As an adult of this first generation to accept the internet as a facet of everyday life, I never felt compelled to put money toward “cable TV” or really anything about television at all. Along with that went my appreciation of the most formative piece of entertainment in my life: the TV show.
I grew up on a lot of television: Saturday morning cartoons, Nickelodeon, game shows, but with my mom’s guidance, I also slurped in a lot of classic TV as well. Welcome Back, Kotter introduced me to John Travolta before he was an action star, The Dick Van Dyke Show is always classic, but the biggest one of all, and possibly the most important piece of entertainment ever committed to the medium, is I Love Lucy. Over the course of a decade, I must’ve seen every single episode at least twice, noticing how virtually every other comedy and multi-camera show descended from it in the sixty years since it debuted.
I remember sitting in college in the early aughts wondering how television would work in the wake of Napster, who had eaten the record industry’s lunch by, among other things, dismantling the reason to purchase albums. Why own the disc complete with cheesy liner art when you only need one song? Why pay for one song when you can download it for free with dubious legal recourse? How would the television networks respond to the notion of series a-la-carte? They learned from the record industry first and foremost by not ameliorating the consumer (for the most part) and by popularizing the notion of releasing chunks of TV to customers in the form of DVD sets, season by season. This worked really well, but with the rise of the faster internet came the inevitable piracy of that content. Enter Hulu.
Formed as a venture between three of the major networks, Hulu is the same sort of on-demand streaming television I (and so many others) dreamt of long ago. The key here is that the networks lowered their inhibitions a bit and allowed their content to be sprayed out to viewers on the internet for a fraction of the revenue (and little of the profit) they were getting by charging for ad spots on the television. With services like Hulu (and to a lesser extent, going to the parent network sites to watch shows individually- gag) it’s possible to try out new shows without having to invest in either the DVD boxset or a cable TV subscription. I can finally settle into shows I would have never touched before – like The Office, Parenthood, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Arrested Development – all because the networks decided to do that internet thing the right way.
Now that it’s 2011, we’re seeing more and more of a reason to ditch a dedicated TV service at all; the internet makes it redundant with each passing day. There’ll always be a need to keep the cable provider around (until they start broadcasting the Super Bowl on YouTube, for instance) but the real winner here is the viewer, who can now enjoy an episode of their favorite show through a laptop, their TV, or their phone.
Amazing how that worked out.