My TV-related resolution: no downloading

21:16, Jan 08 2012

We're only nine days in, but 2012 already feels like a transitional year for television in this country.

The switch to digital starts in September. TVNZ7 is due to go offline in June (please visit SaveTVNZ7.co.nz and sign their petition to help make sure this doesn't happen). Local channels are starting to embrace quick turnaround on shows, bragging how quickly they are bringing over foreign content like American Idol (which starts again next week, a mere 2 days behind the US). Plus, our most successful, most popular television show will celebrate its twentieth anniversary in May.

Then there is the cord-cutting movement, in which viewers dispense with their flat-screen TVs and providers (like Sky TV) in favour of finding their entertainment online - a movement which has been gaining traction overseas in the last few years and seems to be approaching a global tipping point as internet speeds and streaming video websites improve. PC Magazine recently reported that 9 per cent of the respondants in a 2000-person survey had cut the cord, while a further 11 per cent indicated that they were considering it.

I've been thinking about cord-cutting in the last couple of weeks, particularly as it relates to downloading television shows. So often in this country, the act of downloading is closely tied to programming delays or dissatisfaction with providers - just like cord-cutting. We justify it by saying "but if I don't download, I'll have to wait for my favourite show until two months from now". We're effectively cutting cords simply through bypassing local networks.

But let's be honest: we're just being impatient - and I'm certainly including myself in that. Toward the end of 2011, I downloaded new episodes of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, even though I know for a fact that it will be airing on TV3 this year. I was impatient. I wanted the show immediately. But why do I want to watch CSI immediately? Is my life somehow better for having seen it a few months earlier? Is there some enjoyment to be had by watching it in November rather than in March? The answer is surely no.

Author James Gleick explored the idea of modern impatience in his book Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything, published in 1999, in which he shines a spotlight on the speeding-up of life. We take for granted the instanteous nature of things that our parents and grandparents had to wait for - think about how fast a short email is compared to a hand-written letter sent by post - and that certainly applies to TV.

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In the introduction to his book, Gleick writes:

"We are in a rush. We are making haste. A compression of time characterizes the life of the century now closing. Airport gates are minor intensifier of the lose-not-a-minute anguish of our age. There are other intensifiers - places and objects that signify impatience. Certain notorious intersections and tollbooths. Doctors' anterooms ("waiting" rooms) ... Remote controls: their very existence, in the hands of a quick-reflexed, multitasking, channel-flipping, fast-forwarding citizenry, has caused an acceleration in the pace of films and television commercials ... We humans have chosen speed and we thrive on it - more than we generally admit. Our ability to work fast and play fast gives us power. It thrills us. If we have learned the name of just one hormone, it is adrenaline ... Instantaneity rules in the network and in our emotional lives: instant coffee, instant intimacy, instant replay, and instant gratification."

It used to be that, if you wanted to watch a new episode of your favourite show, you had to be sitting right in front of the television at the exact time it started. In 2012, we can go online and find shows before they've even aired on local television; if we miss an episode, even an entire season, we can find it and watch it whenever we want.

So I've decided on a TV-related New Year's resolution: I'm going to try to be patient. I'm giving up downloading.

It's not that I've had a change of heart on the act of downloading; you're not going to start seeing anti-downloading posts here at On The Box - my stance will remain that local networks need to investigate fast turnaround of popular shows, bringing them to our screens quicker, and I truly believe that downloading will continue (even increase) until that happens.

In fact, On The Box was one of the reasons I decided to do this: it has always been the stance of this blog to cover only shows that have aired on local television - that being the case, there isn't a benefit to downloading shows as far as this blog is concerned. I could be using the time I previously spent finding, downloading and watching shows I can't talk about here to check out more of what is on our local channels.

So what do you think: am I completely insane, or do you agree that a little patience is all that is required? Would you ever consider trying to go download-free? And what, if any, TV-related resolutions did you make this year?

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