My Television Reintroduction Experience
With the exception of a few months here and there, I’ve managed to live the majority of my adult life and nearly all of my childhood without a TV. It’s pretty easy, you just don’t buy one or bring it into your apartment or house. Recently I’ve started reintroducing myself to the TV medium of communication with the Elgato eyetv hybrid USB TV tuner. It was the most logical way to enjoy the Swiss State-forced television system, which everyone with the ability to receive a TV signal is obliged to pay for when living in der Schweiz.
Switzerland offers many freedoms in daily life, with the exception of the television system. I found out this year that even if you don’t have a television, or any way to connect the cable signal to your computer, that you have to sign up with BillAG if you have a high-speed internet connection because, well, the Swiss TV stations have some basic video capabilities on their websites, and somehow this means you can have the full experience from your computer, which is complete BS. Basically, you’re forced to pay for basic TV in Switzerland or face a 5000 CHF fine. So, when I was in the Letec computer store in Winterthur, I impulsively bought a USB TV device. Then I returned and bought a USB 2.0 card as my old PowerMac Quicksilver 2002 only came with USB 1.0 and that’s just too slow. Now, I can experience the full breadth of Swiss television mediocrity on my Macintosh via the Elgato USB TV tuner. Was it worth it, bringing TV back into my life?
Having an Elgato is the way to go in the modern world. You have all the capabilities of something like TiVo, without the hassle of hooking up another media device to your life. You can watch TV straight from the source or record shows and watch them later. The quality and differences between flat screen televisions and modern computer monitors are increasingly becoming irrelevant, so why not just combine the two? On the Mac it’s plug-and-play. All I had to do was plug it into my cable and into my computer, and then set up the channels, which is done automatically via a button push. Now my computer monitor is also a TV, complete with remote control.
TV for the People?
This TV reintegration into my life brought up a question in my heads. When you have public-forced television support, it should be TV for the people, fulfilling the goal of enriching our lives in ways that corporation-owned television just can’t or won’t do. NPR and PBS do this very well in the US. Five seconds after hooking up the Elegato I remembered why I didn’t have a TV in the first place. Television programming sucks. It blows in the US, and in Switzerland over half the programming is just voice-over translations of crappy American sitcoms. King of Queens in German, Dawson’s Creek in French, is this the best Swiss TV can do? The other half of programming consists of movies (rarely ones I want to see), news shows (I train my Zurich Swiss-German), random Italian games shows, and talk shows. At least in America there’s economic competition to encourage quality programming (which is a lie since only a few corporations own all the main stations in the US). The only redeeming aspect of Swiss TV are the occasional documentaries, which are actually very well done, and watching the Rega mountain rescue folks rescue mountaineers reminds me to be safe in the mountains.
The only reason for me to watch Swiss TV with the Elgato is that there’s no way I’ve found to switch the language from German to English. This is a common feature in Switzerland, many movies and shows are broadcast in their original language (English) and the regional tongue (German, French, Italian). You can switch between the two if desired. So the Elgato is pushing my advancement of German, which is a plus any day of the week. Thankfully I don’t get CNN, which has degraded to the bastard step-son of Fox News, neither are Fair or Balanced.
TV Rots the Brain?
It’s said that TV rots the brain. This is not exactly true, but if you’re watching an episode of “24” the likelihood that you’ll be doing anything else is pretty remote, this includes thinking or manual labor. The main problem with most TV shows is the writing style and plot lines of sitcoms, which has formed the basis for the writing of all TV programs. They’re written specifically to lead the action and drama up to the commercial break. The breaks happen at like 10 minute intervals, so you’re letting your emotions be molded into a 10 minute interval cycle. You start out normal, are told by the TV plotline that something has to go wrong and be dramatic and lead up to a commercial break without any resolution until the program resumes. You think this cycle stops when you turn off the TV? Not likely, and if you do it too much your emotions will be expecting a similar dramatic cycle throughout your normal day. If you get into a conversation with someone from Germany, they might tell you that what they know of America they get from MTV and shows like Date My Mom, Flavour of Love, and Next. MTV in Europe sets the tone of cultural exchange as it’s most vile.
My main problem with TV is that it’s an industry centered on mediocrity. Be just creative enough to seem remotely interesting, but not daring enough to scare off advertisers. That’s all a TV show is. Re-cycle boring plotlines from Leave it to Beaver, the lines delivered by some comedian who the audience has a remote identification with, and you have a show. I didn’t have a TV when I grew up, and I’m thankful every day. Up until I was in the 4th grade and we got a black and white TV in my house (after my grandfather died) I amused my childhood with vinyl records, books, playing outside, playing with old chemistry sets, and exploring my house. The upbringing largely devoid of TV set an excellent stage for my creative and analytical thinking patterns, which effortlessly jump between engineering and photography or drawing and quantum physics. I love the concept of communicating with sounds and moving pictures, but that’s why I love DVDs. You can watch them as you like, re-cut them in FinalCut Pro and leave them on a shelf when they bore you.
Guerilla Movie Marketing with Joox.net
I also like free movie sites like Joox.net, I occasionally check out movies on Joox.net because it allows me to watch movies and make an informed decision before spending $15 (middle price in Switzerland) to actually go to a movie or buy the DVD ($15-$40). The quality generally sucks, and I don’t watch movies to circumvent the profit margins of Hollywood. It seems like most of the movie links on Joox.net are actually guerilla postings by the Hollywood studios, letting the films run part-way and then dying. This is actually a pretty sweet marketing method, because I start watching a good movie like “Elizabeth the Golden Age” and then go buy the DVD to see the end of the movie. I would buy it anyways, but this tactic makes me do it faster.
I watch parts of movies on Joox.net to help me in my DVD purchasing decisions. For example, Strange Wilderness looks like a cool movie from the trailer, but when you actually watch part of it, you realize it sucks…really, really bad, and if I had paid to watch the entire movie, I would have been insanely disappointed. On the other hand, I can watch part of “Super Bad” and then go out and buy the DVD, because it’s generally a sweet American comedy, and I could buy the DVD with full confidence after watching the first 15 minutes off of the internet. With Joox.net I also remember movies I’ve forgotten about, like Inside Man and Conan the Barbarian. After re-watching part of The Dark Night, I’m fully confident that I’ll buy the DVD when it comes out in Switzerland. I will not be buying Lord of War, because after watching the first 20 minutes it’s clear that it’s not worth watching beyond the movie trailer, even for free on the internet. I don’t waste my time with bad visual content, even if it’s free (and nothing ever really is).
Free?is Bad for Business?
The movie industry tells you that free is bad for business, but that’s because they just don’t get it. Free and the Web 2.0 Wikinomics model can work, by connecting consumers with the stuff they want to pay for. Joox.net if totally for free, and it makes me buy more DVDs. This is not joke, I’ve been buying nearly one DVD every two weeks after watching movies on the internet. This is an increase of like 200% in my DVD buying habits, all due to the free distribution of movies on the net. Of course, there’s no direct financial connections between Joox.net and Hollywood (as far as I know), but there should be, because it makes financial sense for an entertainment industry that is still living in the dark ages from a movie distribution standpoint to partner with a website which is increasing my DVD buying habits.
So to sum it all up, Swiss TV sucks and you’re forced to pay for it. TV in general generally sucks and encourages us to live dramatically mediocre lives, and a Wikinomics business model involving free movies on the internet is viable for increasing DVD sales, just as it may prove viable for David Hobby and his Free Photography Business Model.