Cable TV: Too big to not fail

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FX and FXX are quite vacant, confused and unnecessary. They’re the perfect example of some of what’s wrong with TV today (logo via Wikimedia)

We’re in a golden age of television, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you weren’t aware of it. With hundreds of channels, seemingly endless repeats and frankly a lot of trash on the air, it’s hard to find the gems in the rubble.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that many people are cutting the cord and young people leaving the nest aren’t even bothering with cable TV or satellite to begin with.

Yes, a large part of it is due to the cost. Rogers and Bell have packages that run up to or over $110/month, but don’t forget about installation fees, PVRs and other receivers and the super high cost of ethnic channels if you’re into that sort of thing.

If it wasn’t for the cost, people would likely want to chuck cable and satellite because there are far too many TV stations to begin with. People typically only watch a handful of channels, yet they are forced to pay for dozens, sometimes hundreds, more.

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Yes, you’re reading that correctly. Almost $119/month, and the rates are increasing! (screenshot via rogers.com)

It’s a nightmare to navigate through all those channels. I was trying to find the west coast broadcast of Hollywood Game Night once, and despite going through hundreds of channels, I was only able to find the standard definition west coast feed, not the high definition feed I was looking for. I bet most people probably wouldn’t even bother scouring hundreds of channels for a show and would watch it online later or not at all.

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This is only part of FXX’s weekly marathon of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The full marathon runs from 8 p.m.-3 a.m. FX can have up to a staggering nine hours of Murdoch Mysteries a day! (screenshot via fxnowcanada.ca)

The thing is that there doesn’t need to be so many channels to begin with. Do we really need an FXX if FX sometimes airs the same show for six hours straight? (I’m not talking about a holiday marathon here; this happens nearly every single day.) Do we need Nickelodeon when YTV airs many of the same programs or aired those shows not too long ago? Do we need Much stretched across four channels? (Well, there’s five if you still consider M3 related to Much. Who knows what the “M” in M3 stands for anyway?) Why do we need W, Slice, Lifetime and Cosmo if they’re targeting the same audience and are barely marketed any differently? Why do we need five TSNs and only God knows how many Sportsnets?

Cable TV is filled with a bunch of useless channels, and content is spread thin among them. It seems that the goal is to give us so many channels hoping that we’d watch something, anything, but the Internet is capable of having nearly everything viewers want on demand and much, much more and for far less cash, too.

Instead of FX and FXX ridding themselves of mindless reruns of 2 Broke Girls and Modern Family and trying to consolidate the best of both onto one channel, I’m stuck paying for two channels that are filled with the brim with reruns that I could fire up anytime that I want on Shomi.
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G4’s Twitter page hasn’t been updated since 2013, and its American counterpart shut down in 2014. The channel has virtually been abandoned (logo via Wikimedia)

Actually some channels, like G4 and Book Television, barely have anything anyone would want to watch at all and seem to exist purely for the purpose of being bundled in with other channels to get cable and satellite subscribers’ money without providing anything worth watching.

Traditional TV simply can’t compete in the Internet-era using a stupid strategy like that. People simply aren’t going to pay hundreds of dollars a year to be blatantly and shamelessly swindled. Without changing its strategy, cable and satellite are in a losing game against the Internet, and it’s going to be an absolute bloodbath especially once streaming becomes even more mainstream than it already is.

Despite that, I don’t believe conventional TV channels should disappear and we should get our TV only on demand from one place like Netflix. (Oh God, that would be a nightmare.)

I think live linear TV does serve a purpose, and I believe it’s worth paying for if it’s done properly. There is something great about having a communal experience where we all sit down and watch the same program. That’s enhanced today by watching the conversation come alive on Twitter.

But the big media companies are shooting themselves in the foot by burying the good content with crap, reruns of the same old shows and spreading everything over a multitude of channels. We’re going to have to bury FXX, Family Chrgd, G4, Book Television and a lot more useless channels that have content that is old and dated or can be aired somewhere else.

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Much is a classic example of channel drift (logo via YouTube)

The big media companies also need to know what each channel’s brand is all about. One brand that’s a complete mess in Canada is Much. It used to be a music station for most of its life, then went heavy on tween content, did a 180 and went heavy on comedy and it’s now essentially Comedy Central with random blocks of music videos thrown in.

Network identities are going to be very important in the next few years because they’re not just something we see on one channel on TV anymore, we’re going to download their app, watch shows on their website, follow them on Twitter, like them on Facebook and more. Without a solid identity, that connection with the audience is going to be lost. I don’t know what Much is any more. Is it focused on comedy or music? I have no idea, and that’s a huge problem.

Traditional TV’s troubles don’t just stop with the channels and shows themselves. Cable and satellite providers are busy digging their own grave by ripping off customers, too. I shouldn’t need to pay $499 or $15 a month to get a PVR. The devices are crap. I’ve had several break on me over the years. They’re slow, finicky and an embarrassment when put next to other modern technology like a smartphone or tablet. Devices like the Apple TV, on the other hand, are pretty snappy and are a far more elegant way to watch TV.

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Bell’s “Best” package costs you $110/month, but don’t forget that PVR available with a $15/month fee or $499 outright. (screenshot via bell.ca)

I think Tim Cook was right when he said the future of TV is apps. Why shouldn’t I be able to select the CTV icon on my Apple TV, select the show I want or select a button that says something like “watch live TV” and watch programs that way? Why should I have to record shows? Why can’t I get access to a recording of the show and stream it immediately after it airs in my time zone instead of relying on a clunky and loud PVR?

Traditional TV is great. I love it. I wouldn’t want to live in a world without it, but it needs to be fundamentally rethought for the internet age. Thankfully, traditional TV will get a nudge once pick-and-pay TV unrolls. Hopefully, the useless channels will starve and die off and anything that they had worth watching would be moved to a better channel to make that channel even better. With Apple TV in the mix, maybe we’ll finally be able to ditch those crappy, expensive PVRs and we’ll be able to get traditional linear TV through devices like those, instead of just video on demand as is mostly the case now. Maybe, just maybe, TV might be affordable once again, too.

As it stands now, though, traditional TV doesn’t really have much of a chance against the Netflixs of the world, and without adapting, TV as we know it might be history. And do you really want to put up with the ridiculous and rather cold and soulless Netflix model of a whole season dropped on you at once, you binge it and wait a good year or so for the show to return or would you like to watch TV as it was meant to be?
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