When I flew to Tampa last week, there was a magazine cover that claimed the days of free professional content over the Internet were over. The cable companies had a way, it claimed, to control the programs available and keep us paying >$100/month for cable. I didn’t read the article, but I have a guess at how they might do this. Comcast is currently attempting to buy NBC (if the Justice Department doesn’t have anything to say about that) and NBC has a stake in Hulu. So, Comcast could limit Hulu to existing cable customers or they could limit the content to make Hulu no longer that important. Already, changes are afoot that have made Hulu less attractive. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are no longer available via Hulu. Whether or not this is part of the same agenda (getting people to pay for cable) isn’t important. The less programming available in one place, the less important Hulu is. But if they succeed I will simply stop watching TV.
First of all, television has become insanely fragmented. In my parents’ day, there were three channels. So everyone more or less watched the same thing. If something happened on TV and you didn’t catch it, you were way out of the loop. Nowadays there are over 500 channels available for cable subscribers. Many of these channels are not even available to all cable subscribers. It depends on what tier package they are subscribed to. So, nowadays, it’s more likely than not that you will be watching a different television program that me. In the office, therefore, no one looks at me funny if I didn’t watch American Idol. After all, the guy in the next cubicle over was watching Shark Week on Discovery channel and the other guy was watching Nurse Jackie on Showtime. Some of the “biggest” events on TV in recent times like The Sopranos were only available to people willing to subscribe to HBO. Since I work in an office with older people, I can never talk to them about what I saw on The Daily Show or The Colbert Report because they don’t watch those shows. Not being able to participate in office (or other social) conversations about what people saw on TV no longer makes you strange. It’s actually weird when everyone HAS seen the same thing. Recent television numbers have proven this fact. In any given season, a hit show has less viewers today than a hit show twenty or thirty years ago. And, if some show was so amazing that I had to watch it – I just need to wait a while for it to come out on DVD. That’s how the wife has seen tons of shows from HBO and Showtime that we would have never otherwise seen.
Second, there are many other things to occupy my time with. It’s not like the 60s when there was TV or nothing to do indoors. Nowadays we have the Internet and video games. I tend to buy about two video games a year because that’s all I even have time to play. So if I were unable to watch television, I would just play more games. Among my peers, it’s actually weirder to not have played Modern Warfare 2 than it is to not be watching Modern Family. Video games have had a bit of a renaissance in the last few years and there are plenty of compelling games to play. And there has been a huge explosion in quick pick-up games like Plants v Zombies, Fat Princess and Zuma. So it’s not as though I lack things to do for entertainment.
Finally, in my specific case, I have way too many hobbies, anyway. I barely have enough time for photography most days and its my favored hobby. I also have a webcomic with Dan and a blog that I’ve been ignoring a bit too much recently. So, go ahead TV studios – call my bluff. Right now, when I watch your programs “for free” on the net, I’m forced to watch advertisements. If you drive me away from TV, I won’t see any ads. How does that help you?