By Kendra Chamberlain
I am not a cord cutter, and though the industry refers to me as a “cord never,” I don’t agree with that characterization either. I pay for TV content, but I don’t have pay TV. I have one cord in my life, one amazing cord that I couldn’t dream of living without: my broadband cord.
I have a few digital cords, too – Netflix, Amazon, a fitness channel on Roku and the occasional iTunes purchase – and I have one largely unused digital TV antenna.
I forget antenna TV is even an option for entertainment in the evenings. In fact, the only time I remember since purchasing it that I’ve used my antenna to watch regular linear was when I had a friend over who turned on the TV to see the weather. The weather wasn’t on, though, so we found a radar map online.
My go-to in the evenings is Netflix, Hulu or YouTube typically. Four years of college gave me the habit of turning to these sites for entertainment during down time. When I’m feeling particularly adventurous I may use my Roku to access some of the odd ball niche channels it offers, such as Crunchy Roll, which offers Anime, or the Kung Fu Master channel, or the Aliens conspiracy documentaries channel, and of course all the ad-supported, B-grade movies I can get my hands on, with the help of Crackle and Popcornflix.
I had an Amazon Prime subscription primarily for the OTT service, but I found the user interface to be difficult to navigate, and not nearly as relaxing or visually stimulating in which to engage as Netflix, which has virtually the same content, although that’s less and less the case with each new content deal.
No wonder Amazon Prime hasn’t taken off – the interface is too lean forward even for me, and I watch YouTube to relax!
Get it together, Amazon. It has been so aggressive in snatching up content deals away from Netflix, but it hasn’t put any thought into the user experience. There is a certain amount of finesse required in an interface for discovering content, it needs to be dynamic, bright, and visually stimulating, and of course easy to navigate. Amazon’s interface is identical to its shopping experience: static, uninspiring, and at times redundant. It really doesn’t afford much to the magic of the movies.
EPG Apps Make Linear TV Watchable
Speaking of magic, I have spent a good deal of time (for research purposes) in front of pay TV with a second screen device in hand – a Google Nexus tablet – and one of those wonderful EPG apps. There are many great products out there, but I grew particularly fond of Peel’s app, which arranges content visually and thematically in a way that encourages me to get excited about what the pay TV programming has to offer.
After a few weeks with that app, I went back to watching linear pay TV without it, and the experience was eye-opening. I couldn’t see anything! I had no idea what was on.
I no longer have all my favorite channels memorized (as I once did as a child), and I couldn’t read the on-screen EPG unless my face was pressed up against the TV screen (yes, I may need glasses). I felt as though I was adrift in a sea of mediocre content, I couldn’t find anything that pertained to me that I wanted to watch. If by chance I did stumble upon something I wanted to watch, it was half way over and there were too many car commercials through which to sit.
I felt blind, overburdened and unenthused about the whole thing. I’d take my Netflix over blind channel surfing any day. Even surfing, (or browsing, as it’s referred) is much more enjoyable on Netflix over linear TV. I move through pictures, browse by genre, read a quick synapsis, add movies to a watch list, and best of all, there is no pressure to commit to anything. With linear channel surfing, I always feel like I have to commit to something before seeing all the options, because the show is probably almost over anyway, and who knows if I’ll ever be able to find the channel again. Gosh it would be so ideal if I could just search for a show on linear TV!
Of course you can do a search across linear TV, if you are using one of the many amazing second screen EPG apps.
“What You Call Binge Viewing I Call Custom Programming”
A consumer watches four hours of TV every night and no one bats an eye; a consumer watches four hours of the same show, and all of the sudden it has “taken over my life.”
I don’t much care for the term “binge viewing” because it indicates a loss of control. So-called binge viewing is in fact the opposite of that, isn’t it?
The show Doctor Who is amazing, and I love it so much I want to spend an entire Saturday watching it, episode after episode. I am able to do that because Netflix has empowered me to do so by offering the entire series on-demand, without any limitations.
I love being my own programmer, I love Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and the others for enabling me to chose the content I want to watch, and consequently, I love the TV shows such as “Doctor Who” all the more for it. I even bought mugs with Daleks on them.
I’ve become a master of custom programming. I usually have around two or three serials that I’m enjoying, and each evening I’ll make sure to watch a few episodes of each of the shows. Linear TV, by the way, has already figured out how much viewers like to watch a few episodes at once – that’s why they’ll do back to back episodes of a show, or host “watchathons”.
I’m coming up on the last season of Lost which I’ve spent the last three months watching on Netflix. The show is perfectly designed for on-demand. I can’t imagine what a pleasure and pain that must have been to sit through during the traditional TV season. Each episode is a cliff hanger, and with Netflix’s instant load of the next episode, it’s much easier to say yes to another episode than no. I usually end up watching three, maybe five episodes in a row.
Kudos to those who were able to sit through six years of build ups and tiny plot arcs and then months and months of nothing in between seasons.
I Only Watch Things On-demand
The closest thing to linear TV that I experience on a frequent basis is the few episodes of Game of Thrones this season that I’ve watched at a neighbor’s. I quickly gave that up and instead decided it will be easier to watch all of it at once sometime next year. I don’t remember anyone’s name, it’s terribly frustrating to try to keep everything straight, with each episode presenting me with boundless opportunities to ask “Who’s that old guy again?” “What happened to the red head?” and “Is that John Snow or Rob Stark?”
Yes, everyone watches Game of Thrones, further proof that even if you can’t be an HBO subscriber, you’ll probably still be able to enjoy HBO content, one way or another.
I’m planning to purchase the whole thing on iTunes, if and when it becomes available, and watch it on my own schedule.
The bottom line is that once you go all on-demand, you don’t go back. Watching TV according to someone else’s schedule is as painful an experience as watching an SD video when you know there are thousands of HD videos you could be watching instead.
I’ll Take More Broadband, Please
Even more painful for me, however, are interruptions in my streaming video: long start times, endless buffering, pauses mid-video to re-buffer, oscillating bitrates, flickers, etc. This is hellish for me and reminds me of the dial-up days when it would take 60+ seconds for a full Web page to load on my Gateway desktop.
The modicum of financial stability I have received since graduating college has given me the opportunity – luxury, really – to pay for faster broadband. I cannot imagine my life without Internet. I can hardly imagine it with slow Internet. Pay TV, on the other hand, doesn’t even enter my imagination.
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