Television for the 55-Plus Folks

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, May 2, 2016

Talking with my old buddy Connell last night, I commented that everyone today has very different tastes in music. Out of 432 songs on my favorite Spotify playlist, I might share a unique handful with each of my friends. Back in the 1960s, when we were young boomers, we all watched the same three TV networks, listened to the same AM top-40 radio stations, often bought the same albums, went to the same rock concerts and movies, and pretty much shared the same pop culture. Living in the shiny future of the 21st century, pop culture has exploded. Everyone has gone off to do their own thing—usually tuning out with earphones and a personal screen—and won’t VR be even more isolating? I feel little pop culture kinship anymore.

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I wonder if cord cutters, the retired ones, aren’t all sitting in our darkened rooms, by ourselves at night, watching the same TV shows? We’ve reduced our TV universe to a few local broadcast networks again. Going from 200+ channels to a handful might be a socially unifying trend. How many of us are watching Antenna TV, Grit TV, Movies!, Decades, GetTV or MeTV?

I cut the cable cord years ago. I planned to watch Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services instead. What’s weird is I spend more time now watching broadcast TV. What goes around, comes around. I own a Tivo Roamio, which allows me to record over-the-air TV—and zip past the commercials. When I do see the commercials, most are targeted to my demographic, the 55-plus crowd. At any random moment of the day, a quick flip by all the channels will mainly reveal commercials. To get folks to watch those commercials they use old shows and movies as bait. I guess they know what we’re biting.

decadeslogo2Grit

If I didn’t have the Tivo, I couldn’t handle that. I hate commercials. Yet, I’ve got to admit they’ve got my number, because these networks broadcast content that appeals to me, and I assume, to my fellow baby boomer cord cutters. I hardly ever watch the major networks anymore. Their primetime shows aren’t geared to my tastes. Mostly I watch PBS. However, when I’m not watching public television, I love the local channels that show old movies, and to a lesser degree, the old television shows. Especially content created in the 1950s and 1960s, when I grew up. Is broadcast TV curated for us baby boomers? Or do young people like retro-TV? After we get on social security, and our fixed incomes become cable-unfriendly, lots of us go back to over-the-air television reception. Evidently, marketing gurus have discovered old episodes of Peter Gunn, Perry Mason and The Twilight Zone sell adult diapers, self-catheters, Consumer Cellular phone, prostate pills, unbreakable reading glasses, and other doodads for the 55-plus-set better than reruns of Cheers or The Mary Tyler Moore Show . I have 4-5 channels where I can watch the same shows I watched when I lived with my parents. Decades later, in the 1980s we chanted, “I want my M-TV.” Now I sing, “I want my GetTV.” (My city doesn’t have it yet.) There’s a tremendous number of broadcast networks, but no city gets them all. But as each city gets more of them, won’t there be less demand for cable?

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How many over-55 cord cutters are watching these networks? By reducing the the number of networks we watch, do we bring ourselves closer? Will there ever be a time again when people share the same pop culture? Sometimes I think I could cut out all TV but one network – PBS. Are public television lovers my chosen peeps?

I cancelled my subscription of Netflix discs because I just let the discs sit around for weeks. I have Netflix streaming, but I don’t watch it much, mostly for documentaries. I also have Amazon Prime which I use to watch new television shows and movies when I have company. When I’m by myself, which is most of the time, I mainly watch documentaries on PBS or old westerns. I spice things up now and then by trying an ancient TV show, or an old film, in particular, a 1960s comedy, or a 1940s film noir. When I have friends over, we watch new TV shows like Mr. Robot, Humans, Fargo, The Knick, Man in the High Castle, Mad Dogs, etc. I do like modern scripted TV, especially if the show is one story told in 10-13 episodes. But I save those shows for when I have company and we can share. It’s great to have new shows to talk about. Solitary watching is different. I guess my comfort TV is old stuff.

I realize I have multiple personalities. I have my main personality that watches TV by myself, and a different personality for each of my friends. I almost never listen to music with friends anymore. I guess group listening to albums stopped when we quit smoking pot back in the 1970s. I wonder if medical marijuana for old folks is bringing back album parties? I do read books with friends, sometimes, because of book clubs. And I usually go to plays and art shows with friends. When I think about it, I spend a lot of time enjoying various art forms alone. Back in my K-12 years, that wasn’t so. You’d watch TV with your family, and then go to school the next day and discuss the shows with your friends. Our world was smaller, but it was closer. I guess in a couple decades when I move into a retirement home, I’ll be back watching TV together with a new family.

With over sixty years experience watching TV, I’ve gone though many phases of TV culture. I wonder as I get older if I’ll want to rewatch 1970s TV, and then 1980s TV, and if I live long enough 1990s TV. Do people get nostalgic for their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties? In the future, will baby boomers crave Must See TV and want to watch old episodes of Seinfeld, Mad About You, and ER? Right now I can’t even make myself watch old Star Trek series which I once loved. Will, I change in the future and crave them again? Or will nostalgia always keep me trapped in 1956-1965 TV-land?

JWH

Rethinking Cord Cutting

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, May 4, 2015

Because Microsoft has decided to kill off Windows Media Center starting with Windows 10, and I plan to upgrade to Windows 10 on all my machines because it will be free the first year, I will lose my homemade DVR. Using a PC to record TV shows from over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts takes a good deal more work than using the DVR that comes with a cable box. But if you want to give up paying for cable and still record TV shows to watch later, you need something like Windows Media Center to do the job.

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Microsoft’s decision is forcing me to rethink my whole cord cutting approach to television, because I don’t want to go back to Xfinity or U-verse. Basically there are two modes for watching TV:

  • Live – by the schedule
  • Recorded – on demand

Cord cutter means getting TV from the internet or over-the-air broadcasts. Anyone accustomed to using a DVR will feel imprisoned by watching TV live again. Living around the TV schedule is so 20th century. That’s why I had to build my own DVR with Windows Media Center. DVRs let us save TV shows to watch later, skip commercials, pause, and scroll back to replay.

If I give up Windows Media Center I will have to learn to live without a DVR or find another solution.

I hate commercials, so I love skipping over them with a DVR. I could bypass commercials altogether if I gave up broadcast TV and got all my shows from the Roku. Without a DVR I wouldn’t watch broadcast TV. That’s not a possible solution for my wife though. She works out of town, but when she comes home for the weekend she loves TV. She splits her viewing between Netflix and tuning into AntennaTVMeTV, and Movies! – local channels targeted to cheap-ass baby-boomer cord cutters. I should confess I’ve become addicted to watching the old westerns on Grit TV. OTA broadcast channels seem to be popping up all the time, and strangely enough I find more to watch now than when I had cable. Sort of sad, to be stuck in a retro-TV-land, but it reminds me of how TV was when I were growing up.

Yet we can’t live without that modern doohickey, the DVR.

There are other media center software programs I could install and learn to record TV shows, but I’m through with being a do-it-yourselfer. Luckily, since I built my first DVR, several OTA DVRs have come onto the market. The market leader is TiVo, with it’s Roamio OTA, but there’s also ChannelMaster’s DVR+, Simple.TV and the multi-room networked Tablo. Until yesterday I was considering all of them except the Roamio OTA because TiVo charges $15 a month for its on-screen guide. It’s free for the DVR+, and just $4-5 a month for the other two. However, I just read that TiVo was selling it’s heavily subsidized $49 machine for $300 with unlimited access to their guide. That made me rethink the TiVo. Sadly, the $300 deal is over.The Roamio OTA is a 4-tuner device – meaning your can record up to four shows at once – and is considered the nicest to use by most reviewers. The TiVo has slick search features, as well as pause and replay controls. Those same reviewers all said they wouldn’t consider the TiVo with a $15 monthly fee. Obviously TiVo should listen, and since the other devices are already in the $300 ballpark, this could be a no-brainer decision if they offer the $300 deal again. TiVo could sell millions because their product is a broadcast TV watcher dream come true. Cord cutters are cheap, and a $15 monthly fee is too much for us cheapskates. Yet, my wife wants us to think about the TiVo because it’s DVR is equal to one you get with cable.

My current antenna is a RCA outdoor one, but it’s not great. It’s flaky in bad weather, and some channels come in much better than others. I should get a stronger antenna and put it up higher. However, I’m too old for working on my roof. I’ve been searching around Angie’s List and The Yellow Pages looking for TV antenna installers, but can’t find any. That’s annoying. With all this cord cutting going on, there’s good opportunity now for people to start a small business selling and installing antennas and OTA DVRs.

Investing in a great outdoor antenna and buying the Roamio OTA should solve my problem. I’ll be able to take the computer out of the den, and reduce the clutter in my entertainment center. Yet, there is something that urges me to cut the cord to the antenna too. We live in a TCP/IP world, so why not go completely Internet only TV?

$50, plus $15 a month will give us a deluxe broadcast TV setup. Susan and I have to think what we’re actually spending our money for though. To record the NBC Nightly News, CBS Sunday Morning, a few network TV shows we still watch, and to record a bunch of old nostalgic TV shows and movies. I would have included a long list of PBS shows I love, but I can now get them on my Roku through the PBS channel there. I could do all my TV watching through the Roku, but not Susan.

Cord cutters have given up on cable TV, but could they also  give up antenna television? Are we ready for a world with no live television? That’s weird to think about. Television is seldom truly live except for sports, news announcers showing prerecorded news and a rare live broadcast. Sport fans keep the cable companies in business. If live sports came over the Internet they’d be in real trouble. Current TCP/IP networking isn’t really suited for live broadcasting to billions, so they are safe for now. OTA TV does have a fair amount of sports. Enough for millions of cord cutters.

In ten years, maybe even five, things could be very different indeed. Think of how different our technological lives have changed since the year 2000. Should we be watching television like we did in the 1950s – with an antenna on the roof? I have to admit though, broadcast TV is still a viable solution for watching live TV, and it’s free.

JWH

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