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 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.

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 and 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.