Friday, February 24, 2012

Rant #681: Pay to Play

When you watch TV today, just think back to the time when you didn't have to pay for it.

In the New York area, we had channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13, and that was just about it.

Occasionally, we would be able to get Connecticut stations, like channels 3 and 8, but most of the time, we had just these seven channels, and we had to use rabbit ears to get the best reception we could, which usually wasn't very good.

I remember that my friend got a new TV with UHF, meaning he had a TV that could get the upper span of channels beyond 13. We used to watch "Lucha Libre" every Friday night on Channel 41, a Spanish-language channel.

The reception was terrible, but if you turned off the lights, you could see it pretty well--in black and white, of course.

In 1973, my family was one of the first to have cable TV in our area. During those years, cable TV was basically showing movies over and over and over, but it was incredible that we could watch this at home on our TVs.

And the clarity of the broadcast was incredible. Those rabbit ears never could really bring in the image that clearly, but with cable, you got everything picture perfect.

Fast forward to the current time, and the choices are truly endless. We now have satellite TV and phone company TV in our home, and we have so many channels that we don't know what to do with them ...

Except, of course, to pay the bill each and every month.

And it all started back on this date in 1961.

That's when the Federal Communications Commission authorized the nation's first full-scale trial of pay television, in Hartford, Conn. There were earlier trials even in the 1940s, but this was the first one that was okayed by the then burgeoning FCC.

I remember seeing pictures of some of the early pay TVs, probably in TV Guide.

They literally had slots on the side of them where you put your money, probably quarters, into the TV and then it would start up.

I don't know if the first trial was on this level, but let's face it, pay-TV has revolutionized entertainment and what we can do in our own homes.

We can watch un-cut films in the comfort of our living rooms, so we don't have to go to the theater to do that anymore.

We can watch sporting events as they happen, and while this was originally on free-TV, the spectrum of sporting events--everything from the major sporting events to things like Mixed Martial Arts and the X-Games--were almost designed with the home viewer in mind.

And yes, we can watch adult movies without having to go out to a sleazy theater, if that is what we want to do.

We decry the prices for this luxury, but again, it is a luxury, so we have to pay for it.

Not with coins like in the early pay-TV model I talked about a few lines up, but with dollars, real dollars, and a lot of them, too.

But at least we have a broader choice now. Sure, I don't think watching something like "Bridezillas" is a real choice, but at least you can watch that if you want to ... or shut the TV off entirely.

I don't think that those behind that first pay-TV experiment in Hartford could envision TV today, what with its cable, satellite and phone company offerings.

But that experiment set the tone for many other such "pay-xx" experiments to come.

I mean, who thought we would pay for something like ...


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