Picture by tonytoo
Last week's Streaming column investigated whether Australia really was a major source for camcorded pirate copies of movies. However, the mere mention of BitTorrent was enough to quickly morph the comment stream onto a different, related and all-too-familiar topic: the necessity of using Channel BT because Australian TV networks (and commercial TV networks in particular) treat viewers with such utter contempt. This was a pretty typical comment:
The misinformation of AU broadcasters and their ‘hot from the States’ rubbish for a season of TV aired 1 year+ in the States. Treat your customers like idiots & wear the price I say.
I wouldn't want to be running a TV network: there's more competition from rival sources of entertainment than ever before, audience figures are generally lower, and there's a push to run more channels than ever with less money (whether that extra channel is ABC News 24 or GEM).
But equally if I was running a TV network, I wouldn't be pursuing the kind of brain-dead, viewer-insulting tactics that currently seem to define the market. Here's the issues that most frequently get mentioned by Lifehacker readers.
Not sticking to published program times
Australia ran years behind the rest of the world in even getting a free-to-air electronic program guide (EPG), and now we've got one, it turns out to be pretty hopeless a lot of the time. ACMA is currently running month-by-month monitoring to try and persuade stations to actually stick to their published times, but even that won't end the equally annoying practice of over-running in the hope that viewers will stick with that station. The result of that behaviour is just as likely to be ignoring that station altogether.
Starting a series and then ditching it
TV is cut-throat these days: if a show doesn't rate, it gets dumped very rapidly. One aspect of this decision that doesn't seem to get considered is the cumulative effect on viewers who like a new show but then discover that it's no longer on air. Obviously nothing can be done about that if the series itself has been cancelled, but if there's plenty of episodes in stock, the networks have just created yet another reason to head to torrent sites rather than sticking around.
Starting a series and then changing the time every week
A particularly common affliction with sci-fi and fantasy shows for some reason, but pretty much anything can qualify for a quick game of hunt the EPG (which, as we've noted, might not be accurate anyway). This looks especially ridiculous on additional digital channels, which aren't subject to the same regulatory restrictions regarding Australian content, but seem to be programmed on the assumption that endless sitcom repeats are more appealing than new content.
Buying a sport and then not showing it
Anti-siphoning rules are supposed to ensure we don't have to get a pay TV subscription to see major sporting events, but often mean sports don't get broadcast at all. The rules are meant to change at the end of the year — allowing pay TV to buy sports that network TV doesn't show, and allowing sports to be broadcast on a channel other than the "main" one — but it will be some time before we find out if that actually represents an improvement.
Claiming fast-tracking when it's anything but
Networks do get this right occasionally: it's hard to see how Ten could be showing the current series of Glee any quicker, for example. But all too often, a claimed "fast-track" still falls several episodes behind the original broadcast, especially with shows from the UK.
Against that litany of complaints, the notion of claiming we should be grateful for free-to-air broadcasting sounds a bit hollow. It's hard to escape the conclusion that we're in a kind of death spiral: TV networks use desperate and stupid tactics to try and maintain ratings, who respond by switching off in ever-increasing numbers. I have no idea where this will end, but I doubt that it's going to be an outcome anyone feels very good about.
Lifehacker's weekly Streaming column looks at how technology is keeping us entertained.