Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What’s Watching TV?

I was reading a report in the newspaper (remember those?) about the Nielsen rating system for TV. If you recall, Nielsen polls people about their TV viewing habits and even (at least they used to) installs electronic systems in homes to monitor viewing habits.  But it appears that the old system, when we all had just one television set and only three channels, no longer provides accurate ratings. They pose the question, “what does it mean now to ‘watch’ TV?” If you record some program and then watch it on your I-Pad, is that “watching TV”?

But the question, interesting as it is, brought to mind another dilemma. Last evening, we did our usual “TV watching”, i.e., we watched a NetFlix movie, then we watched one of our pre-recorded (TIVO) BBC comedies. But then . . . heaven forfend, we ran out of prerecorded stuff to watch, and it was marginally too early to head for bed.  So, what to do, what to do? Well, I turned our  DISH system to live TV and then surfed the channels for something to watch. I scrolled through about 20 channels of pure dreck, until I happened on an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond”. Now, remember, even though it’s “live TV” that program has been prerecorded—there seems to be no actual “live TV” aside maybe from sporting events.
So, we began watching the program. It’s mildly amusing generally.  But then the commercials began. After perhaps five minutes of the program, the commercials cut in. I think there were perhaps 10-12 commercials. Then the program began again. Then after another five minutes, another bank of a dozen commercials. So, we decided, even though it was still a bit early, to hit the sack. See, we can no longer watch regular programs, because of the flood of commercial interruptions. We watch both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert regularly, but . . . we TIVO them both. Partly, we are never awake when they appear on the tube. But mainly, we TIVO them, so we can fast forward the commercials. They have the same system—a few minutes, followed by a dozen commercials. We now will not/cannot sit through all those commercials. In the old days, when dinosaurs still roamed freely underneath the Third Avenue El, commercials used to be limited to one or two per break. And the breaks used to be few and far between.  Now the programs themselves are the breaks and the commercials are the main fare. And anyone who says, “yeah, I watch the Super Bowl for the commercials” is simply an idiot.
But, here’s the problem. I assume there are so many commercials because for some reason the TV stations dropped the price of a commercial for normal programming, so they have to fit in more commercials to make up the revenue lost through cheap commercials.  In retaliation, people (like me) TIVO their favorite shows, so they can fast forward through the commercials. As a result, we don’t watch the commercials, so the commercials aren’t worth even the reduced fees they are paying.  It seems to me this game (or War if you prefer) can’t go on this way forever. Somehow, we need a new model for television, one that better suits both the temperament of the viewing public (we can’t be alone in despising TV commercials to the point that we will no longer watch them). But what’s the new model? I only see two alternatives—1) jack up the cost of commercials so that only a couple are needed per half hour show, or 2) make the subscribers pay a higher fee for commercial-free TV (sounds like PBS to me).
And in that alternate republico-universe, where our friends in Congressional LaLa Land reside, they have decided apparently that the Sequester won’t be so bad after all. Evidently, the masters of their universe, the Cock Brothers (Grouchy and Carpy) think their incomes won’t be reduced after all, so Let the Games Begin . . . Is this a great country, or what??
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