Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Price of Entertainment

The price of entertainment and information

So here am, back again on my soap box. Why haven’t I been around earlier? Well, for one, no really cares about this blog or even the miniscule corner which it occupies on the Web. This benign apathy is much like the rest of the Universe’s disposition towards a blue-green cloud-covered rock orbiting an equally pedestrian yellow-star in the eastern arm of a correspondingly inconsequential spiral-galaxy. Secondly, it is only now that a bunch of holidays are stringed together, giving me enough of a breather to pen my observations.

It’s not that I have been running short of observations, or of things I should observe. Au contraire, I just have been really keeping myself busy with tons of reading, some physical activity and some actual work thrown in. But for a while, I had some forced downtime, when all I could do after coming back from work was to pig out in front of the TV. Was this what I wanted to? Hell, no. If I could’ve helped it, I would’ve been whacking a racquetball for all the pain I was under. But the diet of pain-killers and soup left me with precious little energy and far lesser motivation to go out and exert myself. It left me with even less comprehension to stare at another computer and write about my little world.

Why the pain-killers? Well, because I was getting wise, or at least I was sprouting wisdom teeth. So seeing a win-win situation, my dentist advised that the insurance company and I shell out moolah so he could pay his bills and I could short-change long-term agony for some short-term NSAID (non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory drug) control misery. That’s a whole different story about COX inhibiters and “you could probably die, but we prescribe these anyway” medicines. I assure you there will be a blog on this later, which too will be ignored just like this one (and the aforementioned blue-green cloud-covered rock).

So where am I going with this? Well, I’ve been in the states for 6 long years. And in all that time, I have done some traveling; not a whole lot, but enough. But in all that time, I was NEVER at home at 6 pm or earlier and had NEVER watched TV for that time. Call it incredible coincidence or whatever, but I usually never got home before 8 pm. Even when I was in grad-school (actually in grad-school I had really crazy hours). Now that I work, I typically hit the racquetball courts or the treadmill before getting back home (what, you think looking like Daniel Craig comes easy? To all those who believe this parenthetical comment, I would also like to add that Santa and the Spaghetti Monster are both real). But I had never caught the 6-8pm shows or even the 7 pm news. Heck, I don’t remember watching much of the 10 pm news (probably because I was watching the DVDs from Netflix).

Being forced to come home and do nothing, I had no choice but to experience first-hand the mind numbing “prime-time” programming. I swear, I now know why people want to home-school their kids. For the first two days after the teeth extraction, I actually watched the horror that is day-time TV. God only knows what gave me the courage to survive the torture. If there is no God, I wish there were one, for I know of no other entity that could have helped. On the flip side, perhaps it was the pain-killers, in which case, I would like it prescribed in copious quantities to the entire population of the US with no alternatives other than the “non-cable” US broadcast stations.

As a matter of principle I have never subscribed to regular or digital cable TV. Not that I can’t afford it, just that as a matter of principle I refuse to pay $100+ for channels that I will never watch, ever. Who wants to pay to watch the home shopping network? People actually pay to spend money? WOW! Even if I get 300 channels for that price, I’d only end up watching at most a few hours before I go to bed each day, say 4 tops. I will probably watch a lot of Comedy Central because I totally respect and admire stand-up comics: they make me laugh, are very observant and at times philosophical and informative. Sometimes they give more news than the local news (Daily Show, Colbert Report, Mind of Mencia). I will probably still catch Jay Leno on NBC and Craig Ferguson on CBS (no Letterman though). I will watch CNBC because it *is* news and is very informative about the stock market. I will probably watch Battle-Star Galactica and Heroes on SciFi; Star-Trek and UFC on Spike TV; perhaps re-runs of Scrubs, That 70s Show and 24 on Fox; Lost, Brothers and Sisters, Boston Legal on ABC. And since they don’t all play at the same time or during the 2-4 hours that I actually care to watch, I would have to Tivo them. Notice CNN and local news don’t figure in news. For the real news, I will watch the one hour of BBC on *public television* thank you. If I had on-demand, I might request the occasional movie I didn’t see in the theaters as well.

Does that sound like a lot of channels to you? Does that sound like 300 channels to you? 100? 50? So why should I pay upwards of $75.95 + tax per month to get the channels I don’t want? And why should I fork out another $5 + tax for HD when most of the shows on the big networks (ABC, CBS, MyNetwork30 where I live) I mentioned are already available in HD off-air for free? At $80 per month, that amounts to roughly $1 per hour of viewing ($80 + tax for 3 hours * 7 days/week * 4 weeks/ month)! Put another way, that’s $960 for a total watching time of less than 2 months over the course of year!

Another pet peeve is the local news. Have you seen it lately? Most of the times it is about pets! Forget the ever-present strife in the middle-east, the politics in Europe, the upheavals in Africa, the innovations in Asia or the tidings in Australia (well then again, nothing happens in Australia). Nashville local news (and elsewhere in the country) would rather concentrate on the health of 23 dogs that have been caged by a 53 year old single woman. Read that story here . Instead one could pay $79 and subscribe to the Wall Street Journal bringing in really informative news papers for 6 days a week for a year! One could even add $20/month for Netflix and still come out on the happier side of the cable bill (and if you own Netflix stock, you can support your company and read about it in the Journal!).

Now I can understand a certain parochial focus in every locality and even expect a certain local flavor of the news because where we live generally tends to affect us a little more than what happens a little further. However, finding absolutely no news of even national matters just bothers me. No news of the public outcry against credit-card companies for increasing interest rates while pushing the required monthly payments so low that people can almost never work off the interest let alone the principal that story here . Or how about news discussing the “donut” in the federal health insurance programs more on that here ?

It just seems that out here, we need to spend money to learn about the things that are important to all of us. Almost to the extent that we are being held hostage to what someone else wants us to see or not. I mean where is the guarantee that even after paying the high amount we will get to hear about the things that are really and truly important? Is CNN news real news? Does entertainment really come at $80+tax / month?


Anonymous said...

you're cheap, we get it

kage said...

@anon, thanks for the comment.

i have to differ with you: there is a difference between being cheap and recognizing the intrinsic value of something.

what i am alluding to in this piece is that the cable companies can get away with charging high prices because they have a virtual monopoly in their areas. Comcast won't sell where Time Warner does business, neither will Charter. This seems to be the case all across the nation. Does that sound to you like an Oligopoly??

what i don't say in the article, but is equally valid and known in business circles is that the introduction of satellite providers in most markets tends to bring down the price of the offerings almost 10%, if not more. now if the high prices as they currently exist are fair, where is the room for the price reduction coming from?? doesn't it tell you that the market is valuing the service at a lower intrinsic price?

the difference between being cheap and "value oriented" is where the final control of the decision making lies.

A cheap person is controlled simply by the money aspect: if it is above a certain dollar value, they will never buy even though it may make life really easy.

The latter decides based on what the final value addition to their quality of life is. such a person is more likely to not fall in to the "local minimum" trap of a low price.