Stop Whining: TV Viewers Have Never Had It So Flexible

Stop Whining: TV Viewers Have Never Had It So Flexible

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.

Lifehacker’s weekly Streaming column looks at how technology is keeping us entertained.


  • I hope the three networks paid you for that tripe – they are the only ones that are going to buy it.

    It’s called evolution. You may want to try it some time.

  • “Stop whining dial-up users 56.6kbps is so much better than the 2800 baud we used to browse on”… Perspective is definitely a wonderful thing 😉

    The issue with “TV” viewing is that the channels are trying to force free to air broadcasting as the only option when the world has moved on. Just like we moved on from dial-up to broadband and the unlucky people in those areas with no DSL have a right to bitch that they need access to DSL. I dont really find people complaining about our country lagging behind in TV access ‘whiney’, the perspective is based on what’s easily available and possible currently not what was the standard decades ago.

    I do remember watching GWN (regional tv channel in Western Australia for reference) in the 80’s and I also remember accessing BBS’s with a dial-up modem in the 80’s, I really don’t want to go back to either of those experiences over my NBN connection and Netflix subscription but if the current channels have their way I may be forced to give up my Netflix subscription (although I doubt that) and if that happens you bet I’ll whine my little heart out ^_^

  • So because its better than it used to be, we shouldn’t expect better?

    such intelligent argument. wow.

    • I used to get beaten with a rusty nail on a plank, but now they’ve taken the rusty nail out, it’s fantastic!

  • I’m pretty sure the debate is about resultant piracy and the politicians wanting their say.. and just because something is better than it used to be, it doesn’t mean we should STFU

  • Yep , and people will use the lack of convenience as an excuse to steal content. What ever justifies it in their minds i guess so they don’t have to face up to being criminal scumbags.

    • Or just go without. Not everyone pirates, but it shouldn’t stop us as consumers for asking for content in a easy to use fashion.

      Ps I don’t pirate, just go without. Probably would watch more if Netflix was available though.

    • As a person who works night shifts and spends his days doing photography/editing photos TV is not a viable option because there is nothing at all to watch at 3AM.

      I also really enjoy TV shows and waiting for DVD releases for game of thrones is not a good option either as there is literally no way to avoid spoilers, especially when the people you work with also download the latest episodes the moment it is uploaded to Rapidgator or PirateBay.

      Netflix isnt easily available in New Zealand but even if it was, I re-watch my favorite TV shows and movies on at least a yearly basis, I re-watch all the Marvel Films before the next release at the Movies (which I do go to regularly for worthwhile flicks) I re-watch every season of currently running shows like GoT, Da Vinci’s Demons or Arrow before the new season starts and ive gone back and watched every episode ever made of Smallville, Supernatural, Stargate SG1, HIMYM and House, I own the DVD box-sets for most of these, I even buy GoT, Supernatural and House DVDs Day one release. Money is not the issue for me, i would gladly pay for a service that would let you rent to own a movie and TV show collection, or something similar to Steam with discounts, a reliable storefront etc.. but having to use my data to stream the same episode of Arrow because i fell asleep and missed the end of it, is not something I am willing to do.

      I happily support the content makers as I will hopefully one day be a photographer who’s work will be worth stealing, but the content distributors need to meet me half way before i sign some sort of contract.

  • Well if you compare today to 20 years plus ago, then sure it looks like heaven.

    Apples with Apples Angus, compare what we can access in Australia to what others can access overseas.

    Sure we have options, but much content even on Australian sites is limited or only up for a limited period of time.

    Personally I have an overseas VPN to unblock netflix to give me the viewing experience I want (not that this is perfect either)

    • Exactly. This entire article is such a red herring.

      The core to complaints isn’t ‘now compared to then’. It’s ‘us compared to them’. We get dramatically worse service, pricing, availability with nothing more than a change of IP address. Functionally no other difference.

      It’s inexcusable and – ironically, given the subject of the article – a sign of outdated thinking with regard to distribution and the role of the middle-men.

  • Really it’s the companies complaining that people are following the path of least resistance to get their content (piracy, in most cases). Make it easier, and they benefit as well as the consumer.

  • As someone who generally is supportive of Foxtel’s broadcasting of GoT, I agree with n7of9. Just because we have it better than 1984 doesn’t mean we need to idly sit by and accept arguably poorer comparative service than our overseas counterparts.

    I encourage people to take a moment to marvel, however that does not invalidate the debate regarding whether Australians should or should not righly claim a better deal.

  • How much choice do we want, or even need?
    With live and recorded broadcast content, the various catch up services and the occasional download purchase I can not find enough free time in my day to watch everything that I want. What use is access to additional content to me?
    Some times I wonder if people realise there is a world beyond the electronic display panel?
    BTW I grew up with a choice of 2 channels as Angus describes, I’m glad those days are past us!

  • Back in 19-dickity-2, we had to….

    Okay, I get your point relating to what amounts to “first world problems”, but the simple fact is the capabilities are existing and not being utilised as effectively as we would like. As you mention, iView, and other services like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, etc. allow us to digitally access the content we wish to consume at our leisure. Thus, when distributors deliberately don’t engage this kind of model and instead use clearly gouging methods, that is when questions and complaints arise.

    If you had your email replaced with the Persian horse-based mail delivery system (the most state-of-the-art mail system at the time), you would be complaining, and rightly so, since the capacity for digital distribution is here, proven, and rather straightforward to implement.

    • On second though, a more apt analogy would be:

      Let’s say you wish to subscribe to a tech journal for updates and articles that you find very interesting. Now, imagine that they only offered that service via the Persian horse-based system at a cost of $40,000 per month, which was at one point in time, the most state-of-the-art delivery service.

      Would you accept this, or would you point out to them that email would probably be a better distribution system in the modern era (i.e. whining that they weren’t using a distribution method you think is better for both you and them)?

  • I think there’s a clear difference between monopolies existing as a result of genuine geographic and technological constraints – as was the case in 1984 – and monopolies existing due to restrictions on consumer freedom and the increased use of IP law as a revenue stream both in and of themselves and as a way of locking out competition in an already minimally competitive space – as is the case with GoT. If you were talking about “fast-tracking”, that’d be a more fair basis for comparison and you’d have a much stronger point, but in terms of flexibility, you had one (commercial) choice then and you’ve still got one (commercial) choice now.

  • When did you become a Foxtel shill Angus? Your recent trend of articles is disturbing to say the least. Hope they’re paying you well.

  • Standard digital TV offers us 15 channels broadcasting 24 hours a dayYup 15 channels and frig all worth watching most of the time…!

  • Oh, Angus, you’re clearly ignoring the HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES involved in not being able to watch what you want RIGHT NOW and the resulting piracy which isn’t the fault of the self-righteous pirates.

    I mean, it’s important stuff.

  • Standard digital TV offers us 15 channels broadcasting 24 hours a day
    80% of which is crap and not worth watching ? The rest is so filled with ads that its a chore to watch a show you enjoy.

    Not to mention that our national sport like afl and cricket is still broadcast in SD so it looks horrible on my big screen. They are lucky it is free because no one would pay for it

  • Angus, you’re focussing on the ‘then vs now’ and calling it perspective when it’s very much a case of ‘them vs us’ that has people annoyed.

    The gap between then and now is because the technology didn’t exist then – the gap is unavoidable. But the gap between them and us is manufactured by content owners – it could be removed but they don’t care to.

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