In its latest attempt to defend its practice of forcing viewers to pay for programs they don’t want, the entertainment industry is claiming that Cable Choice would destroy the “quality dramas” of the current “TV Golden Age.”
An article in the Hollywood trade publication The Wrap argues that allowing Americans to have a say in what they can buy with their cable and satellite subscriptions will doom the alleged “Golden Age” of current TV.
To some extent, this is true. Those in the entertainment industry are far more enamored of dark, “edgy,” sexually explicit, and ultra-violent dramas like Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, and American Horror Story than are most Americans; and allowing subscribers to pick and choose which programs they pay for would likely mean such programs would lose funding or never get made in the first place.
The numbers alone tell the story. Breaking Bad – in spite of the adulation showered on it by Hollywood insiders and so-called “critics” – recently hit its all-time high of viewership: 5.9 million viewers (out of a potential audience of 117 million pay-TV subscribers). This is roughly equivalent to the typical audience for a rerun of a prime-time broadcast sitcom. Sons of Anarchy also recently touted its highest-rated episode, one with 5.8 million viewers. And American Horror Story’s all-time high was 3.8 million viewers. Most shows on broadcast TV that got those viewership numbers would be cancelled.
Most viewers don’t watch the shows insiders and critics rave about, because they find them distasteful. Put another way, while those in Hollywood are watching Dexter, most Americans are watching Duck Dynasty.
This prompts the question: is the entertainment industry in business to serve the wants, needs, and desires of its customers – or those of industry insiders and the industry itself? The answer is clear: the industry is not interested in serving consumers. If they were, they wouldn’t need to force everyone to pay for programming only a tiny minority watch. Why SHOULD viewers have to pay for programming they don’t want?
Notably, those who work, not for the enetertainment industry directly, but for cable companies, are far more reasonable. Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt favors Cable Choice. And American Cable Association President Matthew Polka says, “I do not think consumers should essentially finance and subsidize what are less popular channels…The free market works when customers can determine what content they want to watch, and what they shouldn’t spend money on because nobody is watching.”
But the industry’s extortionate practices are what keep its dark, twisted dramas alive. “The subsidies that come from bundling are a big part of what has contributed to the ‘TV revolution,’ both creatively and financially,” Fordham communications professor Philip Napoli says. “Millions of households that never watch Mad Men are funding its production through their basic cable subscription to AMC.”
No other industry shows the same degree of contempt for the desires of its customers than does the entertainment industry. Family-friendly, PG-rated movies invariably do well at the box office, far better than sex-and-violence-filled R-rated ones; yet Hollywood makes an abundance of the latter and practically none of the former. Similarly, TV viewers largely want safe, clean shows they can watch with their families. But in its contempt for its customers, Hollywood doesn’t care; they just keep making more shows about serial killers.
In support of forcing everyone to pay for shows only Hollywood insiders want, Hollywood also trots out its favorite, if most disingenuous, claim: “This kind of change would have a chilling effect,” says Hollywood research guru Craig Moffett.
This is Hollywood’s standard retort to any and every suggestion or criticism. The industry has claimed that not being allowed to say “mother***er” in front of children will have a “chilling effect”; that merely asking screenwriters to exercise more restraint has a “chilling effect”; and now, that allowing American citizens to pay only for shows they actually watch will have a “chilling effect.” It is a miracle that everyone in Hollywood has not frozen to death, given that city’s susceptibility to “chilling effects.”
But the real “chilling effect” is that put on families desperate not for dark, gore-soaked drama, but for shows they want. Only in the minds of those in Hollywood is the current media fascination with sadism, sex, and serial killers a “Golden Age.” To most Americans, a true “Golden Age” of TV would be one in which the industry made and showed programming Americans actually want to watch. Sadly, for such viewers TV’s true “Golden Age” has yet to arrive.