Back in the day, there were four channels — PBS, CBS, ABC, NBC — and they were all free, and the world was OK with that. There were about four minutes of commercials for every half hour (as opposed to the 8 minutes now) and everyone watched M*A*S*H and Cheers and The Brady Bunch. Sure, our options were limited, and unless you were a white suburban family, your life experiences were probably not well represented on television, but few complained because it was free entertainment.
Then cable came along. Twenty channels became 160 channels. Premium networks were added. DVR packages were included at an extra cost so that you could record one show and watch the other. You could pay an extra few bucks to get cable added to a second television in your home, and a few more so that you could watch it on your iPad. Then came streaming options. Netflix. Hulu. Amazon Prime. More are being added: Crackle. Yahoo. Apple. But you not only need WiFi to watch these things, you need a strong signal to avoid buffering issues, so you need to upgrade your Internet package. You like the NFL? Want to watch all the games? You’ll need to upgrade your package for that, too!
Before you know it, you can watch any one of the approximately 350 scripted series that air each year, plus hundreds of reruns, and all the football, baseball, soccer and basketball games you want! And you can watch them practically anywhere: On the beach, at your in-law’s house, or even my favorite place to watch television: On the iPad, in front of the flat-screen television that I barely turn on anymore.
All of these luxuries, however, add up, and before you know it, you’re spending a goddamn fortune to feed your television addiction. Never mind that you don’t have enough time to watch 98.5 percent of the programming available to you, and never mind that you’re only half watching what you do watch because, while one eye is on your iPad, the other eye is thumbing through Facebook on your phone.
Here’s what my television habit is costing me per month right now:
Time Warner Cable and Internet: $229
I’m paying about $250 a month so that I can watch basically nine channels (FX, AMC, Showtime, HBO, Comedy Central, USA, Netflix, Amazon, Red Zone), plus the networks. That’s $3,000 a year!
I didn’t even realize it was happening. I had no idea I was paying that much until today, when I actually examined the bills. That’s $3000 a year so I can watch nine goddamn channels, and I thought I was Mr. Thrifty when I switched from DirectTV and killed the NFL Game Pass ($300 a year) and into a Time Warner package, where cable and Internet were bundled together.
That is absurd, but there’s nowhere I can really justify cutting the expenses because I am a television junkie (this would be true whether or not it was also my job). I need HBO and Showtime (and Cinemax when The Knick is on) because that’s where many of the best shows air. I can now get stand-alone services, but that’s even more expensive than as an addition to a cable package, and I need the cable package because I need FX and AMC and The Daily Show. Plus, Netflix releases a series that I have to watch once a month now, while Amazon puts out three or four good series a year (plus free shipping!) and I need the DVR because Game of Thrones and The Good Wife and whatever is playing on Showtime all come on at the same goddamn time.
All of which is to say, when Netflix announced that they’d be increasing prices over the next few years by probably a few dollars to pay for more original content I don’t have time to watch (but really feel compelled to do so), the thought initially pissed me off.
Now? What the hell do I care about a few extra dollars? I’m paying $3,000 a year to watch Mr. Robot and The Leftovers? What?! I’m going to get mad about paying another $25 a year to get Orange is the New Black and a second season of Bloodline and Kimmy Schmidt?
Netflix is an awesome deal.
No, the problem here is not Netflix. Or even HBO and Showtime, which now offer us the ability to watch without cable. It’s all those other goddamn cable channels that were still being forced to pay for, even though we only want to watch five of them. So get off your asses FX and AMC. Give us stand-alone options. I’ll take care of Comedy Central and Mr. Robot on Hulu, and spend the other $100 a month at the bar on beer while I’m watching NFL games. At least I’ll get something to show for my money, even if it is a beer gut.