What I’m Watching this Month and How We Got Here

Do You Remember When?

I’m sure most of us remember when watching television was, well, boring. Before cable, whatever was broadcast over the airwaves, is what you got. If you lived too far from the broadcast source or had a crappy antenna, you were often limited to one or two television channels and on some days, the reception was crap. I remember as a kid living in Thompson, Manitoba where we were limited to just one television channel, the CBC. It was also in Thompson where I later subscribed to my first cable television experience which included what was described as a new version of television, full-length movies over what is now known as HBO. But, let’s get back to the CBC for now where I can describe what it was like watching television back in the 1970s. I can’t describe what it was like because I was too busy with outdoor activities as television really sucked and there was little programming for kids other than what was on Saturday mornings. Saturday mornings we had the usual cartoons, Huckleberry Hound and Bullwinkle, etc. We also had the Bugs Bunny Show which as I recall was broadcast in the late afternoon on the weekends and was a show my father also liked to watch. But other than that, the CBC was boring for kids and I imagine it was also boring for adults as the television was often off in our household.

Television Roof Antenna
Old Television Antenna mounted on a roof for better reception

And Along Came Cable

I know for myself, it was sometime in the 1980s when I first encountered cable television. I was living in Thompson, Manitoba as I had my first real, well-paying job working for the mining company INCO, which was subsequently bought by another company and renamed many years later. I’m not sure of the exact year, but I remember if you wanted to buy cable, you had to make the arrangements through a record store in one of the two small malls that were in town. I know cable existed in other locations, such as Winnipeg, but I don’t recall the channel listings being like we had in Thompson. I don’t think there were any cable stations we didn’t have, including all the so-called Super-stations that were broadcast from locations such as Atlanta and Chicago. We had all the HBO stations, Showtime, Cinemax, and so many more channels, and for prices that were unheard of in other cities. It turned out after several years that the service provided wasn’t exactly legitimate and the station owners had no idea for several years that remote communities were picking up their satellite feeds and redistributing them. But as a consumer, we had the ultimate television package that these days would cost several hundred dollars a month. I also bought my first VCR so I could record some of those shows and movies I would miss while at work. There were some who would record movies off the adult channels and then sell them through the mail using plain brown paper packaging that became synonymous with such media back then. Speaking of brown paper delivery packages, how many remember the original concept of Netflix?

And Along Came Netflix

For those that are old enough to remember, Netflix did not get its beginnings as a streaming service and was originally built upon the concept of movie rentals without the added expenses of the brick and mortar stores that were the bane of existence for companies such as Blockbuster and the smaller mom and pop movie rental stores. Instead of stores, that many other businesses were using for movie rentals, Netflix took movie rentals to the next concept and started a mail-order business where one could rent a movie and have it sent to them through the mail. When you were done with your movies, you could drop them in the nearest mailbox and they were sent back to Netflix. This worked very much like the mail services that allowed you to buy your movies or music and have them delivered to your mailbox but saved you the expense of having to actually purchase them. This very much put a hit on companies such as Columbia House which required you to make a purchase; often with an agreement whereby you had to make a number of purchases over a set period of time. I actually purchased many audio records along with VHS tapes back when those were the mediums of choice, before CD’s and DVD’s became the preferred mediums. I’m sure like myself, many have drawers full of both music and videos, but not the hardware to play them anymore. We still have a Blu-Ray player for those old CDs and DVDs, but nothing for the old VHS tapes. With computers and compression technologies, came new ways for people to view and listen to their favorite movies and audio, as well as new methods for distribution and more concerning to the industries, a way for people to easily compress and share over the Internet. Computer applications such as Napster, had the music and video publishing companies scrambling to find ways to stop their property from being distributed illegally and the economic losses they were incurring at a rapid rate. Even artists were jumping in and trying to stop the illegal sharing, much to the dismay of their fans who believed that sharing was fine and not hurting the distributors they believed were sitting upon loads of cash.

And Then There Was Streaming

While many distributors were looking at ways to stop public sharing utilizing various applications and sharing technologies, others were facing the reality that times were changing and the Internet was going to become the way of future content distribution. Companies would need to find ways to utilize new technologies for content distribution while minimizing and stopping as much as possible the illegal content that was being shared and cutting into income streams. Companies starting hammering those who were illegally sharing content which was not only movies and music, but also digital software. There were many who thought if it could be downloaded for free, no one was being hurt, not giving a second thought that behind each of those titles, whether it be software or their favorite artist and the latest album they had produced, there were many people who had put in the time, effort and money to create that piece of work. Prior to the Internet, many artists made a portion of their incomes through sales of their work, be it an album, CD, or movies. Now with streaming and the sharing of content that is still happening online, those incomes have very much been eroded. Most music artists now rely on live performances for the major share of their incomes. Technology has also in many ways helped lower the costs significantly of producing their works. These days anyone can produce their own content for a minimal cash outlay. Quality recordings can be made by musicians at home with a computer, where 30 years ago one needed a studio with multi-track equipment to create even a demo at a cost that could amount to hundreds or thousands of dollars a day. Even high-quality video productions can be made digitally these days with equipment easily found and purchased. Netflix is now a major streaming company with the content being distributed online; with many other companies following their lead and creating other streaming services. Video stores have all but disappeared with the odd one here and there that provides movie rentals along with sales of other items found mostly in convenience stores.

What I’m Watching This Month

Almost Everything Can Be Streamed Today

Like many others, we have subscriptions to more than one streaming service. Of course, we have Netflix, but also Amazon Prime and Crave. One movie we enjoyed recently was The Invisible Man, and of course, we have also watched the series Shameless, which had a new episode dropping every Sunday night, before shutting down production after 11 seasons. We have also started watching the limited series Godless, which so far has kept our interest. Then, of course, there is the old series we were not able to watch in entirety when they were originally broadcast back in the ’80s or ’90s, such as Friends, Married With Children, and Two and a Half Men, etc. Often, there are just too many shows to choose from and we have trouble deciding what we are in the mood for watching. Then there are also the daily television shows we now record to watch later. It’s becoming a reality that there is just too much content to choose from and if we were to watch everything we wanted, we would never have time for anything other than watching television. Music is easier as I generally listen when I’m walking the dog, but there again, it’s a matter of trying to choose. I gave up buying CDs a few years ago when I discovered Spotify and Amazon Music. With my Amazon Prime subscription, I get music and video streaming included, although for music I prefer Spotify. But there are times when I can’t decide whether to listen to music or a podcast. More and more podcasts are being added to streaming services and they provide an alternative to music. With many of them being an hour or so in length, they are great for having something to listen to while walking the dog. I typically prefer the true crime podcasts, but listen to others as well. Streaming services also provide a great way to listen to music from genres you generally would not have purchased in an alternate media format, such as a CD. You can also listen to new releases before the CD is often available in a store. There are those who still purchase their music in stores or online through services such as Apple or Amazon, and others.

What are you watching and listening to these days given the current situation inside this pandemic? For the majority of us, this has been ongoing for well over a year now and despite being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel with vaccines now being available, it could still be some time before this ends. In the meantime, streaming services have become the preferred past time for many and will probably remain so for some time to come.


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