Signal To Noise

On December 27, 2004, in Culture, by peterb

Today, I cancelled my satellite TV service. I have no more broadcast or cable TV.

I hate saying that, since I’ve met so many people who get so in-your-face about not watching TV. You know the type. All you have to do is mention that, say, you saw the football game last night, and wasn’t that a great interception, and these people will literally pounce from half a room away, rushing over to inform you, for the eighty-sixth goddamn time, they they wouldn’t know, because they don’t watch TV. They’re too busy reading books and doing macrame and yoga and running their own business selling homemade homeopathic herbal tea.

For me, the decision isn’t really being driven by some sense of cultural superiority, but simple economics.

For a long time now, I’ve been watching basically two things on TV: The Daily Show, and various forms of motor racing on Speed Channel. That’s really about it. It’s not that the other stuff on TV “isn’t good,” or even that I wouldn’t necessarily like it. It’s just that it has to compete with other forms of entertainment that I find more compelling: movies, downloaded foreign TV shows, video games, and books. Add to this the fact that the better segments of The Daily Show show up for download semi-regularly on BoingBoing, and the fact that the winter is a racing wasteland (except for the upcoming Paris-Dakar Rally), and the equation becomes fairly clear:

I’m paying $50 a month for the privilege of not actually watching any TV. That’s $600/year. If you asked me explicitly “How much is it worth to you to watch The Daily Show and all the F1 and MotoGP races?” my answer would be “significantly less than $600/year.” So this is a case where the economy of scale of TV delivery works in the exact opposite way that I want. Let’s say a satellite provider carries 150 channels. They want to deliver those 150 channels to me for $50/month. Really, I just want Speed Channel and Comedy central. I’m willing to pay, say, $10/month for just those 2 channels. Too bad. I’m out of luck, the satellite provider is out of luck, and instead I’ll be looking to download video of races a day later, online.

Maybe my $10/month simply can’t be captured — perhaps the cost of sales to someone like me is prohibitively high, and it’s not worth trying. It does seem like a strange failure, though. My impression is that as the internet accustoms us to content that is more and more specifically tailored to our desires, it is becoming a more common failure.

How much TV do you watch? How much are you paying? Is it worth the money to you?


4 Responses to “Signal To Noise”

  1. Shelby says:

    I’m just using what channels they don’t bother to turn off with cable internet. That’s the local nbc abc cbs upn pbs and wb, plus food network, nickelodeon, and turner classic movies. Of those we mainly watch Food Network and whichever channel happens to be showing Will and Grace, Law and Order, or CSI. (Or Ellen, because she’s funny)

  2. rmitz says:

    I watch a couple shows. West Wing, Enterprise (yeah, well). I would watch Poker shows if it were more convienient. I don’t actually pay anything, as even if I did, it would be really hard to get a schedule for any useful TiVO like service where I am. I don’t consider any satellite service to be worthwhile, as I came to the same conclusion as you did.

    What I want is legal bittorrent, but more convienient and automatic, with a fuller selection. I am willing to pay for the priviledge. I doubt I will ever get what I want in a useful format, though.

    Hell, if it’ll make it cheaper, leave the commercials in the downloads.

  3. Jon says:

    I found it very easy to give up TV after two years with a Tivo. Every time I watched a show or movie, I would make a point of adjusting its rating before deleting it. Eventually, the recommendations got so tuned that I didn’t bother with season passes, because the recommendations were picking everything up anyway. At this point, I realized that my primary interaction with the TV/Tivo was to: sit down; look at the list of shows the Tivo had saved for me; realize that I didn’t want to watch any of them; also realize that if this is the BEST that TV has to offer right now, there is NO point in surfing channels; turn it off and go do something else.

    I spent the last several months of this cycle fully cognizant (and bizarrely proud) that I was spending $60/month to have a machine tell me to not watch TV. When I moved, I didn’t bother resubscribing. Now if I could only find a machine to remind me that Alpha Centauri was not that much fun two years ago, so I shouldn’t blow an entire weekend on it this time either…

  4. moose says:

    The only time I ever watch tv is when I’m in a hotel or in the hospital. [In the hospital I watch the Cartoon Network 24x7, much to the amusement of the staff.]

    The tuner in my tv broke about 3? years ago now. I never had had cable, so I had NBC, PBS, and FOX if it wasn’t raining too hard. And the funky Christian station, which was occasionally good for fun. [The time I caught some guy trying to interview Mr. T, who wouldn't let the interviewer get a word in edgewise, still makes me giggle].

    So now my TV acts as a 27″ display medium for the dvd player. I could try to use the VCR as a tuner, but the only one set of input jacks on the tv work these days. I could get another tv…