Pardon me if I don’t weep for the Cable companies

According to a recent report I saw, there’s an escalating number of people everywhere abandoning Cable TV in favour of alternative viewing methods. It’s a rising groundswell that is quickly becoming a tsunami, now that Netflix is available here in Canada, and the trend is escalating so hugely that the Nielsen people have created a new category called “Zero TV” households, where people have chosen to cancel TV subscriptions and go with Internet viewing and streaming video services.

I wonder if that has anything to do with the simple fact that people now see that they can sit night after night and surf 500 channels of Cable TV and find nothing worth watching?

I remember how, when I first came to Canada in 1967, one local entrepreneur was ripping up the street edges of the entire town, installing cables for “the next wave” of TV services. Most people thought he was nuts, but I got to know him well enough for him to tell me, one bibulous night in the local Legion, that his new enterprise couldn’t fail and was, in fact, “a license to print money”. In those days, Canadians had two television networks, CBC and CTV, and reception depended upon how good your rabbit-ear antenna was. Cable TV would bring multiple channels, this fellow said, with no “snow” in the picture. Everyone would want it. And they would have to buy it from him. He was right, of course, and he prospered, eventually selling out to one of the major Cable companies.

Today, though, many of us are abandoning the Cable companies in disgust and paying instead for Internet TV, plus eight or nine dollars a month for Netflix—which allows us to gorge and binge-watch our favourite TV shows as much as we want, commercial-free—as opposed to paying upwards of $100 a month subsidizing so-called programming we don’t really want but are forced to buy in order to obtain the few channels we do want to watch. That insults our intelligence and our sense of self-worth, so is anyone really surprised we’re changing over?

And then there are the commercials. They were originally intended to pay for the programming and services. But if you’re paying upwards of $100.00 a month for Cable, where is all that advertising money going? It’s certainly not benefitting you. And have you noticed how intrusive TV advertising has become nowadays? It’s not merely that the spots are annoyingly louder than the show they’ve just interrupted—and there’s supposed to be a law governing that—but they’re sneaking more and more obviously into everything, running along the bottom of the screen and sometimes down the sides, all too often interfering with the images you’re watching, and popping up in the corners of your screen at climactic moments, forcing you to pay attention to their message while any wish you might have had of seeing who did what in the show you’ve just watched is kaput, the credits reduced to illegibility in one small corner of the screen while more commercial information is shouted at you.

As for watching American commercials, that’s like being pummelled mercilessly by loud mouthed, hectoring bullies whose male hormones have been transplanted to their voice boxes to allow them to shout louder and browbeat you into buying a new car before you talk anxiously to your doctor afterwards. I find it all intensely annoying and insulting. Rodney Dangerfield’s main complaint was always that he “never got no respect”. Today, in the world of TV watching, you, the fee-paying viewer, don’t get any, either.

Once upon a time, about ten years ago, the writers in Hollywood went on strike for better wages and conditions, in the belief that good television required good writers. The corporate suits at the Networks decided otherwise. They realized that there were more than enough pathetic people out there to create a new industry, abasing and degrading themselves publicly in return for money and an opportunity to enjoy their fabled fifteen-minute slice of fame. And Reality Television was born. It’s cheap to produce, and, Hey! You don’t need to be paying writers. This stuff writes itself… I remember how North American society came close to collective cardiac arrest during the first season of “Survivor”, when an episode ended with one of the female participants prostrate and apparently dying from exposure. And I remember being mildly astonished to realize that, amid all the hype and hysteria, not a single person anywhere thought to comment on the fact that the poor, helpless “victim” was surrounded by the full production team of a major Network, comprising multiple camera crews and the myriad others who bring the drama to our screens. Despite all that, though, I’m still optimistic about the dearth of ads on Netflix.