I remember those early cable TV days.

Came across this meme on Facebook today and it made me a little ranty. It’s one of the big reasons I ended up cutting the cord years ago and switching to streaming only. It’s largely accurate except for Bravo.

Image may contain: text that says 'TV CHANNELS: THEN & NOW WHAT IT SHOWED THEN MTV Music videos WHAT IT SHOWS NOW TLC Trash reality shows that feature young, attractive people Medical shows and documentaries ANIMAL PLANET Trash reality shows that feature oddballs and grossouts Wildlife documentaries A&E Trash reality shows that feature doggies and kitties Historical biographies HISTORY Trash reality shows that feature murders and ghosts History documentaries BRAVO Trash reality shows that feature pawn shops Makeovers and weddings DISCOVERY Trash reality shows that feature gold diggers Nature programming WEATHER Weather Trash reality shows that feature gold-diggers Weather @MATTSURELEE'

I was a teenager in the 1980s when Cable TV started showing up everywhere. I can recall clearly hearing the news that it was coming to my hometown of Pontiac, MI and how excited everyone was for it. I can also remember the launch of several of these channels.

MTV was a channel I spent a lot of time on and is the major reason I can recognize musical groups from that era when I see pictures of them. Hours were spent watching videos and when we moved out to Orion Township in 1984, which didn’t have cable TV yet, my mother felt so bad that she bought a couple of MTV compilation VHS tapes to make up for it. I think I still have them around here someplace.

Some folks know that TLC stood for The Learning Channel and started off with a lot of educational programming and documentaries, but what a lot of them don’t know is that it’s one of the oldest cable channels. Founded in 1972 by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and NASA as the Appalachian Community Service Network its focus was on education through TV and was distributed for free by NASA satellite. It was privatized in 1980 and became The Learning Channel and its main competitor was The Discovery Channel, which aired similar content. TLC was considered the better channel for shows about nature, science, history, current events, medicine, technology, cooking, and home improvement. So, of course, the folks behind The Discovery Channel ended up eventually buying them out and then slowly moved the content to the trash that it is today for the sake of ratings. Then in 2006 to 2008 they tried to shift their focus back to actual educational programming even using “The Learning Channel” in some promotions. That didn’t last long at all.

Of all the channels above, TLC is the one I’m most upset about because it in the early days I really enjoyed it. The HISTORY Channel falls into the same category. I struggled with history in school, but I enjoyed the hell out of the programming on The HISTORY Channel back when it actually had shows about history on it. Arts & Entertainment (A&E, natch) was also really good in the early days even if I didn’t watch it all that much because I have no artistic sensibility. BRAVO I didn’t watch much of because I recall it had a lot of operas and “serious theater” on it which didn’t have enough explosions to keep my ADHD addled attention. Not sure why the meme lists BRAVO as makeovers and weddings as that’s the crap it turned into before it went full reality TV programming.

The Discovery Channel was another early favorite because I was big into science stuff and so were they. My favorite program was out of Australia called “BEYOND 2000” which was all about the cool shit we’d be using in the future. I first heard about Dental Implants on that show and now they’re actually a thing here in the future. At the end of my time as a cable TV subscriber the only shows I could stand to watch on the channel was The MythBusters and occasionally How It’s Made.

The joke of the meme is the WEATHER channel, which covered the weather back then and still largely does so today, but it hasn’t escaped from the reality TV trend entirely. With shows like Fat Guys in the Woods and So You Think You Would Survive, they’ve got their toes in the water. Hell, not even the major cable news networks have managed to avoid the trend.

The promise of cable TV back in the day was that it had enough room for networks devoted to knowledge to exist alongside the standard TV fare and for a while it lived up to that promise. Alas, ratings mean money and when the first reality TV show showed you could get massive ratings for extraordinarily little expenditure the fate of these channels was sealed. Why show an informative documentary on how paper clips are made when you can air a show about the hardships of a family of little people and make four times the cash from it?

The same sort of thing happened to parts of the Internet. I first ventured onto the net before the World Wide Web was a thing, so it was a text-based experience. USENET News Groups were the main draw back then functioning much like web-based message forums of today or the Bulletin Board Systems we ran before the Internet was widely available. There were groups devoted to all sorts of topics and they put you in contact with knowledgeable people around the world. Alt.Sex was an amazing forum for getting information from experts about that topic right up until around 1996 when the boom in Internet Service Providers (ISPs) happened and suddenly the Internet became a lot more crowded. Groups like Alt.Sex went from being a place with useful info to nothing but porn ads almost overnight.

It’s almost like any form of educational thing gets ruined the minute you give it to the masses. Early cable TV was highly informative as was the early Internet. Once it reached the mass public both kinda soured. There are still areas of both that hold worthwhile content, but content aimed at the lowest common denominator reigns king and you must step around a lot of dog shit to get to it. It’s a shame. I miss those early days, but that’s probably me being a grumpy old man looking at the past through rose tinted glasses.

Hey you kids! Get the fuck offa my lawn!

Good news for apartment dwellers: FCC slaps down exclusive cable TV deals.

The folks over at ArsTechnica have an entry up about a decision by the FCC to ban exclusivity deals between cable companies and apartment complexes:

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who lives in a multiunit dwelling (MDU), there’s a good chance that your rent or association fees pay for a TV service you may or may not want. Many such units are locked up in exclusive contracts that don’t allow condo owners to install, say, a Verizon FiOS fiber optic link instead of a Comcast connection.

Martin’s comments indicate that the FCC is serious about ending such contracts and may actually attempt to throw out current contracts before they expire. The very idea has cable operators incensed.

To consumers, the ability to choose sounds great, though in practice the choices available may be limited. The big backers of the change have been phone companies like AT&T;and Verizon, which (not coincidentally) have launched television services of their own. With nearly a quarter of Americans living in MDUs, missing out on this market could be a huge blow to telco expansion plans.

Despite worries that new FiOS and U-Verse installs might target only wealthy areas, several people I’ve spoken with on the issue say it’s really more about density. Costs for new fiber runs to less-dense housing can be astronomical, and MDUs are about the densest form of housing to be found. For companies struggling to justify massive capital expenditures on an entirely new business, being able to wire MDU residents could be a big boon.

Cable operators argue that such MDU contracts can actually lower rates by allowing people to pool their purchasing power and strike better deals, but as Martin told the Times, “Exclusive contracts have been one of the most significant barriers to competition.” He also claimed that cable rates have risen nearly 100 percent in the last 10 years.

Back when we were living in the apartment in Canton before I got laid off the first time we had briefly considered moving into a larger townhouse apartment in Canton that would’ve included a basement to give us a little more room. It was only slightly more expensive than the apartment we had already been renting and I was quite pleased with it until I found out that the complex had signed an exclusivity contract with Comcrap Comcast at which point I told the lady point blank I wouldn’t be able to move in on that basis alone. The apartment complex we were living in already had allowed both Comcast and Wide Open West to run cable through the buildings so when we got fed up with Comcast we were able to make the switch to WOW. Still being more than a little annoyed with Comcast at the time made that exclusivity a deal breaker for me and I think it’s the first time I’ve ever allowed a choice of cable company to determine where I lived.

So, needless to say, I think this is a great move on the part of the FCC though it remains to be seen if the cable companies will take this laying down. There are already rumbles in the industry of a potential court fight over it and I’m hoping that the FCC prevails. Canton has some of the better cable prices thanks to the competition and it’s something I love to see spread to more areas in Michigan.