Commentary

Watching TV Is Too Hard

I recently received a message from Amazon urging me to watch its video programming, which is included in my Amazon Prime membership.  That certainly seemed like a good suggestion -- until the time came when I actually wanted to watch something.  

The video-viewing apparatus in my living room consists of a stack of machines and devices — but to my disappointment, none of them offer Amazon Prime, not even my much-hyped Apple TV.  Sure I could watch Prime on my laptop, and last year I did, in fact, watch Amazon’s “Catastrophe” that way, but the experience convinced me that watching “TV” on a laptop while seated bolt-upright in front of a desk is about as satisfying as eating dinner standing in front of the sink.  From a utilitarian perspective they both accomplish their main task, but the aesthetics leave something to be desired.

Preferring to watch video entertainment on my HDTV monitor, I decided to solve the Amazon Prime problem by ordering a six-foot HDMI cable, which I can hook up to my computer when I want to stream onto the TV.

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But what a pain in the neck.  Already sitting on my viewing stand are five remotes that control: 1) the monitor; 2) the DVR; 3) the DVD player; 4) my Apple TV; and 5) a cable-splitter device to switch from cable to cable. Now I have a separate cable to connect my laptop.

And it’s not as if these other devices are that easy to master.  The navigation on the Apple TV is so sensitive that I’m constantly landing on the wrong icon or the wrong show.  Of course to get even this far I needed to go online many times to check Apple TV instructions, since there was no manual with the device itself.  And even now, after all these years, I don’t understand why the DVR will sudden stop recording shows on my watch list, or why I get reruns when I specifically set the directions to record first-time-only broadcasts.

Whenever I complain about the complexity of watching TV, I feel like the old coot yelling at the neighborhood ruffians to stop playing on his grass.  Why can’t I be more like my Millennial son, who watches TV while lying on his bed with his laptop propped on his stomach?  Get out of the way of progress ,you geezer!

Of course we have to be careful not to romanticize the past.  One of the earliest television clichés was the image of the 1950s dad on the roof trying to position the antenna just right, so TV was frequently a pain the neck even in the days of yore.  Cable solved the antenna problem but created its own challenges with the cable box, which required its own remote control.  And the VCR was so complicated that most people only used it to play videos, not to record anything.  

It seems like every time we master one form of technology, the device industrial complex invents another must-have machine. We now live in a world when no one can go into another person’s home and confidently change the TV channel without screwing up the system.  That’s a lesson I’ve learned over too many Christmas visits to my parents’ house.

Figuring out how to work the devices is bad enough — but finding something to watch is even worse.  I know there’s a ton of content to watch, but where to find it?  I’d really like to watch “Orphan Black,” but have no idea how to do that.  I see from a Google search that it’s on BBC America.  Is that part of my cable package?  I guess I could look, assuming I can find my channel guide?  Or maybe it’s on Netflix, but the search function is really hard on Netflix.

I’m glad there are so many great shows to watch and so many ways to watch them, but it seems like “television” is about to collapse on itself from the weight of its own complexity.   

In the meantime, maybe I’ll just stick to Colbert.  He’s on every night and is waiting for me on the DVR whenever I get home.  Sometimes the path of least resistance is the best option.

5 comments about "Watching TV Is Too Hard".
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  1. Tanya Gazdik from MediaPost, August 16, 2016 at 11:38 p.m.

    Hmmmm, I have Amazon Video and I love it because I can add stuff to my queue via an app on my smart phone. Do you have a blueray DVD player?  I have one hooked up to my TV and it has Wifi capacity built right in. So to watch Amazon Video or Netflix, I simply turn it on, turn my TV to HDM2 and follow the prompts on my screen. I have two remotes, one for my TV and one for my DVD player, that's it. I just got done watching all 50 episodes of Six Feet Under via Amazon Video. There's a great selection there, it's never ending. I'm not sure I even need Netflix anymore. 

  2. Suzanne Sell from Independent, August 17, 2016 at 12:29 p.m.

    Blu-ray or Amazon Fire Stick would be much easier.

  3. Kathy Newberger from TBD, August 17, 2016 at 12:30 p.m.

    My solution is a Roku streaming stick.  

    Cheap (maybe $50?  Less if I am remembering right) easy to install and set up, comes with a remote- so simplicity itself to use, doesn't take up any space on tv stand, has Amazon (and hulu, sling, Netflix, and tv everywhere apps from networks, and cool apps from brands,) cross app search (can't remember what service streams a show?  Roku search will tell you everywhere you can find it- even cool vintage shows)  it's the most widely used (perhaps 20 million NA users?) standalone streaming device.  And if you are upgrading tv, many manufacturers build it in.  So worth it.  One of those situations where the less "fancy" solution is superior. Can't figure out why so many media savvy folks don't have one yet- suspect they need to spend more in marketing, but I guess they poured all their money into making a fantastic product.  Please- get one- and if it doesn't give you all the lean back joy you want (and a quick way to switch and watch "normal cable, Bcast or satellite,) I, who have no vested interest in the product, will buy it from you and give it to someone I like.  Trust me.  Roku.  

    That said, nothing wrong with just watching Colbert. :-)

  4. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications, August 17, 2016 at 1:01 p.m.

    If you have wifi in your house (who doesn't) get a Roku stick. Don't even need to get newest generation, get an old one, they work great.

  5. Doc Searls from ProjectVRM, August 17, 2016 at 9 p.m.

    You're right. It's too hard.

    We have Apple TV, and that just adds one more hard thing to the other collection of hard things required to watch what TV has become. And in five years everythng you can name—Over-the-Air, cable, satellite, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, etc., on screens big and small—will be obsolete and TV itself will be an anachonism, kind of like the words "station" and "network" are already.

    The one sure thing is that we'll be paying for the best of what we'll see on whatever glowing rectangles inhabit our lives. How we'll pay is unknown. Might be subscriptions. Might be something easier and less icky, such as á la carte payments.

    In the meantime, it's all coping, all the time. Have fun.

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