TV time

I don’t watch a lot of commercial TV these days. Apart from the news, Futurama is pretty much it. But I’ve noticed that programs no longer seem to start and end at the advertised time. I heard somewhere that this is a deliberate strategy to stop people changing channels. If correct, this is both deplorable and self-defeating. Deplorable because the TV networks have been given a monopoly by the government: if they want to keep it, they should at least act responsibly.

Self-defeating because there are so many alternatives, including DVDs and the internets, not to mention good old-fashioned books. The collective effect of this kind of gaming is that commercial TV as a whole is even less attractive.

BTW, I’ll be in tomorrow’s (thursdays) Fin, responding to Coonan’s media package. Shorter JQ: It s*x.

29 thoughts on “TV time

  1. I gave up watching commercial TV years ago. Their insulting attitude to viewers was part of it, but the abysmal nature of the programming and the increasing amount of loud, irritating advertising was most of it.

    John, expecting any corporate entity with a monopoly to “act responsibly” is a pipe dream, particularly with our current Government – as the discussion paper demonstrates.

  2. Apart from the news, Futurama is pretty much it.

    Looks like it’s just news for you from now on. There were no Futurama episodes this week, they’ve been replaced by Simpsons reruns.

  3. Strangely enough, the phenomena John’s reporting doesn’t happen at all in America. If a show is scheduled to run from 9 to 10, and you set the TiVo to record from 9 to 10, you will never miss any of the show, often the first thing you see will be the splash screen staring the show, and the last thing you see will be the ad for the forthcoming episode. That’s true as far as I can tell both on over-the-air broadcasts and cable, despite there being much lighter regulation of those in the US than there is of television in Australia. I don’t quite understand how Aust and the US got to be so different in this respect, and it’s a little sad to have to report on one of the (very few!) ways in which America seems to do things better than Australia.

  4. With the availability of very fast broadband (4mb/s +) and BitTorrent you can download a one hour televesion show in as little as 45 minutes. The more popular American shows are usually available for download within a day of when they first air in the US. You can watch a show or even an entire season when it suits you, with no ads or worries about missing an episode and six months before it first airs over here. (Not that I have ever done this, as its not legal unfortunately).

    There are now cable television companies who broadcast their content over the internet to paying subscribers. For about $10 a month you can get a channel that is not available in Australia, even via satellite. The transmission quality is as good as normal TV.

    At some point conventional television services, free to air (digital and analogue) and even cable and satellite are not going to be very competetive with internet delivered television. The internet is simply a bigger market with lower distribution costs.

  5. The answer to the dilemma lies in game theory, but first a little bit of history (at least, how I see it):

    A whole bunch of sleazy methods to keep viewers watching a particular channel began to be adopted last year after the airing of “Desperate Housewives”. Seven spent a LOT of money advertising it in order to guarantee that as many viewers as possible would watch it.

    But! The problem was that there were other interesting shows on at the 8:30pm timeslot.
    Seven decided to bump everything back ten minutes. People watched “Desperate Housewives” enjoyed it and at the end tried to switch channels. They found themselves ten minutes into all the other shows on different channels.

    Whether or not you believe views have a shorter attention span these days or not, these unfortunates just couldn’t cope with trying to pick up a storyline and switched back to Seven. By accident, it was discovered if you lagged your programming, you could keep a big market share for the rest of a night. Soon after, “Lost” also began to be lagged by ten minutes, and still is to this day.

    So, what’s the best response to this strategy? Lag shows by the same amount, but other TV stations (Nine and Ten in particular) did so not by rescheduling the times of the shows, but somehow stretching them out to last longer. I don’t know how they do this (probably something to do warping the fabric of time and space) without breaking the laws on how much advertising can be shown per hour.

    In terms of game theory, it’s akin to the game of “Prisoner’s Dilemma”. Previously, all TV stations kept to scheduled times that meant they could not ‘capture’ a share of the market for an evening. Seven then lagged programming, receiving a higher payoff. the best response was to lag as well meaning that ‘captures’ do not occur and consumers are worse off because they cannot schedule their viewing accurately.

  6. “I don’t quite understand how Aust and the US got to be so different in this respect [of punctuality of TV scheduling].”

    Easy, BW.

    US TV networks are partially composed of a coalition of independently-owned and operated “affliates”. These affiliates have their own priorities in that they sell advertising in their local markets. Thus distribution of operating surpluses from free-to-air TV is much wider than in Australia. Networks sell content to these affiliates. The affilaites and networks need each other. Punctuality is a sign of respect that vouchsafes this mutual dependence.

    Now seek evidence of similar respect in Australia. You won’t find it because ownership is highly centralised. Vulgarian thugs like the late unlamented Kerry Packer use their government-guaranteed monopoly of broadcasting to treat everyone like idiots.

    On the other hand, how difficult can it be to fool the kind of person who watches commercial TV?

  7. aplpaca, rather than a prisoner’s dilemma, isn’t it more like hotelling’s model (google-able – basically, an approach to explaining things like location of icecream vendors on a beach or more importantly, the parallel scheduling of airline flights so at the most convenient travel time all the airlines have flights at once rather than staggering them)? anyway, just a thought

  8. It is similar to Hotelling’s Model, but the problem is that consumer’s don’t actually have any way to observe what lag actually occurs on each channel (at least, not without sitting down each day for a year and keeping a record). But you’re right that it is very similar.

  9. My viewing of commercial has dropped to almost zero over recent times. Apart from the very poor quality programmes and the advertisements, the final straw has been the start and finish times.

    Who wants to sit and watch Big Brother, or such like, to 8.50 or so to watch a show that was supposed to start at 8.30?

  10. 98% of my TV diet is ABC or SBS. My commercial viewing is largely limited to the occasional movie or nature doco, and the ‘Sunday’ programme on Nine. I will conceed that the other commercial current affairs shows sometimes do some good, right some wrongs. But overall, commercial TV (and radio, and most print) is brain-deadening tripe that I avoid like the plague.

    Oh well, that’s a (mildly) left-wing elitist for you.

  11. Seven may have gone further with DHW and Lost, but I recall Nine doing this some time ago with Eddie’s Who wants to be a Millionaire, which always seemed to run a few minutes over time. I hasten to add: I wasn’t intending to watch Eddie, but whatever was advertised to come on afterwards. Perhaps there’s a remedy available under the Trade Practices Act for misleading or deceptive conduct? (Ken?)

  12. “Programme Creep” has been a staple part of the commercial networks’ armoury for many years. In most cases, their motives conform with the aspects of many of the comments posted previously.

    Tyler Cowan recently posted an excellent post about the phenomenon (in Japan) on Marginal Revolution at:

    JQ – I have often toyed with the idea of writing a paper on a formal model of programme creep, but my Micro Theory isn’t strong enough!!!

    My other favourite from the TV industry is stories of when a big network star is bought out by a rival network, who has no intention of using them on screen – they just want to get them off the other network. This is known in the industry as ‘warehousing’.

  13. what are everyone’s favourite (free) internet TV/video options? I don’t do TV but occasionally watch stuff online if something comes to my attention.

  14. Aussies are now the world’s biggest downloaders of TV. Hear the report from TripleJ’s Hack:

    [audio src="" /]

    (URL seems to be too long to put in a hyperlink in this comment system)

    I personally watch very little TV, downloaded or otherwise. When I do watch broadcast TV, it’s almost always on a station that doesn’t have ads. When I download TV, it’s because I’m not sure that it’ll ever get broadcast here, or that I know that it’s a show with a complex story that Channel 7 or the Intahwebs will spoil for me in their previews (yes, I’m an old Buffy fan 🙂

  15. You could try Democracy Now, although its not that great.

    My favourite downloads is actually Philip Adams at Late Night Live and the Science Show, both from Radio National. They’re on at awkward times so having them available in mp3 format has been great. Hopefully we will see more public broadcasting from the internet. Unlike the commercial stations public broadcasters don’t really have a downside to free internet broadcasting.

  16. Good article, JQ. As you know, I generally support this government, but I would agree Coonan is wrong here. It is a pity that the Opposition is not articulating a better policy. On this, as in so much else, they are one of the following:
    1. the same as the government;
    2. wrong;
    3. both same and wrong; or
    4. silent.
    IMHO 3 or 4 are the most common options.

  17. Oh Spew, spew, spew…..

    If you want to know why lefties are so out of touch read this post and the comments.

    99% of Australians watch commercial TV on a regular basis. There a TONS of great shows on commercial TV and if you’re not interesting enough to connect with them then it says more about you and how your relate to people than it does about TV.

  18. I will be watching tv again now that Prison Break is back on the air, but I do find it amusing to accuse someone of being out of touch because they don’t watch Desperate Housewives or Law and Order: SVU.

  19. Spew you, your facts are as bad as your grammar. The commercial share of the TV market is declining and TV is losing ground to the Internet and other alternatives. particularly among the young. Maybe you should watch a bit less yourself.

  20. Looks like this thread made most of the same points as my post on bittorrent on the communications policy thread.

    However, to all the “elite” commenters who look down their noses at commercial television viewers: you’re missing out. Sure there is some crap (eg Big Brother) but there are also some very well-crafted drama series. 24 is exceptional. Greys Anatomy can be very entertaining. CSI (the original) is superb. As is The Sopranos. You can get the current series via torrent or wait 8-18 months to see them on Oz commercial TV.

    They’re not intellectually challenging or deeply cerebral, but I get enough of that in my day job. What they do have is interesting plots, complex and well-developed characters, exceptional acting, and movie-quality production. They just do what they set out to do, which is entertain.

  21. The problem isn’t that there’s nothing worth watching but that, between the interminable ads and messing round with the schedule, it’s not worth the trouble of watching it on commercial TV,

  22. My comments were not directed towards yourself, JQ, but to the likes of Katz:

    “On the other hand, how difficult can it be to fool the kind of person who watches commercial TV?”

    Who is the fool Katz? One who restricts themselves to SBS and ABC in the name of establishing some kind of pseudo-intellectual superiority? Or the one who is not so hung-up and is therefore able to enjoy the best that commercial television has to offer?

    As per the rest of the posts, torrent or a decent hard-disk recorder are your friends. Torrents usually have the ads removed before they’re posted, and watching programs off disk allows you to easily skip forward through the ads. Although the ads are really not that onerous in Oz. I don’t mind them given that they do pay for the content.

    [for the highly computer literate, you can record onto a PC hard-drive and use software to detect ad boundaries which are then auto-skipped during replay. I do this using MythTV under linux. Essentially turns your PC into a tivo on steroids. But I wouldn’t recommend it for the faint-hearted]

  23. “Who is the fool Katz? One who restricts themselves to SBS and ABC in the name of establishing some kind of pseudo-intellectual superiority?”

    That sort of person is indeed a fool who’d cut of his nose to spite his face.

    I agree with you about The Sopranos. And I could add Seinfeld, which is the greatest sustained feat of comedic genius in history. I even occasionally watched The West Wing when it was on a commercial network. Whenever I stumble over The Simpsons I laugh out loud. These are bright lights in a mostly dark sky.

    And imagine using the commercials as a source of detailed and reliable information about the world.

    But perhaps I’m wasting my time trying to convince a person who is a self-admitted fan of “24”.

  24. I guess you’re becoming the new Tim Blair with your agonizing about spelling and grammar and ignoring the point of comments.

    According to this link:

    There was “a rise in total viewing of 129,000, or three per cent.” and “total under-40s viewing up 1.5 per cent”

    So I look forward to getting a retraction from the esteemed Professor who seems to think my facts are off base.

    On the other hand perhaps you were saying that my speeling, and, grammar were as perfect as my facts in which case I thank you.

  25. Spew You, what you’ve cited is a two-point comparison showing that the total TV audience (free-to-air + pay) increased roughly in line with population between early 2004 and early 2006. You don’t seem to have responded at all to the evidence of a twenty-year decline that I noted, and that Dale discusses in tems of anecdotal evidence.

    And you can check that the average number of people watching the commercial free-to-air networks at any given time was under 3 million. No show attracted the attention of more than 10 per cent of the population, suggesting that it’s unlikely that 99 per cent of people watch commercial TV on a regular basis (unless you define your terms so broadly as to include me and people like me)

  26. Spew’s comments (and some others here) indicate their own inferiority problems. I mean, “if you’re not interesting enough to connect with them then it says more about you and how your relate to people than it does about TV” – are you serious? If someone thinks something is crap, it may just be crap, you dig? It’s not some stab at your particular tastes that you need to defend like a big geek. Same goes for Dogz. Inferiority complexes revealed all around, just because someone says their TV is crap!

    There definitely is some good programming on commercial TV, Family Guy (whatever happened to it though?), the Simpsons, and the Sopranos (and others, but I don’t really remember them). But you do have to weigh up the costs of watching instead of doing something else, and the cost of sitting through ads. If other content became ‘cheaper’ in these ways I might watch more TV, so the figures about a general decline don’t seem surprising to me. The fear and despair associated with not ‘connecting’ with what everyone else is watching, on the other hand, doesn’t rank too highly I’m afraid.

  27. It’s not some stab at your particular tastes that you need to defend like a big geek. Same goes for Dogz. Inferiority complexes revealed all around, just because someone says their TV is crap!

    Umm, Econoclast, you really should read other’s posts before ranting. I could not care less whether anyone else here likes the TV I like (although I can give you some pretty good reasons to watch some of the shows I watch, but at the end of the day it is too much a matter of taste for me to argue it at great length).

    However, I do care [but only a little bit, because my self-esteem really isn’t dependent upon what anyone here thinks of me] if you assume I am a fool just because I watch commercial TV, as Katz did with the following rhetorical question:

    “On the other hand, how difficult can it be to fool the kind of person who watches commercial TV?�

    Believe me, admitting you enjoy some commercial TV on a leftie forum like this is not exactly an indicator of an inferiority complex.

  28. Alright, fair point, I didn’t notice Katz’s point which falls within my rant. I never said that admitting you like commercial TV does not indicate an inferiority complex (I mean, I said I did!). I just took issue with the “you just think you’re better than me” attitude when someone says someone else’s taste has a little bit of brown in it. I like some commercial tv, but not because someone else tells me I’ll be a disconnected leftie if I don’t.

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