Friday, June 29, 2012

600 channels and nothing to watch???


Recently, I've had to make some changes with my Internet service provider. I'd been sharing a connection with someone for over 12 years. However, it was time to get something of my own.

At the same time, I had been reviewing my cable television bill. If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area changes are extremely good that your provider is Comcast. I've had Comcast at my current residence since April 1994, when the San Jose Sharks made their first NHL Playoff run.

After considering non-cable options for Internet, I finally decided it was best to go with Comcast's Triple Play. I was able to get a deal that was a little more than what I currently pay for cable only, and yet I didn't have to sign up for a long term contract, something that I'd have to do if I switched to another carrier. A Win-Win IMHO.

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It amazes me when I hear people say, "There's nothing good to watch on TV these days!!" Now, granted some of the shows are pretty abysmal (Jerseylicious, Big Brother or Housewives of <fill in the blank> are perfect examples of TV gone wrong). But to say there is nothing to watch when you have between 200 and 600 channels to choose from if you have cable is astounding.

As I sit here watching all sorts of programs that I didn't have before last Saturday I started thinking back to when my family first signed up for cable television.

We could say with pride that our family was among the first houses to get cable in the San Francisco Bay Area. I can't speak for what was available here in Albany back then as we were next door, in Richmond. Our service provider was Bay Cablevision.

I think I must've been at school when the cable man came because I don't remember seeing him install it, and just know that's something I would have been sitting there watching get done.

On top of the old TV sat a gray-brown box with two rotary dials that would make a loud clicking sound as you turned them. This WAS the cable box of its day and you manually switched channels by the use of the two dials. One dial had numbers on it, while the other one had letters. The differing combinations would offer different channels.

(The remote control never entered my house until many years later. After all, it was only a few years earlier that we bought the first color television ever in our family, a Hitachi. I still have that TV in storage, and the colors were just as good the last time I hooked it up, as the day we brought it home from Dale Sanford Television, in Alameda.

Back then it seemed you got multiple channels for each of the THREE networks. This was way before Fox, WB and other newcomers came to play. All your news coverage was local, unless you happened to catch the evening national news, presented by Walter Cronkite (CBS), John Chancellor (NBC) or Howard K. Smith & Harry Reasoner (ABC). CNN wouldn't show up until I was in high school. And I can remember when Atlant's WTCG, proclaimed itself the first super station, being seen Coast-to-Coast thanks to cable TV.

TV Guide was something like 10 cents, and was a real guide, not the magazine you see these days. Beyond that, Bay Cablevision used to release a heavy paper guide that showed what was on HBO and the other special movie channels they had. There were three colors, Green, Red, and Yellow. Each one was a higher priced package. I remember us having the Red package, which included Green, but the Yellow package must've been financially out of reach because I remember looking at it and seeing what we wouldn't be getting. Also, movies were on, generally, for three months, before something else rotated in.

To get HBO, there was a special filter you connected to your cable box by way of a patch cable, and then the outside cable from the telephone pole. It was apparently very important not to disconnect the filter because if you did, the cable man had to come out and set it back up. Not sure if that was real, or not, but that's what we were told. Also, there was a $50 deposit on that filter, which is comical because I think it was nothing more than a low or high pass, filter which probably cost $3.

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But now we've reached another metamorphosis in the world of television entertainment, which will make today's television offerings seem as antiquated as my first experiences were in their day.

Though traditional broadcast channels and cable networks has the largest variety ever, it's also the hardest for a new producer to get into. It seems that networks will spend most of their production dollars on what they think are sure hits that will get them a high rate of return. That's why you're seeing so much Reality programing. It's relatively cheap, and fills what they perceive as being the viewer's most common wants.

However, in steps the Internet to fill a need. With higher and higher streaming speeds available, and storage costs plummeting, anybody can become a programmer. I'm a tech news junkie and more often than not I'm watching one of the TWiT.TV shows streaming on YouTube.

Leo Laporte has to be one of the most successful producers who has made a jump from traditional media to the Internet. After having his career controlled by others, he took the plunge and started netcasting his first show, This Week in Tech, in 2005, from an outbuilding on his property. Last year he made a move to a major production facility in downtown Petaluma, producing 29 shows, as well as maintaining a live 24/7 streaming channel. 

Chances are good that if there's a subject you are interested in, there will be some type of netcast about it. If not, there probably will be one shortly. And if you feel so inclined, you can start a program yourself. Most of today's smartphones have a good enough quality camera, which shoots high-definition video, which can be used till you decide to upgrade your equipment.

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