Pay to Play 9/2/22

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Our old television was black and white and ran on vacuum tubes.  Every year my father would have to swap out the vacuum tubes with new ones.  It was black and white and took a few minutes to warm up before you could see the picture, and this was in the mid ‘70’s, long after color solid-state televisions were not only commercially available, but commonplace as well.  But that was how my dad was.  He kept the old tech as long as it kept working, and he didn’t replace the television until vacuum tubes were no longer available. 

The curious thing was that I used to dream in black-and-white as well.  It wasn’t until we got a color television that I started to dream in color.  Recently I read an article that said, as if it was some great shock, that people who watched television in black-and-white also dream in it. 

Back then, there were three major network channels, and PBS which for some reason was never included in the list.  It was before VCR’s allowed people to record off of the television and buy movies for their library.  There was something of a thrill when you saw that your favorite movie was going to be showing.  Today, of course, you can rent, buy, stream movies to your heart’s content, but it was something when you opened your TV Guide and saw that movie.  I had one favorite, Casino Royale, that I adored, and, no, not the James Bond movie.  Well, it was a James Bond movie, actually.  Long before the serious Casino Royal James Bond movie was, back in the ‘60’s, Casino Royal the James Bond spoof.  It was excessively silly, and only played very late at night, but my parents always let me stay up to watch it on the rare day it would play.  Now I own it on DVD, and no, I’ve never seen the serious one. 

But for all of the advances of technology, it still has its drawbacks.  These days, there are more streaming movie services than I can name, and nearly every one of them has an associated cost.  Cable has hundreds of channels, and yet, fewer and fewer people are signing up for it.  The price of cable is insane as the cable companies seem to have forgotten that theirs is a luxury service and is not critical.  Just as professional sports and theater has priced itself out of business, cable has done the same thing. 

A single streaming service or maybe two might be affordable, but who can pay for all of them?  Back in the day of three network channels plus PBS, you could get all three services streaming into your home, and what’s more, it was free.  True, you had to learn patience until your favorite movie plays again, but you didn’t have to pay for it save the commercial breaks on every major network channel except PBS.  And there was a kind of common experience that occurred as well.  Some of the television programs were watched by nearly everybody, and they always made for conversation topics around the water cooler. 

I have a new favorite science fiction television series.  It had two seasons so far, and yes, I’ve purchased them both, but the third season has moved to another streaming service.  I won’t be able to see it unless I register for that particular streaming service, or, hopefully, when it becomes available for purchase. 

To a lesser extent, now there are music streaming services as well.  I can remember when the music industry was up in arms because people were using the internet for exactly the purpose it was designed, specifically sharing data.  People were sharing music and movies and every once in a while the entertainment industry would send out the FBI to bring charges against somebody who was pirating to an extreme extent.  I’ve had several students who were forced to write letters about the harm pirating can cause. 

I always felt as if the entertainment industry was handling the problem incorrectly.  Instead of going after pirates, I felt like they needed to find a way to capitalize on the internet and technology, having paid services where you could stream anything that you want.  It seems as if they finally caught up with my idea, but it’s so expensive to get all of the programming that you might like.  So here we are.  No more free lunches, but which smorgasbord should we choose?  And how can we afford to continue paying these fees with the current price of things? 

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