Monday, December 12, 2011

Life Without TV Ads

It's been over six months since The Day I Killed the TV, and I thought I'd follow up. I'm still mostly living without live television. I do have an antenna on the new TV, but it works so poorly that I only get reception for two of the major networks, FOX and CBS, and not in very good quality. With awards season in full swing, I'm worried about how I'm going to be able to watch the Golden Globes, which are on NBC, and the Oscars, which are on ABC this year. On the other hand, this is literally all the live television that I'm interested in watching for the foreseeable future. I watch everything else online.

I didn't realize how much television I was watching until suddenly I wasn't. I've stopped watching morning shows, most late night shows, and the programs I was following just because they happened to fit a particular open time slot that was convenient for me. I've cut down TV viewing hours by at least 60%. I'm down to a handful of regular network shows - "The Daily Show," "Community," "House," "60 Minutes," "Person of Interest," "Grimm," "Castle," and "Nikita" - and everything else I'm seeing through subscription services, rented discs, or pay-per-episode options - "Louie," "Breaking Bad," "The Walking Dead," etc.

So I'm still watching a lot of television by my own admission. The biggest difference is, I'm only watching a fraction of the advertisements, and in some cases, no ads at all. It's the same with movies. I skip through the previews unless I'm in a theater, and have been watching fewer and fewer trailers. I use the internet with ad blocker programs, so most print media is also coming to me mostly ad free. Sure, I still get those sidebar ads and Google paid links, and the occasional click-through screen, but it's very limited in comparison to the inundation of ads I used to be regularly subjected to by magazines and newspapers.

I've noticed the most dramatic difference is with the television ads, though. It's been a very bizarre couple of weeks for me, with no commercials to remind me about Black Friday deals or the fact that I only have a few more shopping days until Christmas. It's only when someone turns on a radio that I get hit with bursts of holiday marketing chatter. Lately, when people talk about particular marketing campaigns or ads, more often than not I don't know what they're talking about. Does this disconnect me from the popular media experience somewhat? Sure, but after a couple of months without all that background noise, I wouldn't give it up for anything.

Advertisements are designed to be distractions, to steal away your attention from other things, even when you're no longer looking or listening to them directly. How many times have you had some tuneless fast food jingle stuck in your head? ("$5 - $5 - $5 foot looooooong") How many times have you unconsciously found yourself associating a company or brand with their zippy slogans? ("Taste the rainbow!" "Just do it!" Or else!) I still think of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" as the United Airlines song, which is just wrong on so many levels. So it's such a relief to be able to avoid the most obnoxious ads almost completely now.

And it's not just the usual corporate advertising for products and services either. I used to dread election season, with all those awful, misleading attack ads raising political tensions to a boiling point. Now I just read the summaries of the candidates' latest hijinks on news sites, and can look ahead to next November without fear. And I'm not sure why I ever thought that the nightly American newscasts were ever as informative as print, with all those commercials disrupting the flow of information every few minutes.

Now I can just hear the old media guard wringing their hands. But media business models are primarily advertisement based! How on earth can we sustain our television operations if you're not willing to watch ads anymore? Well, as I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, I'm willing to pay for the privilege of not watching ads. I pay for Netflix and Hulu and Amazon and iTunes. Yes, I know there are ads on Hulu, even on the paysite portion. And I hit mute, minimize the window, do something else while the ads are running, and just scroll back to the start if I come back in late. Streaming video's great like that.

So NBC, ABC, I'll gladly fork over a few bucks if you guys can work out a way to stream your kudocasts live online this year. Louis CK just put up a brand new hour-long special for $5. Your awards shows aren't nearly as entertaining, but considerably longer. So, I'd be willing to pay up to, oh, $10 apiece for them - with no commercials of course. Maybe add another buck or two for the Golden Globes as a premium, if you turn off tape delay for Ricky Gervais. What do you say?

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