Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Monster In Our Living Rooms

Early 1950s Television SetImage by gbaku via Flickr

In the years just B.C. - Before Cable - every time we went to the movies there would be a short feature warning of the dangers of Pay TV. "The monster in your living room..." was the only line that I can remember. The movie industry was terrified that access to full length, uncut movies at home would empty the theaters. No one was yet envisioning VCRs, let alone DVD sales. Nor were they thinking about the time when a few companies would own everything - movie studios, television networks and theaters, so profits would all flow in the same direction no matter how the public was viewing Weekend at Bernie's.

So here we are, a few decades later, and everything has turned out just fine. Instead of three networks and a handful of local channels for free we get to pay a small fortune each month for a bazillion channels. We have options we never had before. Shopping channels, for instance. More of them seem to spawn every day. Now even agoraphobics can be shopaholics without killing trees for catalogs. It's a win/win/win.

Reception is much improved unless the cable goes out and that doesn't happen nearly as often as it did in the early days. If you like that sort of thing you can set up your TV and computer to mate in some Byzantine way. Even if I could figure that out, I would not do it. It's just giving them license to gang up on us. Who knows what they'd get up to while we're out working to support them? The only things is, if you have Cablevision and you have a yen to see the Oscars - or anything else on ABC channel 7 - you better start working on that hook-up now because as things stand it won't be on your TV.

Cablevision and ABC are having a big fight. ABC wants more money. Cablevision says "no". This sort of thing happens a lot now. There was a big argument about the Yankees network a few years ago. That was a bit galling to Yankee fans because before cable, sports teams didn't have networks and their games were televised on local channels. For free. More recently HGTV and the Food Network were embroiled in one of these fights and were pulled from Cablevision. It was resolved after a grueling few weeks and everyone was able to go back to redecorating their homes and cooking up gourmet meals.

Whenever one of these squabbles occur Cablevision airs its own ads explaining how it's unfair to their subscribers to have to pay these inflated rates for whichever channels are involved. As one of those subscribers, I'm willing to buy into that. In fact, I think we're paying way too much already, considering how often there's nothing worth watching on. (I should admit here that most of what we do watch is on cable channels, not broadcast TV, so it would seem that I do rather like it.) Anyway, what with Cablevision owning Newsday it's unlikely we'll have to read about any other point of view. That may sound like a conflict of interest, but, hey, if Cablevision hadn't bought Newsday, Rupert Murdoch was going to.

All I'm saying is that it appears that media has turned into a regular old clusterf*ck in so many ways. It kind of provides its own kind of entertainment - at a price.

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