Dear reader, I've spent the last five weeks on holiday, and because I have no life, I spent almost every second of those five weeks in front of an old friend called television. Now, believe it or not, it's been a while since I've spent such an extended period with the old girl, and I'm sorry to say she's changed - and not for the better. Presented below are just five of the things I've learned while spending my summer in front of the TV:
1. The way the stations are organised makes no sense
Quickly, how many TV channels are there in Australia? If you'd asked that question ten years ago, the answer would be "five" - ABC, SBS, Seven, Nine and Ten. Simple, eh. But today? Believe it or not, in my town (Brisbane) you can pick up twenty-nine (!) channels on a HD receiver - that's almost six times what you could get ten years ago. How could I ever get bored with this many channels available?
No beer and no TV make me something something...
Now, the TV networks would love to have you believe that there's no need to buy cable, but if you look closely at the list there's some serious problems:
- Why are there duplicate channels for One and ABC1?
- Why are there TWO duplicate channels for SBS1 and Seven?
- Why is only one channel playing its main channel in HD? (SBS)
- Why are Seven, Nine, Ten and the ABC all using their HD-only channels for non-primary programming? (or, "Why are M*A*S*H and other non-HD shows broadcast on HD channels, while shows actually SHOT in HD - like Under the Dome - are broadcast in SD?")
- Why do we have six channels dedicated to "home shopping"? (TVSN, Spree TV, TV4ME, Fresh Ideas TV, Extra and Extra 2) Who is watching these channels? And speaking of advertising...
During my five weeks off work, I've watched a fair amount of daytime television, and one thing I can tell you about daytime TV is that apparently only housewives and pensioners are supposed to be watching it. While the programming itself varies from Star Trek to Charmed to Dr Phil to Sabrina, the advertisements for these shows are all the same - either ads for old people (life insurance and funeral insurance) or housewives (cleaning products and telephone plans "for the whole family").
Ah, those were the days, when women and old people knew their place.
Do the advertisers seriously think the only people watching daytime TV are either retired or looking after the kids? Maybe fifty years ago that was the case, but in a 24 hour economy this is a dangerously outdated outlook to have. Surely people who work weekends and shift workers are perfectly fine target markets to advertise to? And speaking of outdated outlooks...
3. Programmers are stuck in the fifties
Can someone tell me why the hell we have a "non-ratings period" over December/January in Australia? For those of you who don't know, in Australia television ratings are measured to determine which are the most popular programs and which aren't, so that the TV networks can charge for advertising time accordingly. Yet for reasons I've never understood, over December and January ratings aren't measured, so the commercial TV networks rarely bother to put on anything they hope will rate well. For example, I guarantee that the new seasons of The Biggest Loser and The Block have already finished shooting, and are ready to go. Yet both Ten and Nine are waiting until the "non-ratings period" finishes before they air them.
When was the last time you had time off work and didn't watch some TV?
Now, back when TV was first introduced in Australia (in the late 1950s), I could sort of understand the logic of the TV networks figuring nobody watched TV over summer - they were all on holidays, right? But now, apart from yours truly, who is honestly taking that much time off over summer? And even if people are taking that much time off, surely they have more time to watch TV, not less?
4. The idea of putting content online is still terrifying
Now, with the exception of the ABC and SBS, the TV networks in Australia seem to still be scared of the big scary internet. There are occasions, dear reader, when I do socialise (yes, it's true), and when that happens, I usually don't want to miss an episode of my favourite TV show. If I miss a new episode of Rake on the ABC or Mythbusters on SBS, I know I can just go online and stream it. What's truly amazing about these streaming services is everything they play - from scripted shows, to news, to repeats - is streamed online (or, at least, I'm yet to come across something being broadcast that isn't also being streamed), with the only catch being I have two weeks after broadcast to watch it or it'll be gone.
Oh no! It's digital distribution!
But the commercial networks? They're a joke. For one, only certain content is uploaded. If I want to catch up on Under The Dome on Channel Ten, no problem, but if I miss out on a new episode of The Simpsons or Futurama, then I'm out of luck - that's never placed on Ten's website. I realise obtaining permission to put this stuff online can't be easy, but if the public broadcasters can do it, why can't the big commercial ones? And while we're at it, surely it can't be all that hard to obtain the copyright to old episodes of Seinfeld and Frasier to put online? I usually work during the day, I would happily use Seven, Nine or Ten's streaming service if it meant I could freely - and legally - watch an old episode of one of my favourites. Speaking of the internet...
5. The networks still make us wait forever to get new episodes from overseasHere's some trivia for you: did you know which country pirated the finale of Breaking Bad the most? It was us! By a rather sizeable margin, considering our population:
Via the ABC. Bless them.
Why was this, though? Well, as someone who has only recently gotten into Breaking Bad, my guess is it's because the free-to-air broadcasters take forever to broadcast stuff in this country, conveniently ignoring the fact that it's easy to pirate stuff nowadays from the USA. Now, I know I seem to worship the ABC on this blog, but they're not perfect - their broadcasting of Breaking Bad was far behind the USA (usually the ABC is pretty good, though - for example, they've consistently aired the Christmas special of Doctor Who less than a day after it aired in the UK for several years now).
The other channels seem to still believe nobody can download shows or import DVDs - why, for example, has Australia not seen a single episode of season 25 of The Simpsons, despite the fact the season started airing in September last year in the USA? Or why did Channel Ten proudly announce new episodes of Modern Family, only for it to quietly disappear from their lineup with unaired episodes as the non-ratings period drew closer? Why does Channel Nine excitedly tease us with new episodes of The Big Bang Theory, when they surely realise everyone's already downloaded those episodes?
Folks, the point I'm making here is that if these TV networks want people to keep watching, you know, TV, they need to stop treating us with contempt, need to realise that the world has changed, and accept that sitting passively in front of your TV is not how most of us consume our entertainment any more. The world has changed since the 1950s, and the TV networks need to change too.
© 2014 by The Free Man