I truly believe we are the last of a dying breed. I think ours is the last generation to truly experience broadcast television as our parents experienced it. Sure, cable television has been around since the ‘80s when people wanted their MTV, ESPN and HBO, but the airwaves of yesterday are a far cry from what you can watch on television nowadays. I also firmly think this is one of the most exciting times for the medium, and our definitions of what “television” really is will expand and change in the next few years.
First, let’s talk about the fact no one’s really watching television, at least in ways that aren’t readily noticeable to the Nielsen ratings people. As a college student and someone who writes about entertainment and pop culture, I might have to be discounted from this conversation because I was (for better or worse) raised with the television on and still leave the TV on when I’m writing or studying as background noise. But I notice mine and my peer’s TV viewing habits have changed as we have begun to mature into young adults.
It’s not that we aren’t watching television; we are just being very selective with what we consider to be our precious time. If you ask any average college student what shows they like to watch, they’ll most likely have several favorites that can range from “Scandal” to “Game of Thrones.” Shows that cater to varied tastes and niche interests are abound, but in general I find people are really only willing to devote time to the shows they know they’ll enjoy and not just wantonly surf through the pay cable wastelands for something that might entertain them for a few minutes.
Being at home on breaks from college, there’s usually a moment of profound disorientation when I sit in my living room and really watch television for the first time in a long while. It isn’t just all of the channels and all of the choices within those channels; it’s the fact I can sit down and attempt to absorb it all with my newly found free time. There’s a certain kind of comfortable luxury in knowing the TV will always be waiting for you when you finally get home after a trying semester. If you’re lucky, there’s the more obvious luxury of not really having to worry about who’s paying for the cable at your house if you’re living with your parents. If you’re even luckier like me, your brother could work for the cable company and get all your cable for free.
But websites like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and other legal streaming services purchases like that even more extravagant and out of touch with regular college students. In the age of HDMI cables, binge watching and having an almost infinite repository of movies and TV shows at your fingertips for an affordable monthly price, cable just seems like a constricting rip-off when thinking about things to pay for in the real world. I know I certainly won’t be shelling out month after month knowing these cheaper and more interesting alternatives exist.
HBO recently shocked its subscribers and viewers by announcing it would do away with its cable subscription package and allow viewers to only subscribe to their online service HBO GO if they choose to. HBO GO could simply be purchased as its own subscription, separate from the cable channel. This is a brilliant marketing move by parent company Time Warner Cable that keeps HBO streets ahead of its competitors in television. It’s refreshing that a company trusts its customers enough to know they are willing to pay for quality, even if it means sacrificing some customers from their cable packages. However, if HBO is going to make their service palatable to prospective customers they are going to have to match Netflix and Hulu’s prices while still beefing up their servers so we avoid the catastrophe of the “True Detective” season one finale.
I don’t think television isn’t going anywhere; if you look around television is bigger than it’s ever been. It’s just changing and transmuting with the technology, as is natural. We are at the point where Netflix is regularly cleaning up at the Emmy’s right alongside the big four networks. Cable and cable companies can no longer not listen to its customers, and it’s going to have to change if it wants to remain relevant and profitable. The “tyranny of choice” might continue to be a problem for some, but it will never stop us from watching and bonding over the cultural touchstones that television provides us with.