Article — Do Try This at Home

Posted: October 29, 2010 in Film, Martin Keller, News
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[Posted by: Martin Keller]

Over the past couple of years there’s been a lot of reporting on how our access to television and film has been shifting from the traditional model.  Instead of films taking the typical, theater-to-home video route, more films are going straight to DVD. OnDemand viewing is another new medium and has not only become an alternative for viewers who would normally wait for a DVD release or go to the theaters, but it has become a viable distribution option for independent and foreign filmmakers.  One notable OnDemand program is IFC‘s, premiering movies OnDemand the same day they premiere in theaters. There’s redbox, which allows you to rent a movie at a dollar a day, vastly undercutting the typical video store.  Another shift, and probably the most indelible, is Netflix.  The DVD-by-mail model has undoubtedly changed our viewing experience, giving us access to an almost innumerable amount of movies and television for a nominal monthly fee.  Further compounding the benefits of this model, is the ability to watch content directly through your computer, video game console, or television.  Also, while there have been arguments that the quality of films is going down (or at least not rising), the quality of television has certainly ascended with the resurgence of dramatic serials on HBO and AMC, and some better written sitcoms like Community and the short-lived but oft praised, Party Down.  It seems to me that for once, things are weighing in favor of the viewer and consumer.  It’s becoming a buyer’s market.
Now that I’ve exhausted my positivity, it’s time to be realistic.  Buyer’s market or not, we are still consumers.  And even though we should be the ones dictating to the programmers that they better shape up or ship out, we remain powerless.  It’s our own fault really, we don’t stand up for better programming.  We’ll still go see Alvin and the Chipmunks with smell-o-vision and Saw XIV.  We need to start telling these companies what we want, what’s acceptable and what isn’t, instead of standing palms upturned, mouth agape, confused and disgusted.  All of this, both the good and the bad, is coming to a head in yet another contractual disagreement involving Cablevision.
Cablevision is a cable provider in the northeast that services New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania which totals to approximately 3 million viewers.  Back in January, Cablevision was in contract negotiations with the Scripps Network Interactive, which operates The Food Channel and HGTV, which caused the stations to be removed from the air for about a month.  You can read about it here. This time around the dispute is between Cablevision and News Corp., the parent company of Fox, and has caused a blackout of the local Fox 5 and My9.  Obviously, many people are outraged, feeling that while these two huge corporations battle it out, the only ones losing are the subscribers.  The loss of Fox has affected many due to its untimely concurrence with Sunday football and baseball playoffs, and now the World Series.  For fans of the Sunday prime time block,  including Family Guy and The Cleveland Show, things are bleak:  Cablevision subscribers have even been blocked from viewing content on Hulu.  Just to add insult to injury.
I, however, am unaffected, and so are many others I know.  I don’t watch Fox or My9.  I don’t watch sports.  Maybe I’ll catch a Cleveland Show every now and again, but not often enough to mind.  This is not to say that I don’t care or that people shouldn’t be irate.  What it’s really brought to mind is the question of the content I’m paying for, and why I’m paying for it.  The old adage goes, “there are hundreds of channels, but nothing seems to be on.”  To me, the truth behind that statement lies in our personal interests.  Of all my cable channels, I regularly watch maybe five.  (No exaggeration.)  And that regular viewing strictly depends upon whether a show I follow is airing new episodes.  I have no use for the other 190 or so channels and I constantly wish I could have a custom package to meet my specific interests.  With Netflix and OnDemand services, I personalize all my viewing.  I can watch movies and TV instantly, and separating the wheat from the chaff is part of the fun.  (Who doesn’t like seeing the personalized suggestion rows on the Netflix homepage?)  Even in terms of getting music, there is Rhapsody and iTunes.  These services prove that people are willing to pay for access to exactly what they want.  The old models are being disrupted, Blockbuster Video has filed for bankruptcy.  DVD sales are going down and CD sales have been subterranean for years.  Perhaps it’s time for cable to follow suit.  They could offer customized plans for subscribers.  Or the channels themselves could bypass the cable providers altogether and offer their content to viewers on a flat fee streaming basis.  This would be a worthwhile use for Internet capable TV.  Maybe in the future, we don’t need companies like Cablevision or Comcast, instead HBO will be sending me bills.

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