Thursday, April 24, 2014
By ROD HARMON
It's been more than a week since the Portland-based ABC affiliate WMTW (Channel 8) went off the air due to a dispute between its parent company, Hearst Television, and Time Warner Cable. Meanwhile, subscribers to DIRECTV expecting to watch VH1, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and other channels are instead met with an "important message" from a company official talking about how hard they are working to bring those channels back. The same goes for DISH Network subscribers expecting to watch shows on AMC (including "Mad Men," which was nominated for several Emmys this morning), IFC and WE.
It's indicative of what's happening across the nation as more and more channels are going off the air.
At the heart of the issue, of course, is money. The content providers want more money from the cable and satellite companies, who in turn say they would have to pass the increased costs along to their customers. All parties are calling each other greedy.
They do agree that, with everything from the Internet to TV shows on DVD providing more viewing options, the number of cable and satellite customers is dropping. But none of them thus far have addressed a prime reason for the drop in viewership, and it really goes to the heart of the situation: The programming.
Most of it is crap.
My wife and I have talked about dropping our satellite TV service for months, and it's not because of blackouts or other viewing options. (Though cost is a factor.) It's because we pay for hundreds of channels and only watch a quarter of them at best.
I don't need two dozen home shopping channels. I don't need channels on Zumba, getting the perfect legs or the latest "miracle bra." I don't like watching people make money off others' misery by buying their storage lockers, ripping them off at pawn shops and buying their airport luggage. I don't watch sports except for the World Series and the Super Bowl, so I don't need 20 sports channels.
And I resent having one-third of my channel lineup occupied by pay-per-view movies and games -- especially when I can get the same movies and games cheaper at a Redbox or via a phone app.
Even the channels that we used to enjoy -- History, Discovery, A&E and the like -- have replaced their intelligent programming with dumbed-down reality shows. ("Swamp People" is an example of "history made every day?" C'mon.)
So while the cable companies, satellite services and content providers all moan and groan about how the other side isn't treating them fairly, I have a suggestion: Offer the type of quality programming we used to get with just 13 channels. You know, when a show had to be good to get on the air, and was quickly canceled when it wasn't.
Better yet, offer channels a la carte so we don't feel like we have to pay for the Brazilian Butt Channel just to watch the new episode of "Glee."
Maybe then you won't see your viewership erode, you won't have to fight over every last scrap of coin, and you won't have to post "important information" about channels that you've blacked out under the guise of "looking out" for your customers.
Just an idea.
MEA CULPA DEPT.: In last week's column, I mistakenly wrote that all of the free Friday Noon Concert Series shows were being held at Post Office Park in Portland this summer. All shows through July will be held at Post Office Park; the August shows will be at Congress Square.
Deputy Managing Editor Rod Harmon may be contacted at 791-6450 or at: