Monday, May 28, 2012

What Happened to Cable TV?

Last week, while drinking barium and waiting for the MRI tech to call me, I watched the TV bolted to the wall in the waiting room.  One "perk" of hospitals is that they offer cable TV.  When I first walked into the waiting room, the TV blared CNN News.  I thought the other person was watching it so I waited until she left before changing the channel.  Of course, the channels offered can be iffy.  I managed to find USA Network and "Burn Notice."  Unfortunately, it was an episode I'd seen.

A man waiting for his wife who was having an MRI settled in the small waiting room.  He wanted to chat.  After exhausting why I was drinking barium and health care reform, we got talking about cable TV.

ME: Wasn't there a time when cable TV didn't have commercials?

MAN:  Yeah, yeah.  Not anymore, though.  Long time since no commercials.  And we pay for it!

And so we do.  Well, I don't.  I don't subscribe to cable at home.  Never have.  But what happened to cable TV?  Why are there now commercials on it?  I thought cable was supposed to be different from the broadcast (free) networks.  But really, from my viewing -- granted, somewhat limited in the hospital -- I see no difference between them at all.

Wait a minute, there is a difference.  Each cable channel focuses on one subject.  For example, ESPN is all about sports, and other channels offer only programming about food or cartoons or news or history, etc.  With the broadcast networks, we enjoy a variety on each channel.  Recently, we've seen other free channels appear -- This and METV -- that offer either all movies or classic TV shows.  They have commercials, too.  But it looks like broadcast TV is trying to take a page from cable. 

The issue, I think, is why pay for something that's no different from something that's free?  When cable TV first appeared in our lives, it was different.  No commercials interrupted the programming on cable.  Wow.  What a concept.  And the channels offered programming that the broadcast channels didn't and often couldn't offer.  So cable TV showed R rated movies unedited, for example.  Some cable channels developed provocative series and movies.  And all this was worth the subscription fee because cable TV was different from broadcast TV and commercial-free.

Now, commercials interrupt cable TV shows -- actually, broadcast TV shows being shown on cable TV like the various "Law & Order" series, and sitcoms, among others.  I've been watching three shows on broadcast TV that were originally only on cable: "Monk," "Burn Notice" and "The Closer."  During my limited cable viewing, I have not found anything of interest on the other channels.  I'm not a sports viewer or hardcore news viewer, not into food or interior design or fashion.  But I think next time I have the chance to watch cable, I will try the Discovery and History channels.  I really want to see if cable is worth the money.


MAN:  I really like ESPN.  If I've got ESPN I'm happy.  We just have basic cable with ESPN now.

ME:  You pay for cable, commercials bombard your viewing, plus then you have to pay for the premium channels and pay-for-view in addition.

You know what?  I think cable TV should be free, except for the premium channels and pay-for-view.  It seems to me that TV that runs commercials for revenue doesn't really need subscription fees, too.....



Daughter Number Three said...

Just heard on NPR that 40% of money paid for cable goes to ESPN (which is owned by Disney, a fact that had somehow escaped me). Those of us who don't care about sports are paying for all of those contracts with Zygi and his ilk.

Gina said...

I rarely watch sports on TV, and it truly irritates me when a football game goes over its allotted time and delays "60 Minutes." So, since ESPN gets so much money from cable subscribers, I'm glad I don't buy cable. Although, I wonder if it depends on what you want when you sign up for cable. What if you don't want any sports channels?