Last year my TiVo died, and the company offered me a discount on a TiVo Premiere, their newest digital media box. I didn’t really want to drop $200 on it, but it seemed like a bargain and I needed something to watch cable with. Reluctant to get another Comcast box, with the worst interface of all time, I went ahead and grabbed the Premiere.
Fast forward to May 23, 2011: Hulu Plus is now available through the TiVo Premiere. Oh joy! Now I can spend $8 a month on television instead of the $78 that Comcast charges me. The only downside is that they don’t have every show my wife watches, most notably Gossip Girl. (Wait a minute, this might be a good thing...) No matter! I can always download the episodes after they air—assuming some nice person ripped it.
I have no qualms with downloading content that I can legally record with my TiVo, but if I ditch Comcast, the legality here might become more of a grey area. Regardless, I can stream Gossip Girl from the CW website, so it shouldn’t be an issue, right? Sort of. It’s probably still illegal because I’m bypassing the advertisements that pay for the show.
I ran into this exact situation not thirty minutes later as my wife looked through the TiVo for the latest episode of America’s Best Dance Crew. For some reason, the TiVo didn’t record it; looking at EpGuides.com and TV.com for listing of the episode didn’t help. ABDC’s Wikipedia page had the results from the show listed, so I know it aired. Looking for a torrent to download the episode proved fruitless. It’s like the episode didn’t air, and someone just updated the Wikipedia article anyway.
So I went straight to the source and checked the MTV website, where they advertised “Full Episodes” streaming on their website. Interested in the idea of Hulu, and without an alternative, I chose to watch the full episode of the show straight from MTV.com.
I never do this, so I didn’t know what to expect. However, it was surprisingly just like watching TV. I’m not sure why I was surprised by this, but I guess I expected it to be full of artifacts and lag, buffering randomly in the middle of performances. They did a good job with their web player.
I knew the commercials were inevitable, I just didn’t know how many there would be. Knowing that MTV will sometimes show blocks of commercials six minutes long, I braced for the worst as the first commercial break came on. It was a commercial for Clairol hair products, starring Angela from The Office.
As I watched the 30-second spot, I began sweating, then vocalizing my fear. “Only one commercial!” I yelled. As it neared its end, my fingernails dug into my legs. “ONLY ONE!”
And then, to my dismay, a second commercial began playing. Actually, I shouldn’t say second, considering it was the same commercial again. I watched another 30 seconds of Angela selling hair products. Again, I screamed at the TV: “Please don’t let it be three!!”
It wasn’t. The show came back on. But when the commercial break came back, it was Clairol, back-to-back. More of the same.
Repeat two more times. I watched this commercial, and this commercial only, eight times. I do hate commercials, with their attention-demanding super-loud compressed audio and fast-paced sales pitch to maximize the profitability of the purchased time slot, but this commercial went beyond annoying and became mocking. Here’s the commercial, but please, do me a favor and watch this commercial all the way through to get an idea of what I had to deal with. Now imagine it eight times. If you’re really masochistic, you could even watch it eight times in a row.
Though I enjoyed watching the episode (in which two people I referenced yesterday embraced, coincidentally) the commercials actually had an impact on my decision to watch in the future. They really only had one sponsor? What about all the sponsors that air on cable television? What about the sponsors in the ads on their website? It’s really not acceptable to just spew the same commercial at me over and over again. It goes beyond advertising and feels like the brainwashing it really is.
Internet-streamed TV is definitely the way of the future, but it’s got some bugs to work out. Also, if you want a good pitch for a future-media model, drop by with a suitcase full of cash and I’ll tell you all about it.