When Will How We Watch TV Stop Evolving?

by James Wallace Harris, 2/2/23

In the 21st century, it now seems air, water, food, shelter, and video are the basic necessities of life. Who lives without screens in their life? Changing times and technologies keep making us adapt to new ways of consuming video.

  • Broadcast TV originally conditioned us to watch television on a set schedule. The price of this technology was watching commercials.
  • Cable TV gave us more channels but we still had to follow the schedule and watch commercials. We now had to pay a monthly bill too.
  • HBO and other premium channels made TV better than movies and freed us from commercials, but we had to pay even more on that monthly bill.
  • VCR let us time shift shows and zip through commercials, and forced us to deal with a growing collection of VHS tapes. It also allowed us to buy or rent movies and TV shows. VCRs created that wonderful subculture of video stores. This gave us more freedom regarding what to watch, but TV was now becoming a growing monthly expense.
  • DVD gave us better picture quality but we had to buy new equipment and replace all those videotapes.
  • DVD R/W+- allowed us to make our own DVDs. It saved us money over buying movies by recording them instead but we had to zip through the commercials again.
  • DVR made it much easier to record shows and zip through commercials. It was wonderful to give up messing with VHS tapes and R/W DVDs.
  • TiVo made going back to broadcast TV fun for a while but the $12.95 monthly fee to record free over-the-air TV was annoying.
  • Netflix discs by mail killed our addiction to Blockbuster and saved us money. I miss Blockbuster.
  • HDTV made TV watching great and more addicting than ever, but now we had to learn about new technology and spend a whole lot more on TVs.
  • Netflix streaming killed our addiction to renting discs by mail and saved us money. $7.99 a month was a tremendous bargain! Bye-bye Blockbuster.
  • Smartphones and tablets have become a new way of watching TV for some people. When the power was out during an ice storm Susan and I streamed TV over 5G on our iPhones.
  • Streaming services allowed us to cut the cord and give up cable TV. That saved us money – for a while.
  • Streaming TV services like YouTube TV allowed us to have cable TV without the cable box and for less money while including an unlimited digital DVR. However, they are now racking up their prices. $70 a month is like a Comcast payment from a few years ago.

When will how we watch TV stop changing? Is it evolving or just the churn of change? I thought with streaming services like Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu, AppleTV+, etc. combined with YouTubeTV we had everything we could possibly want. That is until all these services started raising their prices. The fact that we can go months without using some of those streaming services is making me worry. I see that other people are thinking about it too.

TV used to be free. It used to be simple, three channels with a fixed schedule. Now it’s $150 a month, with thousands of shows that can be watched at any time on a variety of devices. TV now has too many choices. That’s mentally wearing. Even exhausting.

Looking back I see now that I subscribed to all those various streaming services to watch another popular TV show that everyone was talking about. Even today, when I talk with my friends they will tell me about the shows they love. Wanting to give them a try often means subscribing to something new. My friend Linda has solved this problem by only subscribing to one service at a time. But she lives with a lot fewer choices. But maybe that’s good.

$150 a month is not bad for how much pleasure we get. However, I cut the cord with cable TV because cable TV forced hundreds of channels on us I didn’t want. It irked me I had to pay $7+ a month for ESPN when I didn’t even watch it. Now, with all the streaming services I’m paying for thousands of movies and TV shows, I don’t want to watch. And I just can’t tune out all those unwanted offerings. Each time I click on Netflix or HBO Max I end up scrolling and clicking and scrolling and clicking to see all my choices. By the time I finally pick something I’m worn out. My sister Becky often yells “I HATE SCROLLING.”

I discovered something very revealing when I started ripping my DVD/BDs for Plex. I have several hundred movies and TV shows I’ve bought over the last several decades. Once I converted DVDs to digital files for a couple of TV series I started watching them. I was no longer interested in streaming services. On Plex right now I have two choices (Perry Mason and Survivors), both of which I want to watch. Imagine Netflix with just two TV shows. (And wasn’t AppleTV+ much better when it had fewer choices?)

When company comes over and we then decide to watch a movie together picking a show depresses us. It makes people happier if I pick out a movie and invite people over saying we’re going to watch X. Susan and several of my TV-watching friends get annoyed if they have to decide on a show. Maybe my current problem with watching TV by myself is having too many choices.

The nightly TV program Susan and I watch together is Upstairs, Downstairs which we get from Britbox. We know what we’ll be watching at 9:30 every night – two episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs. I like that routine. Susan watches other shows by herself while she sews. If I want to watch something on my own I’m currently satisfied with either Perry Mason or Survivors. When I finish those series I’ll rip a couple more.

We did sign up for the current sale for Peacock+ ($29.99 for one year). If all the subscription services charged like that I wouldn’t mind keeping several subscriptions going. However, even though Peacoak+ has lots I think I want to watch, I just don’t feel like watching anything yet. Maybe when I finish with Perry I’ll give one of their shows a try. Maybe the key for me is to only have a couple of shows I follow (besides the one I watch with Susan).

I’ve been very happy the last few days puttering around with ripping DVDs and setting up Plex. I’m not sure Susan will like a very limited TV environment, but I do. I’m not going to try and rip all my DVDs and Bluray discs. I’m just going to rip something when I’m ready to watch it.

I would be perfectly fine just subscribing to BritBox for several months. That’s how we get Upstairs, Downstairs. I’ve already canceled HBO Max and Netflix. I want to cancel Hulu but can’t until I rip some DVDs for Susan. I’d love to cancel YouTube TV, but Susan can’t let go. I only use it for Jeopardy, NBC Nightly News, and Turner Classic Movies. But those two shows are available on YouTube for free, and we’ve got hundreds of old movies on DVD.

It feels like I’m trying to de-evolve my TV watching to back like it was when I was growing up. Just a few channels. Susan is still addicted to the cable TV level of variety. I’m trying to get her to notice that she uses YouTube TV to watch old TV shows all the time. Except for things like tennis matches and cooking shows she seldom watches anything new.

I have friends that watch a lot of television and go through many new shows each year. I used to be that way. I don’t know if it’s getting old or not, but I’m tired of the new show rat race.


2 thoughts on “When Will How We Watch TV Stop Evolving?”

  1. I think you’re on to something! It’s the old ‘working at the donut shop’ problem: the never-ending supply of choices has nearly suffocated your desire to watch anything at all. I only stream Netflix, but the constant suggestions of new stuff, ugh! Of course, the suggestions usually look interesting .. so I add them to my “List” .. and when my List is crazy full I go through it muttering over and over “why did I put that on my list?”, reducing the List back to a manageable half dozen.

    Once in awhile I get tired of streaming. That’s when I go old school: check out a pile of dvds from the library and confine myself to those for a week or so. It’s refreshing, I think partly because they’re solid and sitting right in front of me. And since I’ve never bothered owning dvds, checking them out at the library feels kind of like a treat.

    My housemate and I, like you and Susan, have a daily tv routine, though ours is likely noisier. We watch an episode of something every evening and gamify the experience, each of us choosing a favorite contestant and making predictions. Then we yell at the show when our contestants make dumb choices. Of course, if our contestant wins then we get to declare ourselves the smarter person because we chose the winning contestant!

    1. Susan and I call out the questions in Jeopardy. Who calls it first gets the point. For a while, I tracked how often I got something right. Usually, it was 4-8 times a game. And I did pretty good on the Final Jeopardy clues.

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