Who needs a new TV? Not me.
Columnist Tom Regan discovers what his children already knew: You don't need cable when you can watch your shows on the Internet.
Thanks to Hannah Montana, I may never have to buy a TV again.
No, I didn't win a new television at a Miley Cyrus concert. But the other day, I found my daughter watching an episode of "Hannah Montana" on the computer in our living room. When I asked her why she didn't just turn on the tube and watch the Disney Channel, she gave me that "Daddy, you are so behind the times," look and said, "Because on the computer I can watch it whenever I want. And on the TV, I had to wait for it to come on."
You need to understand something important about my TV-viewing habits: I don't really have any. When I lived in Boston, I watched two things: Red Sox baseball and the Food Network. Period. I allowed my children one, maybe two hours of TV a day. And on school days, none at all. I was the TV Grinch. (My wife hates TV with a passion, having grown up without it.) I've never seen an episode of "Survivor," have no idea who Donald Trump has fired lately, and I'm lost about "Lost." I don't TiVo.
OK, I confess, every now and then I watch "CSI:." But that's when I feel wild and crazy.
I should have realized, however, that I was making the shift to computer-based viewing when I moved to Washington, D.C. I purchased the mlb.com package to watch the Red Sox on my computer. I started showing my kids clips of SCTV (Second City Television, a Canadian sketch-style comedy show from the late 1970s and early '80s) on YouTube. I started watching news reports from the BBC and others online.
Jennifer Squires Biller, who writes a blog called Tube-Talk (www.tubetalk.blogspot.com/) says I am far from alone when it comes to seeing the benefits of watching TV online.
"Viewing television shows on the Web has become commonplace for a certain genre of viewers, who prefer to watch their favorite shows at their convenience and often on-the-go, whether on their iPods during a flight, or on their laptops during their lunch hour at work," Ms. Biller wrote in an e-mail. "I truly believe that Web viewing of television shows has already saturated our popular culture, and that it's here to stay, very much the same way cellphones permeated our society in the last 15 years."
Now that the TV-on-the-computer-screen idea has finally dawned on me (such convergence was predicted in the pre-2000 tech-boom times), I have realized several things:
1. I don't need a new TV. For my family, the Web provides just enough programming. My kids get their shows, I get my Red Sox. (I'm still waiting for the Food Network. Come on, dudes!) My old TV is on its last legs, and I've been hearing all these warnings about February 2009, when people will need a digital TV or at least a converter box to watch broadcasts. Why bother? I'll save myself a few bucks, thank you kindly.
2. Good-bye cable. We're moving again. (Long story, third time in eight months, I feel like a Bedouin.) We are moving to an area outside Washington with no cable. (I thought the peak of Mt. McKinley was the only place in the United States without cable.) But who cares?
In my new home, I can receive an Internet signal via a wireless service. A little receiver sits in my bedroom closet and broadcasts throughout the house. A local Internet provider charges $60 a month for the service. It costs more than what a cable company would charge, but worth it.
While I still watch CNN at work, it and other cable news networks stream important political events online. NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, and other networks offer complete episodes of some of their top shows online. If I pay a few extra bucks I can watch a movie downloaded from the iTunes store or Netflix. So why pay $100 a month for the pleasure of watching the Golf Channel and the Home Shopping Network? No thanks.
3. This is why the Writers Guild of America is on strike. Lots of young people already watch TV online, but as more old fogeys like me cotton to this stuff, you can see why writers want to be paid appropriately for the increasing number of people who watch their shows on a computer instead of on a TV set.
But watching TV online also raises a question: Might a show be canceled if Americans watch it only online instead of on the tube?
No, says Biller, watching online can actually help save a show. She offered the example of "Jericho," a drama that appears on CBS.
"It's obvious ... that the system does not accurately reflect ratings when you see a situation like what transpired with the show 'Jericho,' " she writes. "The network canceled the show due to dismal ratings, but apparently didn't realize the enormous fan base for the show. Millions of fans bombarded the network with millions of pounds of nuts (a nod to a line from the show) demanding 'Jericho' be returned to the airwaves. The network caved, and 'Jericho' lives on."
At this point, it never ceases to amaze me how our media choices are evolving. With at least three ways you can watch your favorite show now (iPod, computer, television), who knows how many more there will be down the road?