North American TV must die

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Morpheus, The Matrix.

While at a friend’s house for last weekend’s  Misano MotoGP, we were able to watch the race through one of the several streaming sites. Trouble was that the BT Sport (British) feed was stop and go. Which is not good when you’re watching the pack enter turn one and then freeze for 30 seconds.

A frantic search for an alternate feed followed and one was found – Fox Sport. Apart from the dire commentary and somewhat fuzzy feed, Fox was at least reliable and we were back in the race until suddenly … commercials.

Mid race? WTF?

It was back to BT Sport, which had unplugged itself just in time to see Marquez spin out and then frantically try to get the bike restarted, which he did 30 seconds later. The Fox feed still showed an overweight middle-aged man in another predictable and inane commercial trying to sell a Dodge Caravan to zombified American families who have been convinced that having a family means buying an oversized gas guzzler.

The race finally came back to show that the viewers had just missed what may have been one of the most important incidents of the season. What shit. Now I admit that this experience with Fox sports provides the perfect segue to an issue that I’ve been dying to bring up for a while now; that the way North American TV works has to die.

My weekend away was the culmination of a short tour with fellow hack, Mark Richardson around the Gaspesie peninsula. Although it was a great little escape post the stress and chaos of the Fundy Adventure Rally, a few nights in motel rooms was a stark reminder of the current state of so-called North American television “entertainment”.

Now I don’t have a TV at home anymore, or at least not one connected to something as mind-dissolving as cable or antenna. It’s connected to an aging Mac mini that serves to stream directly from the internet, with the myriad of options such as Netflix and those opened up by such gems as Hola Unblocker (BBC Iplayer anybody?) and Tunnel Bear.

This has opened up a whole new world to me. One where I watch quality TV when I want and sans commercials. It has transformed my TV viewing from clicking from one of the 52 channels of shit (to steal a line from The Wall) to another to another, spending a whole night watching everything but then in reality, nothing at all.

And what does that evening look like? Five minutes of a mundane show, inevitably gets slammed every three minutes with commercials, which have been seemingly created with the imagination of a dead sheep. It’s almost as if the TV masters are having a competition to see who can produce the most mind putrefyingly inane stuff and actually get people to pay for it.

With my new magical mac mini set up I tend to turn on the TV for an hour at most, watch a really good show (uninterrupted) and then turn it off and do something else. Even the kids get to see the occasional educational documentary, admittedly slipped in between the usual cartoon suspects, but at least they are without the horrible commercials that make them feel that they are not doing at all well unless they can convince their parents to buy the latest piece of garbage.

Unfortunately this is likely a brief golden age of television that we are experiencing, as the powers that be work hard to determine how to plug the hole in their Matrix of control. But the hope is that the reality of people being able to actually see what they want, when they want and with a whole new world of quality to boot — for FREE! — will force them to step up their game or die trying.

In a world where more channels/content has ultimately meant fewer dollars per program, we have sunk so low that I do not see a way that the industry can raise its game where someone will stick with them over the exponentially superior (and free) alternatives. This leaves them to try and prevent access in the form of legal threats or more subtly the dismantling of net neutrality – enabling internet providers (who are generally the same companies) to throttle speed to the alternates and undesirables.

So here is my call to arms. Cut the cable, remove the antenna and kill the bastards before they can kill you. Okay that may be a little dramatic of a statement, but after just two nights of seeing the world I had left behind, I am convinced more than ever that this is a fight for the future of television, and the best opportunity to make a change that we will likely ever get.

Imagine a world where Kim Kardashian is waits tables and  no-one know her past the restaurant regulars. Where you aren’t getting stressed out because Billy just got voted of the show/island/world and if you are famous it’s because you actually did something.

Go on, what are you waiting for? Take the red pill.





  1. I got rid of cable a year or so ago. Mindlessly flipping through the channels and catching a few minutes of Honey Boo Boo was the last straw. When I went to the Cogeco (cable company) store to cancel it, they agreed with me! At one time, Discovery had good programs, History actually had history and TLC actually meant The Learning Channel and not the circus channel. And Speedvision was not the Nascar channel, which as Speed was now longer offered anyway..

    Now its Netflix and downloaded content for me. I did install a decent TV antenna to get local news which is true HD and is much better quality than the cable company offered, And its free. But, I can no longer watch TV. The commercials drive me insane, so once I get the latest news and some weather info, Netflix gets fired up or I do something else.

    TV as we know it is on its last breath. I have two daughters in there early twenties who do not watch TV and have no desire to.In fact, the houses where they live do not have cable TV at all. And none of their school friends do either.

  2. I haven’t been able to watch a single MotoGP race this year, which does sadden me somewhat. But as noted above, $90ish CAD a year to watch Dorna’s feed is way too high. Using that model, no one could afford that to watch every specific event feed that used to be available on TV. And I’m a fan of most motorsports.

    I do think there is a market for a Netflix style service to stream all (most ??) live racing events all year for a flat fee. I can imagine paying $10-20/month for a service that gives live and archived access to MotoGP, WSBK, all the national SBK series’ from around the world, AMA & FIM SX, MX, Flattrack, Speedway, Enduro, Dakar etc. Then add all the car/truck based series’ that are out there. Speedvision did it before. Now just bring it back to the online world!

  3. Totally agree. Now, part of the reason I cut my cable is being a truck driver, I was home to watch tv once a week, maybe a night inbetween if I passed near the house. I wasn’t using it enough to justify the cost. But Netflicks fills my need for the most part. I gave up trying to follow bike or snowmobile racing years ago. I just can’t keep up. Which for me sucks because I don’t care about hockey, NFL or baseball, so, no sports for Ivan

  4. Editor ‘arris I feel your pain when trying to watch my favorite racing which is I can’t watch my favorite racing any more because it ALL on line or only available on TV channels only in the States.
    And because I have a Canadian IP Address the online site still will not let me watch live but only Highlights of the last few races. All because the cable companies here in Ontario have dropped the channels do to poor ratings because of crappy programs between the races and Nascar overload!

  5. Excellent point, when I got married we never bothered getting cable, and haven’t missed it in 17 years.
    Between DVD from the library and now Netflix our kids have grown up mostly commercial free.
    Never understood how people have vast amounts of time to view TV when there’s so much more interesting real stuff to do, like fix and ride motorcycles…

  6. As a NETFLIX subscriber I have learned how commercial free TV is such a pleasure to watch, no matter what the content. I made a point of having only CBC Children’s programs available for the first 10 years or so of our kids TV watching. I often wonder if that is why they haven’t bought into mass consumerism. Can you imagine a 30 yr old without a car?
    One of the strengths of TV is live coverage of events like MotoGp or political election coverage. When folks like NETFLIX can figure out a way to get it to me at a reasonable cost per event and without commercials I suspect their revenues will blossom. Not just by accommodating people like me but attracting all those kids, now adults, who haven’t been pressured by all the ads to possess so much material baggage.

    • My kids are almost limited to BBC Kids, which is pretty good, though they recently discovered You Tube which has led to … One Direction. Sigh.

      I hope that MotoGP eventually sees that lowering prices for their video pass will lead to more viewers but I suspect that they have to make it expensive to appease the networks that have bought into it too. Maybe once the networks die, we’ll see a change.

  7. Thank you Mr Tate. I’m glad that I am still upholding the fine traditions of Moto Journalism. Doesn’t hurt being a Yorkshireman to boot.

  8. I don’t watch TV and couldn’t care less. How difficult is that as an option? And Chris and Trane are right about “free” — it doesn’t exist. Somebody, somewhere, is paying for that content, and you, Mr. ‘Arris, are freeloading on them. Which, as a fellow journalist, I quite understand and approve of … 😉

  9. Chris nailed it. Somebody has to pay. Even the most ridiculously low-budget affair costs a fortune to produce and peddle. Commercial-free (in the real world) means subscribing. That’s why, for example, my and subscriptions are so bloody expensive. Free is good, but quality programming is always expensive to produce. Unless there’s some manner in which to recoup the expenditure, it’s just not a business model.

    I think there are multiple issue at play here. First, the quality of the programming is fairly pathetic. Second, the programming only serves as a platform to sell people something. Anything. Third, I think the role of entertainment media these days is to serve as a permanent distraction from the vital issues society faces. It sounds conspiracy theorist, but it’s not, in my opinion, a coincidence that the half-dozen most powerful companies in North America own over 99% of the major mass media entertainment and news outlets. Everything we believe these days is filtered through the lenses of commercial interests. The news we see and the reality that we think exists is presented through the filter bubble of sales- and peon management strategies.

    North American TV is merely a symptom of graver, systemic problems in society as a whole.

  10. The only problem with no one paying for the content ( in any fashion be it ads, cable/sat, streaming services) is that when that happens. No one will make anything to watch, zero, zilch, nada.

    • Agreed which is kinda my point. I want it to die. Granted, I don’t want the good stuff to die, but if the two come as a package then so be it. My hope is that by withholding the money the crap dies and the good stuff finds a way to earn its keep.

      There is already a model for this in the shape of Netflix, though they are now under attack thanks to the erosion of net neutrality. And as much as I seem to come to blows with Dorna (they don’t let the cheapo journalists get access to the video – we have to pay to cover it .. the horror, the horror), I do respect their business model. Though I wish it was a little cheaper, or came with a bare bones cheaper option.

      And another one that hasn’t come up yet is CMG. This very magazine is dependant on advertising and there are plenty of people who use Ad Blocker to not see them at all. If this was the case for every reader then CMG too would become unsustainable and die. My job is to try and ensure that the ads don’t override the content as otherwise we’re done. A challenge I accept.

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