Tag Archives: Cable

We Will Return After These Messages

Tech bloggers have been calling for and planning the end of cable TV for years. The first nefarious plot to kill cable was trying to break the bundles and force cable companies to offer ala carte programming. The second effort involved forcing companies to accept consumer devices with separable security in lieu of a company provided cable box. The problem with that plan was that the consumer electronics industry doesn’t want to make consumer set top boxes. Now the plotters are counting on the internet to break cable’s hold on the TV experience by allowing networks to offer content online. HBO recently decided to offer their premium content to internet customers without the need of a cable subscription. If other content providers follow suit, the anti-cable crowd believe this will kill cable TV as we know it. What they fail to acknowledge is that if content providers offer their content this way, it will kill the TV viewing experience all together.

Linear TV has been the model of watching entertainment for decades. Networks have spent fortunes and countless hours planning the lineup to give viewers the shows they want to watch. By necessity, this meant that the shows fell into a schedule to which viewers had to adapt. People planned their week around the TV and when their favorite shows aired. Now we have internet-based on-demand viewing and people can watch whenever and wherever they want. The problem is that this convenience comes with a hefty price tag. Content is not free and it is paid for by airing commercials. Networks quickly realized that the more commercials they could air, the more revenue they could generate. The networks program TV shows for the sole purpose of bringing more viewers to see the commercials. Linear shows have to fit into an hour-long programming block along with commercials.

Typically, the average “hour-long” show is actually only 42 minutes of content with 18 minutes of advertising broken up into 5 or 6 commercial breaks. That means, on average, a commercial break should be no more than 3-4 minutes long. This barrier is being pushed on linear TV. For example, on TNT, the network averages more than 6 minutes of commercials per break on TV and more than that during online streaming. In order to cram more commercials into the TV lineup, the network makes certain edits to the programming for length. Instead of getting 42 minutes of a show, you might get only 39 or 40, and forget about watching a themed intro to your favorite show. They chop those right off or run commercials over them. Once that content is taken online, TNT forces online streaming viewers to watch almost twice as many commercials per break than traditional linear television because there are no time constraints limiting how minutes are devoted to ad content.

Linear television has been surrendering to the onslaught of commercials since the first broadcast, but now there are whole schools dedicated to nothing more than planning and designing ways to get more advertising in front of as many eyeballs as can be. The push away from linear tv such as is provided by cable is not to give viewers more choices, but rather to remove an impediment to running more commercials.

Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) have given viewers control to skip those intrusive commercials. With the click of a button, the viewer can fast forward over anything on the recording, effectively bypassing that ad for Viagra, or the rerun of the Hershey’s kiss bell Christmas tree. With online streaming, you can also fast forward through the show, but not through the commercials. For those breaks you have to watch EVERY single commercial. In fact, some content providers are considering disabling the DVR ability to fast forward through commercials on certain channels.

One industry journal reports that most cable operators are suffering net losses on video customers year to year. Not huge numbers, mind you—there are plenty of people still enjoying linear television—but any gains in customers come from new internet subscriptions. If the internet kills linear TV, count on paying for the ability to watch commercials as becoming the norm. In the movie “Demolition Man,” Sylvester Stallone wakes up after 2 centuries in cryogenic sleep and finds that people are listening to old commercial jingles as the sole source of entertainment.

The thought terrifies me because it’s not too far off.

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Roll The Tape

In this day of rapidly developing technology, it is fast becoming a curiosity to see remnants of the old ways.  I was in a Family Dollar and saw that they still had VHS video cassettes for sale two for seven dollars.  The first thought I had was “gee, that sounds expensive,” followed up with “who still buys video tapes?”
My mother was a video tape archivist.  She still has cardboard boxes full of VHS tapes of shows she recorded from back in the 80s.  She had them stored in book cases for years along with tapes of movies she bought at the store before she started buying DVDs and Blue Rays.  She still has the VCRs plugged in and still records some things to tape for permanent storage.  For daily recording, she, like most people, uses a DVR, but she still has that collection of cassettes.
I built quite the collection of tapes myself over the years.  I still have several of those VHS tapes in storage somewhere.  In the bottoms of cabinets, in boxes in the garage, in plastic organizer totes shoved under beds in guest rooms, they sit waiting in futility for a day when they might again see the tape player.
I still have a VHS tape recorder.  It probably still works.  I wouldn’t know.  It’s sitting on the floor next to my desk from the last time I plugged it in to transfer a video tape to digital storage.  I cannot remember the last time I bought a video tape.  It would have to be around 1994 or so.  Zorro, the Gay Blade was the title, I think.  It is one of my favorite movies; one that I can still quote from beginning to end and my sister, Diane, and I both bought a copy when it went on sale.  That was the movie I was digitizing the last time I used the VCR.
I DVR everything now.  I even built my own DVR out of a computer to make it easier to record four shows at once.  Now most providers can do that, but when I built mine four years ago, it was not so common.  The DVR is so ubiquitous that it is almost surprising to run into people who don’t have one.
I was in an elderly neighbor’s house this morning; he was having a problem with his cable and the technician was going to fix it for him.  He had an old pre-HD reverse-projection TV and a cable box that was plugged into a VCR.  He still used the VCR to record his shows from the cable box.  He had tapes across the top of his TV and his living room was littered with unlabeled VHS cassettes.  I was standing in awe of what I was seeing when it hit me: this is the guy that still buys video tapes from stores like Family Dollar. 
I’m not sure Wal Mart even stocks VHS anymore.  The cable tech was trying to explain DVR to the guy, but he wasn’t interested in a new way to record his shows, because it wouldn’t be permanent.  This guy has his tapes and his VCR and he’s good to go.  He doesn’t want the new tech.
The mind boggles.  At least now I know who still buys tapes.

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Every Kingdom Falls

There is little regard in society today for tradition or for the historic value of the legends of old. This problem is compounded by the epidemic lack of originality in the arts in which everything coming out for television, movies or music has been done before. The only nod given to originality might be that a writer/producer may—and I stress may—try to put a different spin on a retread. The problem with that is it can ruin the memory of the original in the minds of its audience. The latest insult to a long-time legend is the ruination that Starz calls Camelot.

There are many Hollywood retreads that fell flat at the box office because whatever changes the producers made ruined the experience for the fans. Lost In Space, Dukes Of Hazzard, Godzilla all tried to update what had been successful movies and TV shows decades ago but fell short in the hearts and minds of the public. Some updates have enjoyed some success such as Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek (Et Al) and others. Some new versions have even been huge hits such as The Lord Of The Rings and The Dark Knight. The difference between the successes and flops is the degree of variation between the remake and the original.

Perhaps in an effort to keep viewers, Starz has decided to create an original series and period piece to compete with HBO’S Game Of Thrones and Showtime’s The Borgias. The problem was the subject matter they undertook. The tale of King Arthur and his kingdom at Camelot is a legend that has been told for centuries. Many writers have put their stamp of it from Sir Thomas Mallory, to Alfred Lord Tennyson and John Steinbeck. My favorite literary rendition is Thomas Boorman’s Arthur Rex. The tale has been put to film almost as many times from the musical Camelot to Excalibur (my favorite) and now the Starz production of Camelot. This legend is the standard by which most stories are measured. It features plotting and character development with noble themes and heroic acts and a moral to the story.

Unfortunately, Starz has laundered all the redeeming characteristics out of the story to spice it up for its perceived modern audience. The producers opted to do this by interjecting as much nudity and sex as they could get away with as well as coming up with some implausible machinations to heighten the intrigue. Arthur is no longer a noble leader fighting to unify a chaotic land and establish an order of might for right. At the beginning of this tale, Arthur is romping naked by the lake with his brother’s girlfriend. The actor cast in the larger than life role is Jamie Bower, a little known British actor who at his best makes Arthur seem petulant, selfish and impulsive and at his worst makes him look like he just hit a joint.

The worst part of the production is that every element of the legend has been mangled. Arthur does not draw Excalibur from the stone to become king. He draws a different sword called the Sword Of Mars, which promptly gets broken in combat training. Merlin then commissions a new sword to be forged by the greatest blacksmith in the land. Merlin then kills the blacksmith and his daughter to get the sword for the king.

Another change is that when Arthur meets Guinevere, she is betrothed to Leontis (not a named night in the original tales—although Leondegrance is Guinevere’s father in the original version). Arthur and Guinevere fall in love and experience a tryst the morning of her wedding and then Arthur leads the wedding ceremony that evening. While this may seem titillating and give the cable channel yet another opportunity to show gratuitous nudity and sex, it is not in keeping with the virtue that is supposed to be the foundation of Camelot.

Is this show just another example of how we as a society have given up on what has long defined character in mankind in lieu of the sensational, or is it yet another indictment of Hollywood pandering to our baser instincts at the expense of true art? This question is not for one person to answer, but rather for each individual to ponder when making the choice for entertainment.

This show should be avoided at all costs and hope to be cancelled before too much damage can be done to the true legend of the once and future king.

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