on the Jeopardy set in the middle of the ads to trip us to interrupting the ff. It appeared as though we were back at the program.
**Advertising reaches us – we are not fooled. I am typing this on an IMac. It’s an OK computer, about like a PC without the clunky Bill Gates nerdiness built in. I paid far too much for it. We have an IPad and two IPhones. They reached us, man. Apple totally reached us. Apple products, despite the clever advertising allure they have created, are consumer crap, just like everything else. We are, like everyone, susceptible to advertising. The only way to interrupt its hold on us is to avoid it. That is quite a trick.