Sometime in December, I signed up for a one-month free trial with a streaming service, just to see how it measured up. A week later I was telling a young friend, “I’ve been speed dating Stan.”
He gave me that WTF look 30-somethings sometimes give their elders: “It’s called binge-watching, Dude.”
And so it is. If you succumb to the marvels of being able to stream TV drama to your mobile phone, iPad, laptop and now even to your big screen TV, you can watch anything, anytime, anywhere.
I rather quickly got caught up in the misadventures of one Walter White, a mild-mannered chemistry teacher who turns to making and dealing methamphetamine as a way of funding chemo for his newly diagnosed lung cancer.
An implausible premise, maybe, but that peerless actor Brian Cranston, as Walter, pulls it off, in each and every improbable episode. His dunderhead brother-in-law Hank, who works for the Drug Enforcement Administration, continues not to see the forest for the trees.
Binge-watching is an unhealthy past-time, though, earbuds in, snuggling into your bed at 7.30pm ready to watch back-to-back episodes of Game of Thrones, House of Cards or Breaking Bad. There is the potential to fragment the family unit more than ever before. Mum’s in the lounge watching catch-up TV episodes of Gardening Australia. Teenage son is downstairs watching who knows what, teenage daughter is Skyping her friends who are backpacking around Europe; Dad’s got his headphones on watching Trapped on his smart phone and Little Dan is playing X-Box in the rumpus room. It’s a long way from the nuclear family enjoying My Three Sons, The Munsters or Mr Ed on a black and white TV.
I rarely watch more than two episodes of Breaking Bad in a night and not every night, but I’m half-way through season two already.
“Have you got to the bath scene yet?” my son asked. Yes I had. And it confirmed the wisdom of my decision to watch this dark comedy alone, as She Who Has an Aversion to TV Violence would have puked.
Oops, I think that’s what they call a ‘spoiler’ in streaming TV circles. Any day now someone will form a covers band and call it The Bath Scene from Breaking Bad.*
Call me a late adaptor, but what drove me to engage with streaming TV was the appallingly sparse fare offered by free-to-air TV in December/January.
Stan’s free trial period expired fairly quickly. I knew this when $10 was deducted from my credit card. Oh sure, I knew they would do this unless I told them not to – but they could have emailed, sent a text?
“Dude, we see you’re a fan of Breaking Bad! Where’s our money, Yo!”
Streaming services offer great value to people who like watching a TV series from beginning to end. The other investment I made, in what amounts to creating in-house entertainment in a time devoid of quality TV programming, was to purchase Google’s Chromecast device. Apple, Amazon and others have their own version of a device which enables you to ‘cast’ a TV programme from your phone or iPad to the big screen at home. These gadgets are inexpensive for what they offer. But most households will have to buy a Wi-Fi extender to ensure the programmes stream and play without buffering or crashing.
If this is old technology, what’s next?
This is already old technology as most “Smart TVs” made after 2014 (obviously not ours), come with Stan and Netflix built-in. So with the variety of ways one can seek out TV content that is not free-to-air (and I have not even mentioned Torrens), commercial TV is seriously up against it. As an extra enticement, most streaming services, unlike Pay TV, can be watched ad free.
Harold Mitchell, chairman of Free TV Australia, launched a campaign in October 2016 lauding the industry’s 60 years of achievements, its 15 million audience reach, stressing how badly Australia needs free TV.
In AdNews, Mitchell defended free to air television, saying it invests more than $1.5 billion in local content, employing 15,000 people.
He warned that commercial TV’s investment in (local) content is under threat from unregulated digital media companies,
“Australian licence fees are about three and a half times greater than in the next highest market, which is Singapore, and more than 115 times greater than in the United States.”
At its best, free TV offers live events like cricket tests, rugby union, rugby league, AFL and soccer matches, golf tournaments, the Australian Open, the NRL Grand Final, the Olympics, Winter Olympics and, whether it’s your thing or not, 24/7 news. No matter how generally awful the evening programming is in the summer, if something dramatic happens anywhere in the world, you can be sure the ABC, SBS, 7, 9 and 10 will be right across it, instantly.
Nevertheless, if not for the Australian Open (tennis) or perhaps the Cricket, there would no incentive to turn the TV on in January. There are repeats, repeats of repeats, vapid soapies; Kevin McCloud’s bespoke TV shows about people spending copious sums fixing up falling down buildings, the ubiquitous cooking competitions, and a puzzling show where a man and a woman loll about on a bed in their underwear. I gather there is supposed to be ‘chemistry’. Walter White would give them an F.
A day to mourn dispossession & dispersal
Last night I flicked through TV news to see how Australia Day was portrayed. It was as you might imagine. Flags and more flags, sausages on the barbie, gumboot-throwing competitions, families at the beach, cars with flags fluttering from their windows. Some channels covered the protests in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, the latter ‘erupting in violence’ as one person allegedly set fire to a flag. Tens of thousands gathered in capital cities, all calling for a change of date. Many indigenous people call it “Invasion Day” – the anniversary of the British First Fleet arriving in Australia.
Fremantle Council, despite bowing to pressure from Canberra to hold Citizenship ceremonies, has become a poster child for the #changethedate movement. Council plans to hold a “culturally inclusive” celebration on Saturday (despite WA Premier Barnett urging Councillors to “pull their heads in”.)
Overwhelmed by jingoism, we engaged the ‘casting’ device, which not only allows you to watch Stan or Netflix, but also catch up on ABC, SBS and commercial station programmes. So far we have watched Outback ER, an ABC reality TV doco set in Broken Hill. What does happen when you have a heart attack and you are 500 kms away from cardiac specialists?
We watched Concussion on Stan last night. At $10 a month and no advertising, Stan is a no-brainer option for a media consumer. It is dearer than free TV, certainly, but the options are seemingly limitless.
Meanwhile, I’ll probably have to sign up for Netflix as well, as I see there is a fourth (and maybe even a fifth) season of House of Cards in the wings. I figure I owe Netflix money as I watched all three series of House of Cards last year during my one-month trial (39 episodes).
Now that’s what I call speed dating!
*Cultural reference to a 1990s Melbourne band called The Shower Scene from Psycho.