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.

On that last show, for instance, the branch manager, Michael Scott, goes about saying goodbye to each person on his staff. The next-to-last scene with Jim- the tall dude with the 1970’s attitude looks at Michael and desperately wants to break out in a bawl and vainly tries to hold back. I wonder how many times they shot that scene or if they caught its essence on the first take. And the last scene with Pam- Jim’s wife- where she catches up to Michael just before he gets on the plane and smothers him in a long goodbye hug. Sometimes, it’s not acting, folks.

Anyway, I wait to watch it a few nights later when I know I will not be interrupted with phone calls or be guilt-laden with billable work to do. Clicking on my favorite browser, I go to hulu.com and call up the show to view. What catches my eyes is the point I’m trying to make the long way around. The site states that this special episode has 36 minute viewing time to it whereas all the others are in the 22 minute range. Twenty-two minutes of air time is typical. When you are watch a half hour television show, you can expect to have eight minutes of annoying commercials embedded. Hey, everyone has to make money, right? And you are watching it for free, right? Well, not exactly. I’m guessing your television set has a a cable connection or a microwave dish which is costing between thirty-five to sixty dollars a month. So, television ain’t free, my friend.

Back to the 36 minute episode. If I recall, this was first broadcast as an hour show over the regular airwaves. That means there had been up to twenty-four minutes of commercials. Who has the patience to sit through that? You lose the emotional power of the show with too many long interruptions. Okay, maybe it was aired in a fifty minute slot What was the last ten minutes used for? More advertising and network schedule promotion.

Aha! But, on hulu.com, no one was subject to anywhere near twenty-four minutes of interruptions. More likely less than ten. And that’s why network, commercial television is dying. I recently saw that the ratings for American Idol on that given night was a 21 for the 18-49 age group of viewers as that’s all the Madison Avenue type network people care about. The younger set who tend to spend their money. Not like the rest of us post-49 glob who are more interested in saving for our unknown future. Comparatively, “The Office” had about a 6 and may have been the second best number for the evening. This is a far cry from the years that the big three network shows on any given night would consider a 21 a low number. Progress means giving us more choices.

My choice is to be free from lots of commercials, paying to watch content the least often than I can and watching when I feel like it and not when I’m told to.

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