Storage J

Advertising Everywhere

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The Rising Cost of Electronic Entertainment

By James Donahue

I grew up listening to popular radio programming that included Jack Benny, Amos and Andy, The Green Hornet, The Shadow, Tom Mix and many others. My brother, sister and I listened to a line-up of great programming every Sunday evening. I liked to sit on the floor building model airplanes out of balsa wood and paper as I listened. The shows were visually played out in my mind. Looking back, I think it was better than television because we could make the characters look any way we wished, and set the scenes to fit the story.

The effect was similar to reading a good novel, except it occurred more quickly; with the 30-minute or 60-minute time during which the show was aired.

After some of these same shows moved into television, and I saw characters like Amos and Andy and Jack Benny live on the screen, there was a feeling of disappointment. I was quite shocked to discover that Amos and Andy were white men in black face. Benny looked different than I had pictured him, but he was still very funny, even on the screen.

We got our first television set when I was in high school. That was when we had a single channel to watch. The broadcasting came from about 60 miles away so we didn’t always have good reception, but when the programming was good, it was good. There were always those pesky advertising breaks but we didn’t mind that much. They were brief and we understood that someone had to pay for that amazing free and visual programming we were receiving.

When satellite and cable television arrived we were amazed at the wide variety of new entertainment available to us. We even could watch full length movies on our television sets, although they were full of annoying advertising breaks. Even though we were paying for the cable service, we still had our programming interrupted by advertising. That didn’t seem right, but the service was relatively inexpensive and we reasoned that without the advertising sponsorship, we would be paying much more for what we watched.

There has been an incredible barrage of new technology since those days. We now can watch thousands of shows through not only cable but satellite dish networks. The programming even is piped into our computers if we choose to receive it there. But the cost of this new technology is getting really steep.

In our house we receive not only television but an Internet connection and our telephone service down a single wire provided by a local cable service. But the cost of all of this electronic wizardry is not cheap. We pay more for cable service each month than we do for our monthly winter heating bill. Because it is attached to our telephone and Internet service, we bite the bullet and pay the price. Since we have family living all over the country, telephone service alone used to cost us as much as we now pay for the entire bundle.

The cable programming offers full length movies, without advertising. It even offers an On-Demand feature so that we can pick from a line-up of full-length films, documentaries, concerts, athletic events and some special television shows and view them at our convenience. That is a    nice feature.

But there are some hooks. Some of the On-Demand programming invites you in for “free” viewing, but then charges you if you dare view the show. The only way to know the difference is to watch for a price tag in the upper right corner of the screen as you view a description of the program. Prices range from $2 to $5 per show, depending on its popularity I suppose. These charges are quietly added to your monthly cable bill if you dare to watch.

Also there is a package of On-Demand films . . . always the latest shows to be released at the local video store . . . that can be watched if we are willing to pay an extra amount, usually ranging from $4 to as much as $10. We could rent the same shows from the video store a few blocks from our home for less. And choosing to watch those new films for $5 a pop, and doing no more than one a night, could technically hike our cable bill by an extra $150 a month.

Unless your pockets are jingling with cash, which is probably not the case if you are home and confined to your television set for your entertainment, you really do not want to ever watch those shows. Best to accept the “free” movies that sometimes are so old you realize somewhere in the middle of viewing them that you watched them about 20 years earlier.

As a retired newspaper writer my primary interest in television programming centers around the news, weather and news commentary channels ranging from CNN to MSNBC and including the Weather Channel, History Channel, Science Channel and other programming that includes documentaries about everything from wildlife to space exploration. My wife and I thrive on it all.

The problem we are noticing with regular television programming, even on the cable fed shows that we pay dearly to receive, is that they are becoming choked with advertising breaks. And they aren’t just breaks for one or two ads anymore. I have been timing the programming and ad breaks. We get about five to eight minutes of program, then five to eight minutes of advertising.

The advertising is slammed into our faces. I have counted from eight to eleven separate ads in each package. They run over one another so fast it is difficult to tell when the ad for one product stops and the next one begins. We are hammered with food ads at mealtime, pharmaceutical ads during the nightly news (mostly watched by the elderly), and automobile, insurance and travel ads constantly. As if the unemployed, retired and struggling folks in mid-America can afford any of that stuff.

I have to wonder if the television programmers are so desperate for money they are packaging this much advertising. Another thought is that perhaps the shows we like are so popular, they are attracting advertisers. I have never tried shows I dislike and counted the number of ad breaks to find out.

Not only have the advertisers taken dominion over our nightly television programming, they are clever about it. They know that the ad breaks are long enough that we now have lots of time to take bathroom breaks, go into the kitchen to make popcorn or fix a quick sandwich, or make a quick check of our e-mail before the programming comes back. So notice that the volume suddenly increases during the ad breaks. Some ads are so loud we are forced to hit the mute button on our remote if we choose to stay in the room.

Actually, that mute button is a very good part of the new television technology. My wife and I have become very skilled at using it.