A piece of modern American culture died last week: the Saturday morning cartoon. It's a tradition I shared as a kid to wake up after a long week of school and do nothing but watch hours of cartoons at the start of my weekend... no cable or internet required (streaming wasn't even a thing yet). By high school I was growing out of it and was soon sleeping too late to watch anything anyway. Years after college (and my discovery of anime) I decided to start waking up earlier again, and back came the cartoons, LOL. By then there was much less (Fox airing infomercials? What has Saturday come to!), but still enough to "feel" like it should. Then the CW throws away its near-monopoly "Vortexx" to change to "Tax Writeoff TV." (It may be called something else, but my name is more descriptive.)
This post isn't about cartoons but about people's reactions to Saturday morning's demise. In 2014 streaming is now very much a thing. I've seen "on-demand" and it's awesome: watch any episode of any program at any time. In the 90's kids were going to cable, and today their kids are going to streaming. So it was inevitable that the broadcast networks would find new markets and that the viewers would shrug their shoulders and turn to their iPads. You say "what a bummer", we say "kids still have Nickelodeon." Of course some kids don't have cable or internet at home, so they'll change the channel to... informercials? I know if I had to raise kids on my salary there'd be no cable. But you know whatever. Nickelodeon it is.
Scheduled broadcasting is going away, and that means cable channels too. People will whine out of nostalgia, as they have for Saturday morning cartoons and other casualties of the internet, but they'll concede that scheduled broadcasting is a dinosaur and on-demand is king. I disagree. I think the dinosaur of a broadcast schedule should still have a place in our streaming world.
Sometimes I just want to turn on the TV/Computer and watch something without having to think about what. On-demand forces me to weigh how much I like whatever shows, or how much I think I'll like a show. Broadcast and cable TV don't force me into choices... at least not beyond which channel. Fifty years ago when people had only one or two channels you watched what you could and liked what you could. This brings me to my second point...
I don't always know what I'll like, and there are plenty of shows I'd never have discovered if I'd had to judge them by a thumbnail and a paragraph surrounded by hundreds of other thumbnails and paragraphs. On-demand promotes viewers walling themselves off from each other rather than sharing fandom. "Other shows you may like" is nice, but there are genre boundaries the Netflix recommendations won't help me cross. Scheduled broadcasting kept me from falling into ruts.
We all watched new programs at the same time and it gave us a tighter sense of community. This may be the weakest argument of all, since everyone can (and does) stream a new episode of something on the day it comes out. Nevertheless stories of water pressure crashing in cities soon after the M*A*S*H finale ended (because everyone used the toilet at the same time, 'ya see) are relics of a past era. We don't have five choices of what to watch, we have practically infinite choices. Therefore it's harder to stay in sync. Just think about those times a conversation starts about a show from two years ago but someone says "I haven't finished it yet. Don't spoil it." Sigh.
Scheduled broadcasting is not bad, and I'd like to see it continue alongside on-demand. It doesn't even need to be a TV station thing, but an option on streaming sites: "We have a bunch of anime playing right now, click here to watch." Something like that, with bumpers inbetween episodes, just running out of some automated server. Maybe that's the kind of thing we'll all get to program in the not-too-distant future (when all the licensing is matured). Maybe the future doesn't have to be so chaotic after all.
Coming soon: The EG channel!
(given a loose definition of 'soon')
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