Hidden Costs I don’t often watch commercial television. I’m a movie watcher, and with HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, TMC and the like, along with Netflix, there is very little reason to suffer through all the commercials, especially since, unlike when you are watching a series show or a football game, the movies aren’t designed with pauses in them for the commercials. But around Christmas time, wanting to watch a classic, like “The Polar Express,” I wound up watching it on a commercial channel. I have to admit, it was painful. This is a great, computer animated story and every kid should watch it with his or her parents. But not when it is interrupted just about every ten minutes with bra and cold remedy commercials! I had forgotten how bad things have really gotten. What was worse, not only did we have to suffer through all the ads, but while the program was on there’s a new trend that says the channel has to smear graphics with lights, movement, scrolls etc., across the bottom quarter of the picture telling you either what you are watching… (excuse me, but I KNOW what I am watching, or at least trying to watch) or telling you what is coming up next, or after that, or maybe next week! All I wanted to do was watch the program! All they wanted to do was promote all their other programs. What it ultimately achieved was having me turn off the channel. I got to thinking about why all that garbage is being spread across the screen. Why these supposedly savvy television executives were destroying the very experience that should endear me to their channel. It was an unfortunate reminder of the hidden cost we now bear because of the multiplicity of channels now offered, and the fierce competition among those channels for our attention. There is a certain irony to the fact that it is precisely because we have so much diversity these days, we have so many options, and as I have noted before, our program guides and interfaces have not kept up with that diversity, that the channels have made it a full time interruption to tell us what they are offering, who they are (so that we can properly credit them when Nielsen calls) and what we can tune in to next, either on that channel or another one owned by the same conglomerate engaged in cross-promotion. It is astounding to me that there are folks at the FCC still suggesting there is no effective competition in the delivery of television programming, that there is too little diversity of program choice. These folks have obviously not watched much television lately. It is because of that competition that we are heading down a road that could destroy the very entertainment we are trying to interest folks in watching! The perceived need to cross promote, the need to constantly create and maintain a brand identity, ant to try to entice the viewer to stay tuned to whatever is next on that particular linear channel has reached the point of diminishing returns. The hidden cost to the viewer is getting too high. There has got to be a better way. I’m not sure I can tell you what it is just yet, and I will be glad to hear any suggestions, but I know this: if things continue down the path they are going right now, linear channels are going to be the best promotion the cable industry ever had to introduce the benefits of video on demand.

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