Wednesday, October 17, 2007

No Free Lunches -- No Free TV!

Mid-February 2009 will signal the death of free television.

On that date, whatever it is, television stations will no longer broadcast "free" television. Analog television sets, those with rabbit ears or antenna, will no longer receive signals. They'll be cut off from all those ethereal signals that have been sent around our world as well as beamed into new galaxies. (I guess all those alien freeloaders are gonna have to get a converter box, too!)

America has grown up with free television (once a family bought a base set to receive, which was the same way for radios). We've welcomed television into our homes for free for decades. Of course, then many people became concerned with the trashy mouth, violence, and sex our little friend brought into the home, but that's beside the point.

In the 1970s, many of us chose to "upgrade" our regular television experience with more channels and better pictures. I usually paid for cable from that time on, but there have been occasions where paying the cable bill was impossible. If you have to choose between eating and watching television, I guarantee you'll go find that pair of rabbit ears you've kept mothballed for just such an occasion.

I never once thought that free television would go the way of the dodo.

Roughly 10% of the population depends on analog television sets to keep up with their favorite programs (and they're already stuck with local favorites only, no Home & Garden TV so they can't drool over the homes of others, no FoodTV so they can witness all the great meals they're missing out on, no CourtTV so they can keep up with all the court gossip, etc).

I have to wonder what this is going to do to people on fixed incomes and college students, people who normally have a lot of time to fill during their days. Will this mean they'll once more be on the street making nuisances of themselves? Didn't we give them free TV to keep them home? (yes, this is sarcasm, so don't send me hate mail.)

Television has been called the opiate of the masses, by paraphrasing a quote by Karl Marx, who said that religion was the opiate of the masses. Generations of television watchers have followed shows faithfully, rejoiced and lamented as their shows were allowed one more season or axed.

No matter what, there was always more television.

In downward spiraling economy periods in the United States, there's always been an accompanying upswing of dollars spent on entertainment. Evidently the worse our lives are, the more we need to be entertained: amused, cajoled, scared, etc.

That entertainment has usually come with a low price tag. Movies started matinees where prices were cut back in the early days. We now have dollar theaters (and even 50-cent night!) for those who have neither cable nor air-conditioning.

It's going to be interesting to see what this new change does to everyone. I think we should demand the right to add and subtract CHANNELS, not packages of channels, if we're going to be forced to pay for television.

You see, as long as I had a choice, I didn't feel like I was getting gouged. And to be truthful, I've kept cable television in the house for my kids to watch cartoons and to feed my wife's football addiction. I can live without it. DVDs have changed my television watching habits dramatically. Wait a year, buy the boxed set. (Which is the way comic books are training their readers -- don't buy monthly, buy the graphic novel, but that's another rant.)

And once we're all captive audiences, what are they going to do to the cable prices? Remember when gasoline was a CHEAP fuel? We're going to tell that to our grandkids and they're just gonna roar with laughter -- then peddle their bikes to work.

Best Buy has pulled all their analog sets off the shelf. You're not even gonna have them for camping trips when you're close enough to a city where you can catch the local broadcasts.

Electronics shops are going to get fined thousands of dollars if they have an analog set on the shelf without appropriate signage telling prospective buyers that the television is a dinosaur whose days are numbered.

Is it really that hard to provide analog AND digital? Cell phones carried both signals for a while. Some still do.

I prefer cable, but I also prefer having a choice.

I guess I still do. I could always rip the guts out of the television and make a nice aquarium.

The flatscreens make it a little more challenging, and you'd have to get skinny fish that never wanted to turn around, but it could be done.

So I guess maybe I still have options.


Ron Simpson said...

There are free broadcast HD stations. If you buy the right antenna, although my co-worker just used her old rabbit ears and it pulls in the local HD stations just fine.
there is a list here of the local free HD broadcasts. I have Cox cable, but I am about to get the antenna to try it.

Katie said...

No more free tv!? That's the only kind I have

Bill Bennett said...

We just got rid of cable TV. We were paying almost two hundred bucks a month for cable, internet and phone. The people acted like I was crazy for not wanting to pay that much. I dont mid paying but if I do, I don't want to see commercials on regular channels. Besides that, the only things we were watching were on the free channels...