Desperately Seeking Entertainment

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Yves here. It’s intriguing how quickly habits have changed. Consumers were once content to supplement TV or cable TV offering with movie rentals, and some would buy DVDs. I have a not-too-shabby collection of mainly foreign and niche-y films, the sort I would not rely on Netflix to carry. But it seems entertainment on demand is seductive, even if more limited than one would expect.

By Satyajit Das, a former banker and author of numerous works on derivatives and several general titles: Traders, Guns & Money: Knowns and Unknowns in the Dazzling World of Derivatives  (2006 and 2010), Extreme Money: The Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk (2011), Fortune’s Fool: Australia’s Choices (2022)

Growing up in Calcutta in the 1960s, information and entertainment options were grim. There was All-India Radio with its rigid orthodoxy of official news and uplifting programs. There were local and a few foreign films that survived the censor’s cuts eliminating violence, revelations of the naked human form or the procreative act. The Soviet embassy (run by the KGB) provided occasional ‘correct’ entertainments matched by the US Information Service’s CIA supported wholesome counter offerings.

Emigrating to the West, I discovered a wider range of options. Initially, it was AM stations and black-and-white television with four, repeat four, channels. Progressively, it grew to many FM stations and colour television. In the 1990s, cable television with it tens and then hundreds of channels catering to every deviant interest appeared. Today, there is even greater choice – digital audio and video streaming supplemented by the cable television bundle of channels as well as lingering free-to-air broadcasters.

There is a shift in medium away from traditional platforms. According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, less than 40 percent of US households who have a television now subscribe to a cable or satellite service currently, down from more than 70 per cent in 2016. Traditional television now makes up less than half of US viewership.

The cornucopia has created new challenges. First, there is the cost. As providers struggle to make money, the era of cheap streaming is nearing its end. A basket of top US streaming services now costs around $87 per month, up from $73 last year. With Amazon forecast to lose $12 billion in streaming content this year, further rises would not surprise.

Traditional cable television services have raised prices. As they lose customers, they seek to generate additional revenue from the remaining customer base. The average cable television package costs $83 a month.

If your thing is specialised content, multiple subscriptions may be required. Football requires subscriptions to several platforms at a cost of around $150 per month just to watch favoured leagues and tournaments. One surveyfound that just to follow all the games in the English Premier League – a task that would take fifteen dedicated hours each week- requires access to Sky Sports, TNT Sports and Amazon’s Prime Video, at a cost of around $90 per month. Unsurprisingly, more than 40 percent of people who use illegal means to watch live sport cited the cost as their primary motivation.

One study found that the average American is willing to pay around $42 monthly for streaming services. In reality, the expenditure is greater. Australian households spend upwards of around $70 a month and rising. Once, utility costs such as internet access or mobile plans are included, the expenditure is greater. Prices in developing country whilst lower still make up a sizeable claim on middle class incomes.

Managing cost presents problems. With payments deducted monthly from your account or credit card, service providers exploit subscriber inertia.  Efforts to unsubscribe are Kafkaesque. There is no contact numbers, emails are not responded to, forms which do not exist must be completed, only original signed copies will do, you can only cancel on 29th February or the Chinese Year of the Dog which comes around one every dozen years.

Second, services are additive, that is, you must generally subscribe to a new platform as what you already have inevitably falls short of what you need. The smart television’s IQ proves inadequate. Your television set-top box cannot handle the service you want requiring entirely new hardware. Your residence soon resembles an electronic graveyard of different devices and is littered with devices, cables, wires, repeaters etc, which constitute a fire and health hazard. Various aerials and satellite dishes rust on the roof.

Third, you also don’t know when what is on. Once, you would receive a monthly magazine listing forthcoming programs. It required a full working day a month to meticulously scan the information to carefully identify items of interest. Capricious last minute program changes negated this careful planning. Today, you take pot luck, rely on what’s trending, the curator, or hope the search function finds what you seek.

Fourth, multiplicity has not improved entertainment or information. Where content is concerned, quantity not quality is the operative word. Never an early adopter of new technologies, my  first cable subscription elicited an astute insight from a neighbour: “Keep it for 6-12 months and you will have watched most of what interests you as there are a lot of repeats.” Other than new films and sporting events, his advice was prescient.

While delivery services expanded, content has lagged for various reasons. New quality content is expensive. Talent and ideas are scarce. The desire for guaranteed successful outcomes shows up in the franchise concept (a passable idea stretched ever thinner), remakes, dire soap operas and reality shows.

Your scribe confesses to a love of old arthouse films – the ‘everything was better once’ syndrome. While there is much that merits repeat watching, access is limited by IP issues. Rights can be held by different holders for different jurisdictions and may be time limited. Holders, increasingly keen to monetise their libraries through their own streaming services, are reluctant to license content to others. This leads to aforementioned proliferation of services, costs and the challenges of finding where to watch what you want to watch.

Fifth, the diversity of services and also programs, now increasingly homed in on ever narrower markets of interest to specific advertisers, also creates a lack of shared experiences. If we all watch something different, then the lack of common ground creates a lack of connection with those in our immediate circles. With nothing to share, it is little surprise that when with peers the favoured option is to stare at your smart phone.

In his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, educator Neil Postman identified that contemporary society, in the affluent advanced nations he was addressing, resembled the world of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, where citizens were oppressed by their addiction to entertainment not by state violence as George Orwell had predicted. Postman saw media such as television and by implication cable and streaming services as a form of self-administered medication – a present-day ‘soma’, Huxley’s fictitious pleasure drug by means of which the citizens exchanged rights for entertainment.

Expanding on the work of media theorists such as Marshall McLuhan, Postman argued that specific media is only compatible with a particular level of ideas. The medium altered both information and entertainment irrevocably. Packaged visual media formats, in particular, devalued detailed, rational argument and deeper, thought provoking content. Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters would revisit the same ideas in his 1992 album Amused to Death.

A typical evening today consists of identifying what to watch and a search for where it might be on and if it is a service that you have access to. By the time those issues are resolved, tiredness and boredom have set in. You shuffle off to bed without watching anything.

Despite the promise of ‘everything everywhere anytime’, entertainment let alone information is now a struggle. A coda to Postman’s book might be entitled Desperately Trying To Amuse Myself To Death. Havelock Ellis was right: “What we call ‘Progress’ is the exchange of one nuisance for another.”

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  1. tonkabean

    Interesting piece of writing. Skipped TV 13 years ago, while my wife still relies on streaming I usually check in for ebooks, audio books and older films. Use and an international reader card for a US library. When we use streaming we do this on laptops or tablets, I thinks its much better for our son.

  2. Hepativore

    Another thing that is worrisome is the fact that many streaming platforms are now permanently delisting a lot of content, making many shows “lost media” like what Zazlav did with many animated shows in the aftermath of the Time Warner/Discovery merger.

    Fortunately, if one is resourceful enough there are many places you can go to stream almost any movie or show you can think of without paying a dime, and for lost media, this is often your only option.

    There are two I go to which shall remain nameless for copyright reasons, but one is a massive streaming repository of animated movies, shows, and cartoons both new and old, while the other is more oriented towards live action movies and shows.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      I am also a fan of borrowing from the internet library. In my case, I have a friend who does have a service I’m unwilling to pay for – looking at you Emerald City Cue Ball – who records the rare programming I do want to see from that service and forwards it to me on a floppy which I then save to an external hard drive to watch. No worries about favorite shows being delisted that way.

    2. hunkerdown

      More importantly, you can download the bootlegs and watch them repeatedly as often as you like, even after Netflix consigns them to oblivion like so many Atari cartridges.

      1. Hepativore

        I swear, it seems that 75% of the stuff I watch now are cartoons, even in my 39 years of age. I can remember the last three years of the 1980’s and the decade in restrospect had some of the most interesting and unusual animated shows ever made and I am not saying this out of mere nostalgia.

        Nobody is ever too old for cartoons and do not let people tell you otherwise.

        1. juno mas

          …maybe a better term is animations. Old time cartoons (Disney) were drawn by hand. today’s animations are made digitally.

  3. Petter

    For the reasons mentioned in the post (it applies to Norway too) we checked out of the game, a TV but no TV provider. We (my wife and I) tried to add up what it would cost to have providers that had maybe one show we thought might be of interest and decided – not worth it.
    No escaping the national broadcaster fee though – you have to pay it even if you’re deaf, blind and dumb.

    Not to go into details but I do have a VPN and have gotten really skilled at searching out things worth watching, or I thought worth watching.
    As for music streaming, yes, I pay for that. More than enough music to keep me engaged, as in listening closely, as in getting Lost in Music (title of a Fall tune.)

    Entertainment- killing time til time kills us.

    1. digi_owl

      > No escaping the national broadcaster fee though – you have to pay it even if you’re deaf, blind and dumb.

      I’m of two minds about that, given that the rest of the “broadcasters” in Norway are filled to the brim with imports from USA (to the point that some think Norway is another US state).

      1. Petter

        Yeah, you have a point there. But it used to be you could opt out of paying by filling out some forms and certification by some TV destroyer or whoever. A bureaucratic hassle.

  4. Carolinian

    There’s always books? I cut the cord long ago but watching cable at my brother’s house it still seems to be pitched to the “lowest common denominator” like in the sixties–at least for the most part. Even in the early TV days there were highbrow dramas and documentaries to pull up the tone. And cable can do this too with sophisticated shows like Better Call Saul and perhaps overly pretentious shows on HBO wearing their sophistication on their sleeve.

    But since I’ve lately kept up with the movie world via the library I know remarkably little about streaming since these shows are less likely to go to disc. One does suspect that Hollywood would like to do away with discs altogether since they are easily copied and therefore “leaky” IP.

    Despite all that we are in many ways living in the golden age of cinema appreciation. Time was you needed to move to a place like NYC just to gain access to all those foreign and classic American titles that had no place to be shown out in the boonies. Now, by one means or another, you can see almost everything and I have. It’s not all gloom and doom.

    1. ambrit

      Disney in Australia has announced that they will do away with physical media and go to an all streaming format in that country. (Of course, that depends on whether or not Disney survives it’s present spate of bad business decisions and miserable new content.)
      The writing is “on the screen.’ If you see something you like, copy it now.
      Culture is becoming ephemera.

      1. The Rev Kev

        They are doing the same for New Zealand as well and a video I saw on this a week or two ago mentioned other countries that this has happened to as well. I saw that ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ will be the last DVD and Blu-ray release here. And this development tells me that for the US it will only be a matter of time until they try to do the same there. On the bright side, Disney is doing its best to auger into the ground at the moment so perhaps that will happen first. Everything that they touch turns to crap and the ‘Snow White’ remake fiasco is the poster child for modern Disney.

      2. Carolinian

        Not that I would go there of course but streaming is no impediment to the Darknet where almost anything reasonably popular is available. One might ask whether future product from Disney or anyone else will be worth the effort.

        Of course there’s already a tremendous library of great movies from the past and on that many of us are covered. My library also owns thousands of movies and unlikely they will dump the video department although they did dump sound recordings.

        And is streaming really the way forward anyway? Discs may be leaky but they give the public a sense of ownership and participation and loyalty to the medium. The bean counters who run H’wood now may not understand their own fans.

        1. lyman alpha blob

          Streaming does open up new opportunities. As I noted above, streamed programs can be recorded, copied and saved. And if the studios won’t provide hard copies for people to buy and own, well then someone else will.

        2. digi_owl

          Sadly much is still locked behind life+x copyright durations, because i someones wonder how much we would need new stuff if say that of the 70s or older was now public domain or some such.

  5. spork

    Happy to see a reference to Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death….. a prescient book that continues to come to mind even after 20 years since picking it up. Among other things, he made two books I was forced to joylessly read in high school (1984 and Brave New World) seem relevant and meaningful. My teachers did were not as skillful as Postman in making the books relatable, but I am still grateful to them.

    I wonder if 1984 and BNW are still on the reading list for high school English? (or Postman for that matter?) It seems that a skilled teacher could make excellent use of that type of material in today’s world…

    1. Rolf

      Happy to see a reference to Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death….. a prescient book that continues to come to mind even after 20 years since picking it up.

      I’m also happy to see this important book mentioned, which I read shortly after its publication in the late 80’s. I’ve begun to lament how we seem to lose many of our leading intellectuals and critics of modern liberalism relatively early: Postman (age 72), Lasch (61), and now Graeber (59). In addition to his lessons in Amusing (education is not entertainment), Postman wrote of the importance of teaching students the history of ideas, “how we came to know what we (think we) know”. This is key in science education, where it’s critical that concepts be presented as works-in-progress, versus simply an indigestible pile of facts. A deficit of this sort of historical treatment also seems particularly acute in modern economics schooling, a point made often by Professor Michael Hudson.

  6. HH

    OTOH, in the world of books digital technology has delivered a reader’s paradise. Cheap reader devices and smart phones can hold hundreds of volumes that are downloaded instantly. Dictionary lookups and translations are easily done. Libraries provide digital copies. Used books are available online for a pittance. This is undeniable progress.

    1. ambrit

      The major problem with digital anything is the fact that such can be edited or eliminated remotely. Hard copies are preferred, and electronica can be erased easily, even from a distance.
      Printed books are a ‘backup plan’ for electronic disasters.

      1. bassmule

        Yes! A paper book cannot be deleted, cannot be edited, does not require constant software upgrades, and requires nothing for daytime reading, and only a 40 watt bulb in darkness. From my favorite Nashville bard: “40 watts is like a dying breed/It lets you sleep while you’re trying to read.”

        Now Look At You

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Readers retain more when they read a paper rather than a digital book.

      And I found with digital non-fiction books I could never remember where I had read something I really need the differences in layout and typeface to connect that sort of information with a source.

      1. Smelly Unemployed Person

        This is what I love about Naked Capitalism. Useful random peices of knowledge. I am a trained graphic designer (though not commercially practising) and what you said about the “differences in layout and typeface to connect that sort of information with a source” is absolute solid gold. That is something I will consider in my craft from now on.
        Sorry I do not have the money at the moment to contribute to the fund raising but will forward a few dollars when I have them spare. It is money I will consider well spent.

  7. JCC

    As a purely biographical and anecdotal comment, I grew up Buffalo, NY with grandparents in Elmira, NY, the home of the first cable network in the US (late 50’s). We did not have a TV in Buffalo so when visiting grandparents as a kid, I often found myself glued to the TV first thing every morning, watching the 6 or 7 available channels from the NY City area wake up with the Star Spangled Banner.

    Then it was off to watch the “Golden Hind sail off into the sunset” (Firesign Theater reference). a PR film on American Industry factory production lines, and then cowboy movies and a Popeye cartoon or two. Then no TV until the early evening, usually shows like The Untouchables or Highway Patrol. Usually by 11:00 PM or so the stations shut down for the evening, again with the Star Spangled Banner accompanied by military jets flying over America. Overall, looking back, pretty slim pickings… other than the cowboy movies for a 6 year old kid :-)

    We got our first TV around 1965 after my parents moved back to Elmira, with cable, of course (around $12.00 per month for years). But, wisely, looking back on it, I was pretty sick of it all, and being an avid reader and music listener, when I moved out of the homestead, no cable for me. I do own a TV for use with on-air television. I watch it less than once a month, and other than an occasional PBS show (usually mystery programs, NOVA or Nature) all I really do is end up doing is catching up on all the latest prescription drug offerings through the constant Big Pharma and Health Insurance company – Medicare Disadvantage – commercial breaks.

    I got lucky, in a way. Working for the DoD for the last 20+ years I have access to a huge on-line library, along with two local library system offerings. So books-on-tape, non-taped books, magazines, and The Teaching Company lectures are abundant and keep me well occupied, as well as some interesting podcasts (thanks to a suggestion from Lambert years ago when I publicly complained about the cost of Sirius subscriptions). And living close to LA for the last 13 years or so has given me the access to multiple used record/CD stores, so I now have enough music to last for months of non-stop listening at the cost of about 6 months of subscription TV.

    As mentioned above, VPNs come in very handy for streaming F1 races without an expensive subscription, and MLB games are available here and there. If I really want a brief binge on TV programs, PLEX, PLUTO, and one or two others are available for free and have multiple offerings, including opportunities to keep Spanish language skills somewhat up-to-date, and some offerings are even interesting!!

    Overall I have to believe I’ve “saved” over $40,000.00+ in cable TV/Satellite fees for the last 40 years or so. Reading Postman’s book many years ago helped enforce my attitude about TV. It’s unfortunate for me that some of those “saved” dollars have been poured into Internet connectivity, but the advantage of the above uses I mentioned have been worth it, and less expensive than the local Cable/Satellite offerings.

    Not to mention great sites like this that have given me my morning news fix for the last 17 years (wow, time flies!)

  8. FreeMarketApologist

    I will provide one bit of anecdata to counter his point about unsubscribing: I picked up HBO Max for a month just so I could watch the documentary about Taylor Mac’s 24 hour performance, “24-Decade History Of Popular Music”. Watched it twice (highly recommended, wish I’d seen the live performance), and was able to unsubscribe after my month with no fuss — easy to find out how to unsub, and have not received endless emails begging me to return.

    That said, I’m on board with the rest of the essay. It is possible to check out of online entertainment. I read, attend live performance, get out and about, and socialize with real people. Haven’t owned a TV in nearly 30 years.

    1. ChrisPacific

      It depends on the platform. We had Disney Plus for a while and unsubscribing from that was simple and hassle free.

      Amazon Prime, on the other hand… I was signed up in order to access a related service and didn’t realize what the monthly credit card charge was for – the reference was extremely vague. I called up an Amazon rep who must have realized what it was for (it’s probably the most common recurring service charge for Amazon customers) yet professed not to know. She said she’d have a ‘specialist’ team call me back and help me with it. I asked what I should do if they never called and she said I didn’t need to worry because they definitely would. Guess whether they called. In the meantime, further digging reminded me of what I’d signed up for and I was able to follow links from my email to reach an unsubscribe option, but if I hadn’t done that I think I would have been reduced to challenging it with the credit card company.

      To me this goes beyond what can be explained by incompetence – it must be a deliberate policy to make it as hard as possible to unsubscribe. In today’s world it’s not always possible to avoid Amazon for everything, but when I do need to use it now I take precautions as though I was handling radioactive waste.

      Overall, with a dishonorable exception or two (Amazon) I find it pretty simple to manage subscriptions. If I haven’t used one for a month or so I cancel it. I don’t watch a lot of TV so typically I am only using one of them at a time. I’m also leaning more on the free to air streaming service for our national broadcaster, so there may come a time when I don’t need any of them.

  9. Aurelien

    When I was a child, we had two (later three) TV Channels, all free. Every sporting occasion, every entertainment show, every documentary every classic serial, every classic film was free. Even the TV-based Open University was free. I got a good part of my education, from David Attenborough to Kenneth Clarke to the dramatisation of Sartre’s Roads to Freedom, that way. And I’m not joking when I say that there was more actual choice then than there is now, if you define choice as “things worth watching.” Even the advent of Channel 4 in the 1980s probably increased the amount of effective choice. After that, it was downhill very quickly, because, as the article suggests, there’s only so much good material and only so many good producers of it. More sources of output mean that it is spread more thinly and the quality goes down. I’m surprised that self-proclaimed enthusiasts for the market never realised that.

    1. Bazarov

      The stagey, low budget British TV productions from the 1970s and 1980s (though by the 1980s the budgets started to balloon) are incredibly good. I especially appreciate the restrained use of music, which since Spielberg directors use for constant melodramatic manipulation. Some of my favorites include I Claudius, the Alec Guinness le Carre adaptations, The Jewel in the Crown, the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes adaptations, and the 1970s adaptations of Persuasion and Emma.

      The Soviet Union also produced some real bangers over the same period, with quality meeting and exceeding the British output. I recommend 17 Moments of Spring, the best spy series ever produced. It puts le Carre to shame.

      It’s a rare thing to find “recent” productions that rise to such heights. The 1990s US adaptation of Lonesome Dove was rather excellent. Probably the best thing from the 2000s so far is the Mark Rylance adaptation of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Made in the spirit of the old BBC productions, it’s restrained in melodrama and spectacle.

      1. Carolinian

        Yay I,Claudius. I liked Wolf Hall as well.

        We yanks get to see a lot of BBC without the–what is it called?–license fee. The long ago Novas on PBS were straight from the Beeb and were good.

        Lately not so much BBC though.

      2. Lexx

        I was thinking about medieval plagues, herbal medicine, and Derek Jacobi in ‘Cadfael’ earlier this week. Could he have existed? I was considering the church’s tolerance then for someone like him, how carefully he would have had to tread, how persuasive in his use of logic and need for evidence. One of them but different, working for the respect of his brothers and superiors… much like many gay men through the ages, walking a fine and often dangerous line successfully.

        My introduction to Rylance was ‘Wolf Hall’ and I was so impressed I couldn’t wait to see what he did next. It was the perfect role for taking an audience into his confidence; I didn’t want to leave. I could almost selfishly wish immortality on him… but that would be small and cruel. Occasionally I’ll find I’m repeating one of his lines from ‘Bridge of Spies’ (‘I could…would it help?!) in response to some suggestion for a futile action. Confidence, persuasion… he’s a consummate storyteller, so of course I loved him in ‘The Outfit’.

      3. CenterOfGravity

        Plug for the 1985 UK mini series Edge Of Darkness. It ranks as a fantastic epilogue to the 70s intrigue/paranoia culture which briefly aimed the lens on the underlying structures of Western modernity (Network, The Conversation, Chinatown, All The President’s Men, Parallax View, etc). EoD ’85 delivers top tier investigative drama with the great dudes-rock duo of Bob Peck and Joe Don Baker. Haven’t encountered any other TV evoking this level of dread about where humanity is headed until True Detective first season came along much later. And the mid-80s blues riffs of Michael Kamen with Eric Clapton provide a pitch perfect mood. It manages to fuse the buddy cop/spy thriller genres with lots of blunt political critique. Joe Don probably captures the best onscreen rendition of deranged apocalyptic patriotism that defines actual US paramilitary operatives. Considering where the media industry is now, it’s amazing such works could ever have beer produced with institutional backing.

    2. skk

      I cut the cord 12 years ago and VPN into the UK, so watch BbC Iplayer and ITVX. It works just fine for us. If they let us, I’d even pay the BBC license fee, but, on the principle of “no good deed goes unpunished “, I worry that revealing my name would lead to them blacklisting us.

    3. Whiteylockmandoubled

      Yeah, but “every sporting event” wasn’t free – often a lot of sporting events just weren’t available.

      I root for a west coast baseball team from the east coast. As a child, my connection was through the newspaper, and half the time there wasn’t even a score in the morning paper, let alone a story or box score, just “late game.” I had to call a recorded information line just to get the basic score. Maybe once or twice a year out of 162 games, they’d be on a national weekly broadcast.

      As I got older, when they’d visit Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, If the weather was right, I could sit in the car, fiddle with the dial and catch scratchy local AM radio broadcasts from hundreds of miles away.

      Now I stream almost any game I want except the few that are on Apple TV. Totally agree with the premise of the article and the layered platform scams that the services run, but we shouldn’t pretend that there isn’t a lot more actual content available, especially sports, than in the old three channel days.

  10. Lexx

    ‘Managing cost presents problems. With payments deducted monthly from your account or credit card, service providers exploit subscriber inertia. Efforts to unsubscribe are Kafkaesque. There is no contact numbers, emails are not responded to, forms which do not exist must be completed, only original signed copies will do, you can only cancel on 29th February or the Chinese Year of the Dog which comes around one every dozen years.’

    The channels we’ve kicked to the curb so far are HBO Max, Apple+, Disney, Acorn, BritBox, and Paramount. Subscribe, munch through everything we thought was worth watching (maybe 30% or less of the content), unsubscribe… next! Last night it was Hulu. It took two days of Husband’s persistence to get Hulu’s parent company (?) to recognize our email address and password. If you unsubscribe from one channel to pick up another from the same parent company later, there may be problems. They don’t just make unsubscribing difficult, they also make it difficult to get back in the door. I think they’re on to us and they don’t like it.

  11. Socal Rhino

    No one watches television, reads airport novels or romances, or consumes pornography. When I was a kid I read classics in greek or latin while walking five miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways. You lived in a cardboard box in the street – luxury!

  12. The Rev Kev

    When I was a teenager in the 70s, I imagined in the future that you would be able to sit down in front of a screen and through a remote, choose from every film or TV series ever recorded. And from every country as well. Why yes, I did watch a lot of TV as a kid. Mind you, this this about 20 years before the internet became a thing. Thought about getting cable but then I realized that I would be watching TV the same amount of hours but with different programs so gave it a miss. What I did not see was a situation where massive chunks of all those films and TV shows would remain beyond reach because of some corporate decision. Years ago I had to go hunting for ones that I wanted to get them on DVD while it was still possible. These days? I usually only watch the news at night and maybe a doco if it looks good. Most stuff on the TV is just cheap fill these days anyway. Plenty of stuff to catch up on on YouTube even without an account. Between that and a pile of unread books, plenty to read and see.

  13. Marty F

    Just unsubscibed from Netflix streaming. This after they announced they are discontinuing mailing DVDs–which is where almost everything I wanted to watch was provided. Their streaming content is largely crap.
    Luckily, our community library has access to a truly huge collection of DVDs that I want (foreign & independent films).
    So, for now, I have entertainment.
    Next decision for me: do I want to cut my very expensive cable bill?

    1. polar donkey

      If I didn’t have a wife and 2 younger kids, I wouldn’t have any streaming service. Disney has some animal shows and Bluey my younger son likes. Bluey is the greatest contribution to western civilization by Australia. Far surpassing Crocodile Dundee. ;) My older son gets motivated to see Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies after reading the books. The most frustrated thing to my wife is when she asks what I want to watch and my response is almost always “I don’t care.” At this point I’m 49 years old. I watched so many old and newer movies when I was kid and along with sports, everything is stale and over produced. I feel a little better knowing all these streaming companies are losing a fortune. Additionally, Youtube is endless. Almost any topic can bring up a video that would hold my interest as much as anything on Netflix or Disney.

  14. Wukchumni

    The only must watch TV for yours truly came during high school from 1977 to 1980 when Saturday Night Live reigned Supreme, and there being no way to record it, you had to stay up until 11:30pm and I’m a go to bed at 8:30 pm sort of guy which made it difficult, and many times I’d fall asleep 13 minutes into the show, which meant I had to bullshit my way through the skits everybody was talking about in school on Monday.

  15. elissa3

    Our city is blessed with the oldest video rental store in the USA. DVDs and Blu-rays by the thousands. Virtually every domestic movie worth watching with a very deep foreign library. Yes, I know I’m boasting, but such a luxury! (Of course, one has to have the hardware to play these; some friends tell me they no longer have such. . . ).

    1. lyman alpha blob

      I don’t know what you call the particular device anymore, but a few years ago I bought a ‘disc player’ for a couple hundred bucks brand new. It was a Sony I think. Plays CDs, DVDs, Bluerays – pretty much anything round and not made of vinyl. Hardware isn’t hard to find if you want it.

      1. Carolinian

        VHS? Ironically the long lived VHS era meant that there are movies that made it to VHS that were never turned into DVDs because the DVD mastering process was rather expensive. Of course by modern standards VHS is pretty bad but no worse than the over the air TV that Americans enjoyed for decades.

        However good luck finding a VHS player these days.

        1. lyman alpha blob

          I have an old but working VHS player in the attic, for sale at a low, low, price just as soon as I get a DVD copy of all my VHS tapes ;)

  16. elissa3

    Our city is blessed with the oldest video rental store in the USA. DVDs and Blu-rays by the thousands. Virtually every domestic movie worth watching with a very deep foreign library. Yes, I know I’m boasting, but such a luxury! (Of course, one has to have the hardware to play these; some friends have told us that they do not have such. . . ).

  17. Joe Well

    Re: streaming classic films

    Some utterly despicable individuals have committed wanton violation of corporate intellectual property rights by uploading an unbelievable wealth of classic films to Youtube (a lot of them are copyright-expired anyway). Most of the great black and white films are there, as well as a lot of obscure ones. Not the same as paid streaming because there are no subtitles and most of them are not available in the highest definition, but they usually aren’t available in high definition on paid streaming anyway, so….

    Some highlights:

    Scarlett Street, Fritz Lang’s most well respected noir, in full HD

    Orson Welles’ The Stranger

    Hitchcock’s Rebecca in full HD

    1. Carolinian

      Internet Archive has some obscure movies….the quality often not great. Doubtless some of these also make it to Youtube since they are probably public domain.

  18. scott s.

    Also an old guy here from the days of 4 TV broadcast channels. Have never paid for any TV/radio service. Did have Amazon Prime for a while, but that was for shipping costs to Hawaii, never used the video service. Now that most US sports is subscription-based, I find I don’t really need to spend time on it. I guess US NFL is the only holdout (for the most part). Now with digital broadcast in Honolulu I get more than enough OTA content. Otherwise I have freeware/open-source Kodi software. Kodi itself provides no content and does not support infringing uses, but as an open platform third parties can adapt Kodi as they wish, only subject to the GPLv2 or later license.

  19. JEHR

    CBC TV has free programming and I especially appreciate “The Nature of Things” with David Suzuki; Marketplace; and the Documentary Channel. I enjoy watching Canadian movies some of which were never shown in movie houses but are now available elsewhere. I very much like watching movies made in Russia, in Australia, in Germany, in Denmark, and anywhere else in the world.

  20. autisticsumofan

    Would any others be curious to see a list of Yves’ not-too-shabby collection of mainly foreign and niche-y films? I’m running low on films to watch and pretty good at hunting down rarities.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      My DVDs are still on a ship and there are some I bought for future viewing so this list is incomplete. Most are warhorses

      A lot of Kurasawa: Yojimbo. Throne of Blood, Rashomon. Seven Samuri. Ikiru (really fine). Ran. Sanjuru. Red Beard

      Miyazaki: Spirited Away. Howls Moving Castle. Princess Mononoke

      Ozu Tokyo Story.. Early Spring. Flaating Weeds

      Fritz Lang M. The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse

      Vittorio De Sica.The Bicycle Thief

      Taking too much time to add directors, so:

      Lawrence of Arabia, Night on the City. Bridge on the River Kwai. Jules and Jim. Romper Stomper. The Long Good Friday. Mona Lisa. The Lives of Others. Alexander Nevsky. Battleship Potemkin. The Lady Vanishes. The Third Man. Kind Hearts and Coronets.

  21. cousinAdam

    ‘Nuff respect for the Roger Waters reference – he has never shied away from speaking truth to power – lyrics like “52(?) channels of s**t on the TV to choose from” (the Wall), the entire concept of the Animals LP – humankind being described as Pigs, Dogs (possibly my favorite Floyd track) and Sheep. He currently and actively calls out Israeli apartheid practices (“mowing the lawn” in Gaza, building “settlements” on Palestinian homelands) and recently addressed the UN General Assembly. I had the good fortune to play with a fairly successful Pink Floyd tribute band for most of the ‘90’s (even did a 10 show tour in Israel – go figure ) but still very much need to get caught up on his solo efforts.

  22. Smelly Unemployed Person

    YouTube is my favourite, I pay the $AUS12 a month for no ads. I love the people who post travelouges of their contries. These are ordinary type people showing you their country. It gives me a differnet perspective on many coutries that you do not get in the everyday media.

  23. Susan the other

    I think language itself is pretty conservative. It modifies and expands old words to include evolving definitions.And words get spliced and diced like dna. All our media over-feed us. We are fat on images and interpretations and some misunderstanding, but what things mean are always derived from context, not the decoration. The more we are able to concentrate on meaning, the more expansive or restricted the meaning is. And language has the gift of expressing new idioms as necessary. “Jump the shark?” That was a good one. It didn’t take long for that one to catch on. But I do think that on the whole language itself is a very conservative and innate “medium.” Unlike Marshall McLuhan, I think language and idiom are the master template to which TV, movies, etc conform. But there is only so much which is interesting and/or new so the air time gets padded with lots of music and ever-better images. Along with a lot of BS. It’s highly possible that the (electronic) medium is less the message than the boredom. Otherwise we would not gravitate to meaning over nonsense. My 2 cents.

  24. juno mas

    Well, this is where the Arts come into play. Have never owned a TV. But have always had access to a college library, and musical instruments, and painters and sculptors to explore the Arts. Reading good books is an art(istic endeavor). So I entertain myself with musical explorations and the artistic expressions of others, first-hand. Including, of course, the discourse at NC.

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