Thoughts About An Article On Cable TV

Originally posted to Dreamwidth in 2020.

Here's the article: "Who Killed the Great American Cable TV Bundle," by Gerry Smith, originally published in Bloomberg.

1. The "original way Americans paid for TV" wasn't cable. It was purchasing an antenna. TV was free; the only cost was buying a set and the antenna to use it. Granted, there were only 4 channels including PBS, but it was one up-front payment. No subscription fees. You just had to maintain your own TV equipment (or hire a handyman when things broke down), up to and including replacing vacuum tubes in the earlier models. My grandmother still has the 20-foot-tall antenna in her backyard that she bought so she could watch the TV channel that was broadcast from an hour's drive away on the Florida panhandle. Whether you had the small rooftop antenna, the "rabbit ears" that came with the TV set, or the behemoth my grandmother has, you had to have an antenna to watch anything. And with the DTV antenna now included in most TV sets, one can go back to just an antenna if one wishes. Free TV. Imagine going back to 100% free television where you only have to pay for the television set itself. I'd put up with commercial breaks for that.

2. My husband and I have cable TV as of this writing for one reason: Under C---st, it is literally cheaper to bundle cable TV and high-speed internet, than to have the Internet alone. My husband has shows he likes to watch, but if we didn't have cable, he'd probably just get torrents. We rarely even watch anything at the time it airs anymore; our DVR is nearly full because we watch things later and fast-forward through all the commercials.

I'm a huge proponent of physical media, because I don't like the idea of a movie or TV show vanishing into the ether the second a company goes out of business (this is exactly what happens to video games, even the older ones that were originally released solely on physical media). These days, I only get rid of an old movie, CD, or video game if I am absolutely certain that I will never play it again, because so many companies are so cagey about this. Netflix, at $12.99/month, is cheaper than buying one new Blu-ray per month, and cheaper than buying a box set of an entire television season every few months. Meanwhile, I'm busily buying DVDs of favorite films second-hand at a used-media store, so that the only limit on my ability to watch them is the lifetime of the disc itself. Not the end of a licensing agreement; not the creator getting tired of it and ceasing support; only the final, inevitable decay of the DVD after a few decades. Occasionally, I'll see a CD at that store from an artist or musical that I like for $2-3, and I'll buy it to rip onto my phone. I have over 100 CDs, because if I still like the music, I keep the original disc as a backup, PERIOD. (Plus, quite a few of them are from live performers at the Renaissance Faire, and you can't autograph a digital file.) I'll see a DVD of something that hasn't been on Netflix's streaming service in years, or an anime that isn't on Netflix or Crunchyroll, and if it's one I like, I'll buy it, because it's only $10 or less.

Meanwhile, on the Nintendo Switch, there is a download-only free-to-play game called Super Mario 35, which they have already announced will only be playable until May 1, 2021. At the end of that time, not only will it be pulled from the Switch's online store, but presumably it will be automatically uninstalled from users' machines "for" them. (Edit from the future: This is exactly what happened.) If you don't own a physical copy of something, the creators can easily pull your license out from under you, and under capitalism, THEY WILL. Once support for a device is about to end, I download a copy of ALL my data for that device onto my computer so that I have a backup, because the company will not restore anything I have on my devices after that point. When Nintendo eventually stops offering cloud saves for Switch games, I will do the same with all my Switch games, because I do not want companies controlling how long I have access to my copy of media that I paid for with my own money.

3. Never underestimate the average person's hatred for unnecessary advertising, especially in the 21st century. We live in a world that is bombarded with a constant assault of advertising, to an extent that was absolutely not possible when I was a kid 30 years ago. Buses and billboards, even fences at schools due to a lack of educational funding, are covered in ads for everything under the sun. (One local school hosts church services on Sundays. A public school. How that isn't a First Amendment violation is beyond me.) Internet ads have gone from small, discreet banners and GIFs to data-mining bullshit that autoplays a video over the page you want to view. If there were a way for companies to put pop-up ads in a physical, dead-tree book, they would do so in a heartbeat.