Viewers Feel TV Networks Are Untrustworthy Morons

The nature of broadcasting is evolving rapidly in the Internet era, but there's one constant: viewers are sick and tired of being treated with contempt by the major Australian TV networks.

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.


    Channel 10 has pissed me off almost every season with "House" They'd frequently stall midway through a season, and (I could be wrong here) they stalled near the last few episodes of season 5, never showed them, and then went onto season 6, making me wonder what the F happened. I'm rarely watching TV anymore, mainly because the programs suck, and it's confusing having times constantly shifted around, and sick of series being stalled. "New episodes of NCIS will be back in 2 weeks". Ugh.

      Honestly, pick your programs, stick to them, and don't treat your viewers like morons. How hard can it be? Don't show a series until it's guaranteed to be shown in full, keep your time slots current, and keep repeats down to a bare minimum. *froths at the mouth*

      Unfortunately, House and many other shows have silly production times that mean episodes are still being filmed midway through a season. This really comes across as irritating even for torrenters as the show has a stop start way of watching all through the season.

        Hi Kalem,

        House usually takes a single mid-season break and it's common for US shows to be filming the last episodes of a season whilst the first episodes are airing.

    The one network that does it particularly well is ABC, especially on the last point. I was ecstatic when they started showing The Daily Show and The Colbert Report the day after they aired in the US. I also have much love to iView allowing me to catch up. As a result ABC is pretty much the only channel I regularly watch and about half of that is online with no need to pirate.

      It's even better than that, when you're watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report on ABC2, they only broadcast a few hours ago in the US.

      That's the sort of "fast-tracking" I support. Matter of fact, I find it funny when a station advertises that they're fast-tracking a show from the US, because it means they're basically admitting that they fail to do so for their other shows.

      Come to think of it, Daily Show and Colbert Report are the only shows that I don't torrent these days.

      ... and yet popular series such as Ashes to Ashes, New Tricks and Spooks are still subject to the vagaries of the programer. In some ways the ABC is worse than the commercial networks; salting series away for over a year since the show's most recent season was shown in the source country (usually the UK.)

      Nevertheless, I still watch FTA. TV isn't so important to me that I need to watch the newest show now.

    I don't like AU TV because it's downright silly; nothing worth watching, and everything I do watch on normal TV I watch online (Good News Week is available for totally free online, which is really all I watch these days).

    We just dropped our Foxtel subscription as well because other people are getting lower prices than us on plans worth more than hours. Tried to con them into giving us something better. Waiting for the father of the house to go crazy without SciFi :)

    What I do is grab entire series of shows and watch the episodes end-on-end (Star Trek Voyager) or random (Family Guy). Better than waiting for our networks to work properly.

    BT FTW. With all the new series coming out in the States, it'll be at least 12 months before Aussie FTA catches up. Even those retards on local Top Gear can't kick it with the best on the BBC original, and local FTA is anywhere from a season to 3 behind, and still call it "the latest". What a joke.
    Mad Men, The Glades, Boardwalk Empire, $#*! My Dad Says are but some examples. EZTV FTW.

    How about using your only HD channel to show repeats of old sh!tty SD shows!

    So now channel BT is the ONLY way to watch the shows in high def.

    I think EPGs are wonderful.
    The thing about EPGs is that it makes it easy to scan what's on TV, realise it's all crap and continue what you were doing.

    Creating yet another channel to show re-runs or sports :P, wow that's a great idea

    Contrary to popular belief,your Television is NOT for watching TV shows.
    Your TV is for PlayStation(/xbox/wii/other console/Computer).
    There ends this discussion.

    Lets face it - the future is that you will not even use a FTA tv channel(s) to get your fix - you will simply use your ISP to download what you want, when you want it. This could mean that we are using the FTA online portals, or your ISP online portal. The point i am making is that ISP's and Content Hosts should move to a point where the user can pay a monthly fee and access as much as they want.

    Think of this - You pay for your internet (lets say telstra) and on top of that you may choose to pay an additional $15 to get access to the 'telstra content portal' where you can choose to watch what ever episode, what ever season, what ever show you want; as many times as you want.

    Telstra would have a deal where it sources these shows from a content provider (lets say ABC) and stores the show on their network. Different ISP's would have access to different content and would provide additional 'value add' services over the top to differentiate themselves from the competition.

    This is where i believe we are heading to, what are your thoughts?

      That is most likely where things will head eventually. But if that does happen, I refuse to use it if there are ads of any kind.

      Anyway knowing how things work in Australia, Telstra or someone will get exclusive deals and end up just raping people for the service, which will turn out to be half of what was promised.

      I have no faith in the networks or other media companies to do the right job. Their approach is to do everything half-arsed.

        And where do you expect people to get the money to make these shows without advertising?

        Using your example the networks would get money from the service providers clearly.

        The Telstra portal. Or would networks just give their content to providers like Telstra for free?

        Yea, the idea would be that you would pay a small fee and get access to the content without add's - it would be a personalised service so that you can choose what shows to see on your portal, etc.

    One of my most hated problems is "Starting a series and then ditching it". But not just from a local network POV, but the US Parent.

    I refuse to watch any show now until after the 2nd season has finished filming. Once filming finishes on S2 then I will get the S1 DVDs, so I'm ready for either S2 coming to TV or DVD (if I've missed the S2 TV run).

    Its just not worth investing my time in a show that doesn't have a clear continuation. Sure I'm annoyed still when a show gets canned in S3/S4 without a real ending (which should annoy me more than a show getting axed after S1), but I guess a S3/4 kill usually gets better closure or maybe a movie finale.

    How ironic for this to be posted today and this to happen on the same night:

    Channel 10 are the worst at sticking to a season....
    One example: "The Shield"
    I loved the show but channel 10 kept dropping episodes or showing it late and sometimes disorder them.
    The shown was a huge success in US but flunked in AU cause 10 screwed with it's slot and episodes.

    So I decided to download the episodes myself cause they weren't available in AU... Then who got into trouble "me"

    In my opinion, if all channels do the right thing then piracy in Australia could drop by a small percentage.

    Secondly: Who the hell watches One HD all day.. What a waste of rubbish.. Like who is going to sit on the couch to watch a guy surf all day or race a car... Show something proper... Not some sports from nowhere....

    My biggest gripe with FTA is that they don't broadcast in HD!

    I mean, what was the point in bringing in High Definition TV and then broadcasting in anything less than 1080i??

    I think it should be mandatory to broadcast 1080i for new shows, on the main channels...and they could save the second / third channels for reruns of old shows in SD.

    Oh, and the EPG thing...Channel 9 u suck!! Always running late with your doesn't make me want to keep watching Grimshaw's thing, it just makes me hate you! Are you listening? I very much doubt it.

    My problem with the lag between UK/US programing and when Aus networks decide to air a show is spoilers.

    When Doctor Who is airing in the UK, you pretty much have to stay away from the internet to avoid being spoiled (especially if you have friends overseas or 'like' fan pages). But that's hard, so instead of going offline and waiting a few months to watch it (and an edited version at that), download it and buy the dvds later.

    Thankfully it seems like someone somewhere is catching on. We got the Doctor Who christmas special the next day (not before it got uploaded but good effort) and the new season is being properly fast-tracked too.

    With any luck more shows will follow.

    I hate how crap like My Kitchen Rules or the biggest loser always and I mean always run over and they ruin my recording of bones or NCIS. I think stations should be FORCED to stick to the EPG or they get fined or something. All they care about is there profits. We should all just go online. Show them that we prefer no ads and being able to make our own schedule.

    The thing that astounds me is the ridiculously small sample audience upon which ratings are based.

    If you want a true indication of how popular a show is, do a search on a torrent site and check the number of people downloading it. Use those numbers as your sample audience and extrapolate from there.

    Here are the figures for the latest episodes of Smallville and MKR from just one torrent site:

    Smallville - 50,000+ downloads.
    My Kitchen Rules - 8 downloads.

    You tell me which one rates higher?

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