I don’t hate commercials. I know that makes me a freak and you probably don’t want to be my friend anymore, but I don’t hate commercials. As a matter of fact, I often kind of like them. I really think you should give them a chance. If you think about them, I’ll bet you’d like them, too. First, I should say that I’m thinking about television commercials, but really this can be applied to any advertising, print, radio, internet, etc. At their worst, they are a relatively painless way to lower the price of things I enjoy. At their best, they are as entertaining as the show I’m watching. I know, the second one is too obvious. If all commercials were entertaining, everyone would like commercials. So, I want to focus on the first one.
I was born in the 1970’s. Cable TV was a thing, but not ubiquitous. It was in the late seventies and early eighties that cable really exploded with CNN, ESPN, MTV and TBS. My family didn’t get cable. I was sort of jealous of my friends who had cable, but not really. And the reason I wasn’t really jealous is I never felt like I was missing anything. I’d watch when I had the opportunity, but more as a novelty than as something I wanted. All of the shows that I cared to watch were on broadcast TV. 24 hour news coverage has always been a bad idea. ESPN didn’t show any real sports. I enjoy lumber jack competitions, but not enough to pay for it. I wasn’t a fan of 80’s pop music, even in the 80’s, so MTV didn’t do much for me. I would’ve enjoyed being able to watch Braves games, but, again, not enough to pay for it.
By the time I got out of college, things had changed dramatically. In the nineties, cable showed real programming. The only way to watch baseball was with a cable package. ESPN started showing baseball, basketball, tennis, and eventually football. Cable only stations started developing their own content instead of just recycling old broadcast shows. It got to the point where I decided I wanted the cable only content badly enough to start paying for cable. I was never really happy with this. Frankly, NESN and the Red Sox are mostly responsible for all of my cable bills. The reason I’ve never been happy with this is that I feel like I’m being ripped off. If broadcast TV can have better shows with better production values and basically the entire cost is covered by commercials, then why am I paying a monthly fee and still sitting through just as many commercials? It just feels wrong. But, I love my baseball, so I keep doing it.
Things are changing again. Cable is losing its dominance, but not in the way I had hoped. There is all this talk about cable cutters, which sounds great, but it is really moving in the direction that cable started anyway. There are now a bunch of online TV services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon and they are all developing exclusive content. And, from what I understand, this content is really pretty good. So, if I want to watch it, I need to start subscribing. But by the time I’ve subscribed to all of them, it will cost me as much as cable. And they still don’t have live TV, so no sports. Then, there is Sling TV for live television and supposedly Apple and Google are developing similar products. These are supposed to be part of the cable cutting movement, but they require subscriptions to watch live TV, so how are they different than cable? What I’m getting at with all of this is there has been a constant march away from the old broadcast TV model that was funded by commercials, and every change has been bad for the consumer. It makes it harder to get the content you want and more expensive. And people act like each new development has been great, but why do they think it’s great to have the same product that’s less convenient and more expensive? It doesn’t make sense.
Now, I’m not saying things should never change. The internet is a great way to provide TV service. I remember rabbit ears and fuzzy reception (and no reception) and I don’t want to go back to that. What I want is for Yahoo’s model to be the one to catch on. I knew nothing about Yahoo Screen until they signed “Community” for its sixth season. I was a fan of “Community” on NBC (which is most likely why it always got bad ratings and NBC was constantly messing with their best show). If I didn’t pay attention to news about the show, I’m sure I never would have heard of Yahoo Screen. But, last week when “Community” aired, I downloaded the free app and watched the show. It was great. In exchange for sitting through a couple Honda commercials, I got to watch a TV show I enjoyed and didn’t have to pay or subscribe or anything. Anyone with an internet connection can do the same. This is how television should work.
So, to get back to my main point, I’m grateful for commercials. I hope they make a comeback. And I hope others will support them. We can start a movement of true cable cutting rather than cable switching. Then everyone will be happy.