I had two TV-related experiences over the weekend. I binge watched the whole of Jonah From Tonga on ABC iView, and I wrote an article about a Star Wars TV special being shown in 1984 on a regional TV station. The contrast between the two experiences reminded me that everyone complaining about not being able to watch TV shows in exactly the way they want lacks a sense of perspective.
TV picture from Shutterstock
iView offered the whole of Chris Lilley’s latest series for a 48-hour period before its “official” debut this Wednesday at 9pm on ABC1. This seems to have been a popular experiment; a total of 551,000 plays were recorded over the weekend, and the show accounted for 30 per cent of all iView trafifc.
This kind of binge watching and advance online is still relatively uncommon in Australia, but it’s becoming more frequent. Some networks are still making it needlessly difficult. Ten, for instance, is offering the 2014 premiere of Offspring online ahead of broadcast — but only for the first 20,000 viewers. Given its dire ratings right now, I don’t see why Ten would be in the business of deliberately annoying the audience.
The point is that we have an enormous amount of flexibility and choice when it comes to watching TV. Standard digital TV offers us 15 channels broadcasting 24 hours a day, and we can record anything we fancy cheaply and easily to a hard drive or flash storage and watch it back later. We can go online and watch thousands of hours legally, and access even more content illegally with minimal effort. If we want to purchase shows, we can buy them on DVD or as downloads.
Life was not like that in 1984, as I remembered when I wrote up a story about the Star Wars Holiday Special for Gizmodo. I won’t retread that ground here; read the story if you want to. But the research reminded me how much TV options have changed in three decades.
Here’s the entire day’s schedule for a Sunday for RVN-2, which was (at the time) the commercial channel for Wagga Wagga. At the time, most regional Australians would have had a choice of just two channels: the ABC and whatever the local commercial offering was. If you were lucky, you might be able to receive a third channel from a neighbouring area, but you couldn’t count on it.
A few points to note from this listing, augmented with my own memories from that time:
- Broadcasting started at 8:50 in the morning, and finished at 12:25. It’s a slightly later start because of the Sunday, but not by much. Sunday is also reflected in the two hours of imported US religious programming.
- The day is dominated by cartoon and movie repeats. The other alternative might have been sport. But don’t go looking for sitcoms or lifestyle TV or documentaries. The closest we get to “reality TV” is Young Talent Time.
- Video recorders were relatively uncommon in 1984, so viewing alternatives at home would have been constrained. (My family acquired one that year, but I only knew two other families at school who also had one. And the blank tapes cost $12 each, which was a small fortune for a teenager back then.)
We’ve advanced enormously in 30 years, but we don’t care about that. Instead, we want to complain because Games Of Thrones is only available on Foxtel. The journey from exciting new innovation to something we’re complaining about seems quicker than ever.
Human nature is like that. What once seemed novel and exciting quickly becomes the new norm. But it’s worth remembering that we’re talking about television shows: not food or water or shelter or health. Not being able to see something for a price of our choosing on a schedule of our choosing remains a bizarre topic to complain about in the grand scheme of things.
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