February 14th, 2011


Television: Final Honeymoon Finally Starting!


     Back in April of '08, I admitted that even I can't stay focused on the oncoming DOOM and reverting to c. 1900 tech all the time. Although I ditched DirecTV "cable" programming long ago, I still indulge in a little OTA television. So I was getting ready for the transition from NTSC analog TV to ATSC digital with set-top converter boxes and antenna upgrades.

     In May of that year I reflected on how each new venue for TV transmission had opened the way for a (sometimes brief) era of unusual and cool programming, and hoped the new digital sub-channels would give us one last honeymoon with TV before TEOTWAWKI...

     Well, the digital transition came in 2009. And my predicted rebirth of low-budget, innovative, local TV on the new sub-channels was nowhere to be seen. In fact, it appeared that the people running the TV stations were basically morons. Unable to even program their EPGs correctly!

     Several stations used their x.2 stations for a Standard Definition mirror of their High Definition x.1 programming. Which was just plain dumb, as anyone with digital TV, including an old analog set with converter, can watch the HD channel just fine in SD on x.1.

     One Fox affiliate filled its x.2 with a HD mirror of x.1, but running the Secondary Audio Program. This is idiotic, as 90% of the time, there is no SAP. And when there is, you can listen to it on x.1 just by tapping the "audio/SAP" button on your remote!

     Then there were 24/7 Weather & Info sub-channels. Not really a bad idea, but we don't need five of them in the same market!

     Finally, over a year and a half after the digital switch, TV stations are beginning to find something interesting to do with their sub-channels. Much of the stuff I was hoping-for is indeed making a comeback, just from a different source than I'd expected.

     A number of "sub-networks" have emerged, making their feeds available to stations across the country. Some of these are themed channels, like the Live Well Network (oddly-enough, carried as the x.2 of our NBC affiliate, despite LWN being ABC-owned), TCN (country music videos), Video Mix TV (what it says on the tin), and a Spanish-language channel (Reconquista anyone?).

     But the coolest trend may be the new sub-channel networks popping-up to get mileage out of the underused studio archives. Classic TV and movies that haven't seen much air since goddamned infomercials gobbled-up all the out-of-the-way timeslots they used to occupy on broadcast TV, and all the basic cable channels wound up being absorbed into mega-media corporations, giving them access to the recent shows that the bean-counters mistakenly think are better programming.

     First our CBS affiliate replaced its SD mirror on x.2 with thisTV which features mostly MGM/UA/Orion movies, along with some old TV shows. Sadly, the MGM cartoon archives were bought by Turner long ago, so they're absent. But the DePatie-Freleng cartoons (Pink Panther, Inspector, Ant & Aardvark, Roland & Ratfink, even Misterjaw) are seen both as scheduled programming and as filler when movies run short.

     Then one of our Fox affiliates added an x.2 to run AntennaTV which runs all kinds of TV shows from the '50s through the '80s, plus some movies, the lesser-known archives of UPA/Screen Gems cartoons, and... oh yeah THE THREE STOOGES!

     Our stronger Fox affiliate is advertising an impending switch of their x.3 channel to MEtv, which is sort of a sister-network to thisTV, but with the reverse ratio of old TV shows (heavy on Westerns and detective shows) to movies.

     Seriously... The classic TV opening themes on the MEtv front page deliver more entertainment value than entire seasons of many modern shows!

     Even the local TCT (Total Christian Television) station has added an x.3 channel filled-out with ancient shows like Ozzie & Harriet, The Beverly Hillbillies, and the Roy Rogers Show. Hallelujah!

     All it takes for us to get all these FREE digital TV channels, even out here in the boonies, is my home-made mast antenna and a $15 pre-amp booster.

     Throw in streaming video from the Internet and a couple of NetFlix DVDs each week, and we've got way more stuff than anyone needs to watch! Why on Earth does anyone pay for cable or satellite anymore?

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