Sunday, November 4, 2018

Netflix on the D/L (Down Load)

Netflix succeeds by continuing to innovate

We cancelled our Netflix account when we went on the road - five months ago.   Five months in a 17 foot travel trailer and we have yet to kill each other.  That has to be some sort of record.

Anyway, I cancelled our Netflix account because I felt (wrongly) that we would not be able to stream video on the road.   And by "cancelled" I mean suspended.   Netflix used to use a scare tactic to get you to keep your account active - "if you cancel now, you may never be able to get the same deal you have now!" or some such nonsense.  Nevertheless, when you come back, they welcome you with open arms and your account is reinstated (along with all your preferences) without even having to enter a credit card number.  Smart move.

We heard from other campers that you can now download some Netflix videos to watch later.  This is a great feature if you are on a narrow-bandwidth connection.   You can set the video to download while you are making dinner or even sleeping, and then watch it later, without having to worry about the video jerking or getting out-of-sync.   Supposedly, the video will only play for a limited time, and then it erases itself from your mobile device or whatever.

Speaking of which, the Samsung Galaxy A4 pad we bought for an astoundingly little $85 at BJ's wholesale, works great for vidoes.  Sync it with a Bose Bluetooth speaker and you've got a mini-cinema in your hand.  Yes, I know this is old hat to a lot of you out there, but to a child of the 1970's, who learned to program FORTRAN on punched cards, this seems like Science Fiction.

Streaming video continues to eat into cable's monopoly.  A recent article about the actual cost of cable boxes makes the point that people who pay $8 or more a month to "rent" a cable box are being ripped off.  The cable industry won't disclose how much the boxes actually cost (a closely guarded secret) but needless to say, you've paid for that cable box in your living room many times over, if you've had it for more than a year.  It is kind of funny, in this day and age, that the Cable TV Cabal still relies on a piece of hardware installed in your home.  These folks are whistling when they walk past the graveyard.  Innovate or die.

We had been watching old reruns of Dragnet on Youtube, which continues to pummel us with offers to sign up for a "premium" service like Netflix (and then punishes us with commercials if we don't comply).   Thankfully, Dragnet is still on the air these days - it is now called Bluebloods and stars Tom Selleck.    The new series is the same kind of guilty indulgence as the old one - the good guys are always good, the bad guys are incorrigible, and right always triumphs over wrong, in a surprisingly short period of time.  Oh, and you'll be treated to a monologue somewhere in the program, telling you what for.

Not watching television (on cable or off-the-air) we didn't realize that one of the characters  (Danny's wife) was written off the series in the eight season.  It was almost comical how they did it, too.  In the soap opera business (and Blue Bloods is a soap opera, make no mistake about that) they kill off characters routinely when the actor asks for more money.  They make a joke about this in the movie Tootsie starring Dustin Hoffman.   They are on the set of the soap opera, and there is a casket.  One character asks, "who died?" and Hoffman replies, "they asked for more money."

The seven year contract for all of the actors was up, and the actress playing Danny's wife decided to ask for more money by saying she wanted to "explore other options".   To put the fear of God into the other actors, they killed her off - making it quite clear they would not negotiate a new salary or bring her back later on (although in soap operas, this is always possible by claiming the last five years' of episodes were a "dream sequence" - and yes, they did this on the Sopranos, which was also a soap opera).

The main characters can lobby for more salary, of course.  Tom Selleck can ask for the moon - the series is dead without him.  Ditto for Donnie Walhberg and maybe even Will Estes.  But most of the secondary characters can be replaced or even whacked, as they did with Erin's daughter after the first season.  Apparently, though, some actors forget what happened to Suzanne Summers on Three's Company.

In case the actors didn't get the message by killing off the character (off-screen) in the season premier, they also made the season premier center around whether it is appropriate to quit or not.  Danny anguished over whether to quit being a cop or not.  Frank decides to quit after being "fired" by the Mayor.   A cop accused of shooting an "unarmed" shoplifter summarily quits, rather than seeing it through.  The message wasn't too subtle - people who quit or threaten to quit are, well, quitters.

Once again, I digress.  But it illustrates how these television shows are businesses, and they are often run ruthlessly, in order to make a profit.  The shooting schedules are murder (no pun intended) and the costs per episode are staggering.  There is no room for actors acting as holdouts - you are better off killing off their character and moving on - lest the other actors get any ideas about their importance to the show.

And in a way, that is another reason simply to not watch this shit.   Most of these "series" say what they have to say within the first two or three seasons.  After that, as I have noted time and time again, it becomes comfort food - you tune in to watch your television "friends" who you are comfortable with.   Whether it is an alternative-universe Korean war that went on twice as long as the real thing, or a bar where "everyone knows your name" you are merely tuning in not for entertainment, but for comfort.   Your extended television family.    Pretty soon, you can predict what the characters say, before they even say it.

So in a way, we "missed" five months of Netflix on the road, when we could have been downloading programs for later viewing.   But on the other hand, I don't feel I "missed" much - and already I am scanning the offerings, much as one does digging through the discount DVD bin at Wal-Mart and thinking, "I've already seen that, I don't want to see this, and who in their right mind watches the rest of this crap?"

The actual crime rates in America have declined steadily since the 1960's - yet perception of crime in America is on the rise.  And if you watch any television at all, it is not hard to see why.  Almost every show on the air is about crime and criminals - or how specialists solve crimes (which are almost always solved - compared to the actual success rate of less than 50% in real life, often far less).   One may get the idea from TeeVee that an assault or even murder is in the offing, right around the corner.  And of course, the news reports little else than crime.

I am not sure where I am going with this, other than while Netflix is a great alternative to Cable (and about $100 less per month in cost!) the content is often just old television shows or "original programming" that is not unlike television shows.   Other than stripping off the ad content, not much has changed.  The good old days of Netflix, where you could stream old movies, seems to be gone for good.

In the long run, it is the content, not the technology, that will make the difference.  Sadly, most folks tuning into Netflix these days, just want more television, just in a different format.