Gallery C

The Advertising Blitz
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Greedy Cable Companies Are Driving Viewers Away

By James Donahue

A report in Alternet expressing concern about a bid by Comcast to merge with Time-Warner Cable and become an even larger monopoly of cable telephone, Internet and telephone communication services, caught our attention this week.

As we all know, if we have cable service at our home, we subscribe to the only service available. Cable television is already operating as a monopoly. But joining forces to become an even larger monopoly appears to mean even more power and more profits for shareholders. And this is very bad news for customers.

The bottom line is always money so if this merger goes through, Comcast customers can expect to pay more for everything. The company may promise special deals for new customers, but once caught in the system, you start to pay more for services you don’t know you have.
The worst and most objectionable issue has been the excessive advertising breaks on almost everything we choose to watch on our television screens. The report by Steven Rosenfeld notes that plans are in the works to slam even more commercials into the programming, especially during popular shows.
Rosenfeld writes: “Comcast wants to flip the current advertising system upside-down and have older episodes of primetime shows carrying the same commercial load as the most recent episode.”

If they haven’t already done it, plans may be in the works to disable the system’s “fast-forwarding” button that allows customers to zip through those irritating commercial breaks even in the on-demand shows. Also Comcast is wrangling with Netflix to block access to the more popular shows.

As most of us know, the best alternative to an evening of a back-to-back television ad blitz is switching to Netflix or  some of the other program screening services like Hulu or Amazon. The shows may be older, but watching anything without the constant ad interruptions is far better than the junk pouring down our cable television lines.

This writer used to begin an evening of television viewing by switching on the local news at 6:30 p.m., followed by a half-hour of national news at 7, and then perhaps an hour of news commentary on MSNBC or perhaps CNN. But after noticing that the news programming amounted to about two stories broken by as many as ten consecutive ads appearing back-to-back, the routine changed. Now we get our news on the Internet and generally skip the television news altogether.
We understand the benefits of advertising to support the cost of television service to our home. In the old days, before we had cable and relied on roof antennas, we were lucky if we had more than two stations to watch. We had advertising then, but it usually involved a single show sponsor, was tastefully done, and never monopolized the show. We still remember Dina Shore singing “See the USA in your Chevrolet.” and the quartet that sang: "Brush your teeth with Colgate . . ."

Can you remember the sponsor of last night’s news report? It’s impossible because there were probably 40 or 50 different ads flashed in your face during that half hour report. Do you remember the news report? Probably not. By the time the show as over your brain was fried from images, jingles and noise.

What annoys us is that all this television, telephone and Internet service was made possible via our government space program and those hundreds of satellites shot up into space. And all of it was mostly financed by our tax dollars, not the cable company or broadcasting networks.
We are talking to more and more people who say that they have become so frustrated with all the advertising, and the loss of quality programming coming out of their television sets that they have stopped watching television altogether.

Of course we are not speaking on behalf of all the sports fans who seem willing to stare blankly at their screens just to watch hours of athletic competition. Give them a cold beer and a bowl of junk food and they appear to be satisfied with whatever is pushed in their faces.

This should be a warning to the greedy corporations trying to gain even more control of our communication systems. There is going to be a point where we just turn it all off. The price is too high for what we get.