A great Saturday Night Live moment was Steve Martin’s 1991 send-off of a heartfelt holiday wish list in which he began altruistically enough but ended with a litany of self-serving desires, including “all encompassing power over every living being in the entire universe.” Wish lists aren’t always serious. But while Martin’s rules all others (he’s got that power thing, after all), he wasn’t very cable-specific—so I’ve decided to remedy that with a wish list containing some no doubt equally unobtainable goals. Here it goes:
- Mo’ Better HD –Leichtman Research this week predicted that about half of U.S. households now own at least one HDTV set. Cable’s HD looks pretty good now, but at some point distributors will need to move to 1080p to keep up with consumer quality expectations. Personally, when I watch my Redskins get embarrassed and humiliated on a weekly basis, I want to view the players’ stunned looks of self-loathing and despair in the best HD resolution available. Cable operators also might be wise to increase the number of linear HD choices to catch up with some of their competitors. VOD is great, but linear prowess also counts. My wish is that cable gets out in front and raises the bar before someone else does.
- Better VOD navigation – I’m a broken record on this, but cable’s VOD navigation ranks up there with the Ministry’s pneumatic tube-based filing system in the 1985 cult film “Brazil.” During the 2-hour period between deciding to watch a movie and actually finding it on VOD, I half expect Robert DeNiro to show up in my house to rewire my cable box (You won’t get that one unless you’ve seen the movie). The bottom line: Cable operators have got to retool the way they organize their increasingly rich, diverse and voluminous VOD smorgasbord. As third-party boxes and consoles proliferate, my solemn wish is that cable operators make big improvements in this area in 2010. And if that happens, let’s hope I wasn’t simply imagining it (Again, just go rent the movie).
- Better TV commercials – To be sure, cable operators are putting out better TV ads than ever (we love Comcast’s “Slowski” series poking fun of slow DSL speeds). But Verizon’s relentless spots in which a hapless cable technician spars with a much cooler FiOS installer are just ubiquitous (and quite effective). Also hot are DirecTV’s spots in which dopey execs at a large cable company (played by recognizable actors like Ed Begley Jr and John Michael Higgins) struggle to match satellite’s supposed HD dominance. In both cases, cable competitors exploit old stereotypes about unprofessional cable installers and clueless cable suits. These ads—despite a number of inaccuracies—have gone largely unanswered. My wish is that cable takes a cue from Microsoft and starts fighting back against the Apples of the world (Confession: I’m an Apple fan… but you get my point).
- Fewer reality shows – Yes, they’re cheap to make. Yes, the increasingly vapid and brain-dead U.S. population continues to lap them up like sugar-coated heroine dumplings. But really… Is this why you got into the entertainment business? Don’t get me wrong. We all like a guilty pleasure sometimes. A few stupid reality shows that humiliate stupid people who stupidly signed away their lives to be on TV… well, that’s fine. And yes, putting D-List celebrities to work helps lower the crime rate. But with some notable exceptions, most of these shows have zero shelf life, degrade the human condition and make stars out of people who should probably be in prison. My wish for 2010 is that fewer reality crapfests get greenlit. Period.
- Breaking News Alerts – I’d like to take a moment away from this column to bring you this Breaking News Alert… The 12,454th Tiger Woods mistress just came forward, and gasp… she lives somewhere other than Vegas. Here’s another one: A car wreck in Peoria, Ill. No injuries, but we have some aerial footage that looks cool. And this just in: Congress set Friday as the date for that important vote… yesterday. For the love of all that is good and holy, “breaking news” is just that… breaking. If it happened 17 hours ago, it’s no longer breaking. And if it involves a local police (or balloon) chase, it’s not national news. Really. It’s not. Really!! Stop these constant crawls and dire graphics that make us all feel like every minor occurrence in the world forebodes the coming Apocalypse… That’s my wish.
In the spirit of the holiday season, I’ll stop now. But in all seriousness, please allow me to extend my best to all of you and your families in the New Year. I don’t think any of us will miss 2009. Let’s all wish for a better 2010—and resolve to improve ourselves and our businesses as the world tries to recover from that whole “Worst Economy Since the Great Depression” thing. And as Steve Martin once said, let’s also hope “for all the children of the world to join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace.” Right after we gain all encompassing power over everything. Happy New Year!
(Michael Grebb is executive editor of CableFAX).