Future of TV looks costly



Jody Michael

Jody Michael

Jody Michael is a senior news major and opinion editor for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]

February typically features the biggest awards nights of the year in music and cinema: the Grammys and the Oscars. It’s ironic that these two awards shows accrue far higher television ratings than the ceremony for actual TV shows, the Emmys. Last year, both the Grammys and Oscars had 39 million viewers, while only 13 million watched the Emmys back in September.

But if you think about it, this makes sense: Most of us are more aware of (and, thus, more interested in) the latest hit songs and movies. We hear new music all the time on radio stations and in grocery stores. If we’re interested in a new album, we only need to devote about 45 minutes of our time to it; for a movie, only about two hours.

A TV show, on the other hand, requires a much longer commitment. We have to tune in once a week, every week, for much of the year. The amount of devotion necessarily means that there are just too many good shows to be able to follow them all.

It’s not too difficult to head to the movie theater several times a year to see every highly acclaimed film. Following all the Emmy-nominated TV shows is a greater challenge. Oftentimes, multiple good shows air in the same time slot; if you’re a traditional TV viewer, you must choose between “Homeland” and “Boardwalk Empire,” or “Downton Abbey” and “Girls,” or “Community” and “The Big Bang Theory.” (“Community” is way better than “The Big Bang Theory,” but I digress.) Even if you take advantage of a DVR or Hulu, there are not enough hours in the day to watch every show, especially because we spend many evenings working, finishing assignments or hanging out with friends.

That’s been a problem for years, though. The new trend is that more and more Emmys are going to shows that don’t air on free networks like ABC, NBC, CBS or Fox. Basic cable channels that used to be a hub for reruns and old movies are now investing in original programming. AMC has had great success with “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” as has FX with “American Horror Story” and “Sons of Anarchy.”

Then again, most households have cable subscriptions. The trouble lies in the amount of quality shows that have made their home on premium channels like HBO and Showtime, to which less than 10 percent of Americans subscribe. Now even Netflix is offering exclusive new shows through its streaming service, exacerbating the issue even further.

We’ve all heard old people reflect on the days when they only had a choice of three TV channels. Then cable television came along and offered a useful variety of programming. But I’m starting to find it frustrating that if I want to stop missing out on all the shows that are making TV critics swoon, I’ll have to pay much more than just a cable bill.

It’s already nearly $100 a month if I want to follow cable shows like “Louie” and “MythBusters.” Keeping up with digital-tier programming like “Portlandia” is another $20 a month. If I want to watch “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Homeland,” HBO and Showtime add up to another $25 a month. Now the premiere of “House of Cards” and the new season of “Arrested Development” are getting tons of hype, but they are exclusive to Netflix, which is another $8 a month. It seems reasonable to assume Hulu might eventually release similar new programming behind its Hulu Plus pay wall, which would be another $8 a month. Multiply all that by 12 months and you get nearly $2,000 spent on television shows every year, and that still wouldn’t get me the acclaimed exclusive content on DirecTV.

So it will be interesting to see if the future of television really continues to require subscriptions to several separate services. Will some company start selling a TV bundle that gets you everything? Will shows move solely into an a la carte model where customers buy individual episodes, like with iTunes or Amazon Instant Video? I’m not sure, but I do know that it’s nice that I can watch the Grammys this weekend and actually be familiar with all the nominated musicians. It would be nice if the television industry could make its content more accessible like that.