Netflix Offers Blockbuster Savings?

By Larry Teren

I recently heard that Netflix raised their monthly fees for renting films. It was couched in such a way that it does not look like a price increase but rather a splitting of the current all-in-one service into two distinct plans. The thinking is that most people really only use one or the other aspect of the service but not both. It smacks of a little double talk to me and definitely confusing. You can read the official explanation on their blog located at http://blog.netflix.com/2011/07/netflix-introduces-new-plans-and.html . Continue reading “Netflix Offers Blockbuster Savings?”

Cable Tv Viewership Drops Like a Hulu-Hoop

A couple of months ago I pointed out that there was little incentive to watch the NBC Thursday night lineup of six comedy shows at their appointed times while sitting in front of a television set. I also suggested that this fact was wreaking havoc on the ratings people regardless of what they said. Why did one need to be glued to their seat to watch a television show when they had the option to watch it at leisure over the Internet on Hulu.com for four or five weeks after first broadcast?

Apparently, the industry is now taking a harder look at this because it was announced in the last couple of days that anywhere between 200,000 to 400,000 subscribers have dropped cable and/or satellite service as a result of economic conditions. It’s ridiculous to spend fifty or more dollars a month to get a daily entertainment fix out of a television set. This is especially so for baby boomers who grew up with free over-the-air tv. We got used to a static and wavy signal unless the antenna or bent wire hanger attached to the set was positioned correctly. We didn’t complain because our choices were limited and we were grateful for even the five or six channels from which to select.

In late 1968, our family moved to an area on the far north side of the city of Chicago that only a couple of years earlier had been built up. There was open space for two full city blocks to the north of us and one to the west. An inexpensive black and white tv sat in my bedroom. The old axiom of ‘what you don’t know you don’t care about’ was true. We didn’t have a color tv set in the house so there was no sense of dissatisfaction because I couldn’t see my favorite shows in color.

As was with most sets built in those days, the uhf band was a separate control and rotary dial. Finding a uhf channel over 13 was not a click to a preset spot as was on the standard 2 thru 13 vhf knob. To get to channel 26 or 32 one had to use the same sensitivity that a seasoned safe-cracker employed to open a vault. By accident, I soon discovered that when the atmosphere was cooperative, I could pick up channels from other cities such as 22 or 23 (Rockford or Elgin?) and 60 (Aurora). This was mighty useful during the football season. In those days, Chicago Bears home games were blacked out on local tv if all the seats were not sold out. The Bears were not that good and had a hard time filling to capacity. Even though the video display was grainy and the audio faint on these out-of-town stations, I was a kid in a candy store.

A handful of years earlier, I’d get a kick out of listening to clear channel out-of-town radio stations at night when the daytime stations in our area stopped broadcasting at sunset. And then I bought a shortwave radio and was able to hear broadcasts from overseas.

Ma now has three color televisions in the house that are cable connected. She only uses one on a regular basis- the others are there for visits by children and grandchildren. The only reason she keeps the cable connection is in order to get the Cubs and Bulls games that are not shown on WGN channel 9.
That is roughly half the games. Otherwise, whatever else she wants to watch can be found on regular television.

Two or three years ago, the FCC, I think, decided that the Chicago area had to get rid of analog signals for over-the-air broadcasts and switch to digital. This meant that each television set in a residence that was not receiving broadcast signals via cable or satellite dish would now be obsolete unless a special convertor box was attached to it to turn the analog signal into digital.

Ma’s only set that was not cable ready was in the kitchen. I went out and bought her a small flat screen, high definition ready digital model to replace the old kitchen unit. Upon initial use, we quickly discovered that the mandate for digital broadcasting included new channels. Several of the local broadcast companies were now offering multiple channels. It was no longer WMAQ channel 5, but 5.1 and 5.2 or WLS 7.1 and 7.2, etc. Each channel had its own theme. In addition there was a movie channel and two versions of a classic shows theme. All in all, there was enough to keep you occupied even if you didn’t have all the cable channels. That is, of course, if you didn’t mind not seeing half your favorite sports teams games.

A throwback to the old ways, but these high tech digital televisions that are not connected to cable or dish require a digital antenna box as well. So, the old rabbit ears still have a place to roost, albeit they contain newer guts. It took only a day or two, but we quickly discovered that the antenna needs to be placed in a certain way or the signal gets blocked. Not only that, but if one stands near the tv set at a certain angle, the signal also cuts out. And weather conditions also affect reception.

So much for progress- and you can’t pick up any out-of-town stations. As for me, I’ll keep my cable. Hey, I have to- it’s part of my monthly condo assessments.

Swimming In Lies

Everyone hates being lied to, right? As a kid all those years watching entertaining biographical films – I took it for granted that what I saw actually happened that way. George M. Cohan, played by James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy, yankee doodle dandywas a swell dancer who gracefully slid into retirement. The Von Trapp family in The Sound of Music adroitly outmaneuvered the Nazis and climbed the Alps mountain to safety. General George Custer, plated by the gallant Errol Flynn in They Died With Their Boots On, was tricked by Sitting Bull and his cutthroats and died a heroic death. The list goes on and on.
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The Pursuit of Free

As my brother says, “time is money”. A week or so ago, the last episode featuring a very popular character on “The Office” television show was broadcast on NBC at 8pm Chicago time on a Thursday evening. Even though an avid viewer of this show there were more important things to accomplish such as generating revenue so I did not bother to watch it at that given opportunity. Anyway, it’s not as if I was going to stand around a water cooler and wait for a passersby to engage him or her in conversation about it.

In fact, I have found watching the show a very personal thing. I imagine a trusted relationship, a bond with many of the show’s characters. This precludes me from discussing The Office with others as they simply would not understand the brilliance of the scripts and subtle ways each actor makes you wonder if they are performing or are you watching a documentary.
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Heroes

Do you still believe in heroes? A kid’s hero is usually an athlete and maybe a movie or television performer. I spent most of my youth in the 1960’s and was always a Chicago Cubs fan. My number one hero was Billy Leo Williams. He batted left handed although he threw with his right hand. Being a lefty myself, I hitched myself to his wagon. For sure, there was also Ernie Banks, who batted righty and was Ma’s hero, so I didn’t want to steal her thunder. The number on the back of Ernie’s uniform was 14 and that became Ma’s lucky number.

Although Ron Santo made up the third part of the fan’s favorite trio during the 60’s decade, I never did cotton to him. He tended to be a hot dog and did not endear himself to the opposition when he would click his heels all the way to the clubhouse after Cubbie victories. Despite compiling enviable statistics, it always seemed as if he hit his home runs late in the game when the score was already lopsided against the Cubs and the cause was hopeless.

Santo also got into a famous fight with the Cubs skipper, Leo “The Lip” Durocher. I felt that he caused friction and division in the dugout and it was a significant reason that the team never made it over the hump despite being loaded with talent.
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Baby Boomer Power

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) indicated that baby boomers seem to be watching television more than other age groups. This is creating havoc on Madison Avenue, home to the world famous ad agencies. The corporate thinking men want to believe that it is better to cater to a younger crowd because they are more willing to spend money. But, what are you going to do if they aren’t watching the shows broadcast on prime time?

American Idol has been around since 2002. It has been a bellwether for ratings supremacy. According to WSJ, The median viewer age for this current season is 43.8 years. This is less than two years short of the official starting age of baby boomers.

NCIS, the number one hit of last year, had a median viewing age of 57.4! Twenty years ago, the top shows had a median age of the mid thirties. What’s a network to do? How do they cajole baby boomers who already have bought most of the toys they want into spending excess dollars? Especially when Boomers are worried about having enough to last them once they retire.

That’s enough about that. They pay the network and advertising executives way too much money so let them have sleepless nights. I’m content with YouTube.com and Hulu.com. What I really wanted to talk about is how I got to reading the Wall Street Journal.

It was by accident, I promise you. You see, my mother gets it delivered to her house every day. She didn’t subscribe- my brother did. He gave it to her as a present. Why? Because he thinks it is the best newspaper in America. So, now she gets it along with the Chicago Tribune. It’s what you call a safety valve because who knows how long the Tribune will still put out a printed edition.

It’s a reality that will come into being within five years or less. You want to have the newspaper sitting in front of you while you eat or whatever, you’ll need to print it out from your computer. Online is where it’s at, baby. This fact is changing the scope of news production. The Linotype guys are going the way of the dinosaur being replaced by people who know how to use Adobe Photoshop and it’s clones in laying out web generated screens full of news and advertisements. This is also wreaking havoc on the printing unions who are scrambling to redefine membership requirements and the new job descriptions.

When I was a young adult back in the 1970’s, I took a certain elitist pride in having a magazine such as The Atlantic Monthly and others like it mailed to me. My brother even convinced me in the following decade to subscribe to The New Republic. Back then, a person would patiently wait to get a hold of intelligent thoughts put in writing on various subjects even if it meant that by the time you read it the subject was old news.

Today, there is no such luxury. We are dialed into the heartbeat of the world instantaneously. We no longer want to receive in the mail articles of information on events that happened a week earlier. Three more crises would have already happened in the meantime that would have usurped all our attention. Andy Warhol once famously spoke about everyone getting their fifteen minutes of fame. Today, fifteen minutes is about it with little recall.

As Baby Boomers, though, we want a piece of the world we used to live in and all the modern improvements that become available. We’ll decide what to watch on television and the network executives be damned! After all, the doggone home entertainment box was invented on our watch.

Changing Times

Kids growing up nowadays marvel at the thought that there was a time when a person had to use a rotary dial to make a phone call. It sounds so quaint yet archaic. This is not that much different when we baby boomers looked in amazement during the early 1960’s watching The Andy Griffith Show. Sheriff Taylor would click a receiver to get Sarah’s (the operator) attention in order to put a call through

Today’s kids cannot believe that we could only choose among five or six channels to watch on television and that the tv set needed an aerial or sometimes a wire hanger to get half decent picture reception. Or that cars didn’t come with air-conditioning and a rear defogger or an on-board computer screen that helps you navigate where you were going. Part of the fun of going on a vacation trip used to be waiting for the motor club to send a map with the route laid out highlighted by a colored magic marker. In our family, one of us- usually me- would have the responsibility to hold onto the map and tell Dad ever so often how we were doing on course. (It was usually a ruse. He knew where he was going- it was just to keep me preoccupied)
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YouTube Vision

There is a great divide out there and I’m not referring to some geological site in Colorado. I’m referring, instead, to the way we get our entertainment. Its got the ratings people such as A.C. Nielsen concerned. Time out- For the record, I don’t like the Nielsen people because I often have to wait when driving home from a client in nearby Wheeling while the cars exiting the Neilsen parking lot pile onto an already busy Willow Road in North Suburban Chicago. It seems as if they have a “most favored nation” status with the local police who provide cover for them. Traffic stops for up to five minutes until their lot empties out. I say take a screwdriver to them and let their employees wait until traffic dissipates like everyone else has to. Or make them pay for a freaking stop light that is timed to work at certain hours of the day. Okay, time in.
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