“83 Channels of Ecstasy / I Love My Cable TV” – “Weird Al” Yankovic
A few days ago I received a text from my friend Rob in St. Louis. He and his family “cut the cord” a while ago and live a full streaming lifestyle. Recently, he traveled with his son for baseball tournaments and sent me this message:
So we “cut the cord” many years ago and so all we do is broadcast and sometimes we will watch live TV. But by traveling everywhere this summer for my son’s baseball and staying in hotels, I’ve returned to my old chain surfing roots. So my question to you is, why is it that in 2022, when almost everything we want to watch is available anytime we want to watch it, it’s SO SATISFYING when you come across something at traditional television? While we were somewhere waiting to find out if my son’s game that day was going to crash or not, Beverly Hills Cop was on Showtime and it was AWESOME!!!! But it shouldn’t be, I could watch this anytime.
So I thought about it a lot. To the point that whenever it’s even considered getting rid of the cable, I don’t, for those same reasons. (Also, our internet plan is tied to our cable bill and canceling cable and then getting internet service on its own doesn’t really save a lot of money.) In fact, Brian Truitt of USA today recently asked me for a quote to see if I missed the era of video libraries, specifically VHS, to today’s streaming model. My bottom line was: no. Driving (or asking my parents to drive me) to the video store only to find the pan and scan movie I wanted was rented was a pain in the ass. Streaming, in general, is much better. (However, the streamers that’s a whole other topic.)
I have already looked into this subject because I find it fascinating. In that, so many movies that we now consider classics of the 80s and 90s weren’t even big box office hits, but found their lives on what seemed like cable TV loops without end. And I really believe that’s why so many movies over the last ten years have kind of drifted off cultural consciousness because they’re not playing in front of so many people on those aforementioned endless loops.
So, I thought a lot about my friend Rob’s question and decided, well, why not just make the answer public since I think about it all the time anyway?
Rob used the example of Beverly Hills Cop, a movie that still plays a lot on cable (I know that from experience) and, yes, I usually watch it every time if I flip through the channels. So why was he so excited to see Beverly Hills Cop, even if he can watch it whenever he wants in streaming? Good, Beverly Hills Cop is a good example because many, many people enjoy this film very much. But that’s very few people favorite film. So with streaming, a person would have to make a conscious decision to sit down and watch Beverly Hills Cop from beginning to end. Which most people won’t do because when choosing a movie most people choose something new that they haven’t seen, something old that they haven’t seen or literally their favorite movie.
It would take a surprising amount of effort to decide, “Yeah, I want to watch Beverly Hills Cop right now.” In fact, deciding to watch a movie is exhausting. A person has to do Something. Instead come across a movie on cable. It’s the contrary. It is a passive experience. A person can stop changing channels. Instead of insisting on which movie to watch, it’s more of a relief to find something familiar.
Then there’s the aspect of picking up a movie we’ve seen somewhere in the middle, but hardly ever at first. People like that. We don’t have to waste time with the configuration that we have already seen several times. Basically, we start right in the middle of the action. And we really can’t do anything about it. There is no guilt. “Well, that’s when I connected.” But with streaming, no one is going to get started Beverly Hills Cop and start during the strip club scene when Axel, Billy and Taggart stage a robbery. On cable, watch Beverly Hills Cop is a 45 minute experience, maybe an hour. In streaming, it’s the hour and 45 minutes.
I think the community aspect is also taken into account. The other day I watched a Blu-ray of Hal Ashby’s latest movie, 8 million ways to die (which is not streaming) and I feel like I might be the only person in the world watching this particular movie at this exact moment. At the very least, I was the only one watching it at the exact time. And that’s fine, but there’s something funny about knowing that when Axel and Bogomil take down Maitland, you’re watching that scene with a few thousand other people. Streaming feels lonely. Cable always feels like we’re watching with others, and it’s an experience that can be shared with friends and strangers via Twitter, WhatsApp, SMS, and more.
I’ve seen people bring up the idea of streamers having a “random channel”. Every time I hear this idea, I feel like Peter Gibbons in office space right after Bob Slydell asks him if he’d be interested in a hypothetical “stock option, stock split program,” to which I reply, “I don’t know, I guess.” The problem with this is that it will always have everything the streamer has to offer. Netflix isn’t exactly filled with a library of classic movies these days. Also, streamers would like to promote their new releases, so a “random” Netflix channel would be The gray man and red notice all day. Also, it would be a channel. There is no reversal. That would be “watch whatever is on our random channel or choose something else”, which defeats the purpose. And let’s say every streamer came on board with a random channel…sure, that sounds like fun, at least a minute trying to navigate to a new app to “change channels”. (Although a friend of mine had a fun idea for HBO Max: a “this was played on a constant loop in the 80s and 90s” channel. Something like that might interest me, maybe.)
Combine all of that with the fact that cutting the cord isn’t the money-saver it was promised to be once you add up internet charges and the price of each streaming service subscription. (And those streaming prices keep going up!) So now it’s a hodgepodge of cable, plus a few streamers, and most of them are free…because I have cable.
So, at the end of the day, I’m still “stuck” with cable for the foreseeable future, something I still appreciate.