Thursday, August 19, 2010

We're The New TV Program Directors

A poll conducted by the nation’s largest cable company, Comcast, says 62% of their customers nationwide use their DVR to time-shift TV programs. There’s no reason to suspect the numbers are different for any of the other major cable providers like Time-Warner, Charter, and satellite services like DishNet and DirecTV.

Remember the VCR? The first decision you had to make in the early days was VHS or Beta; we know who won that fight. The first couple generations were difficult to program and you had to have a good supply of blank tapes around, or you had to “tape over” something. Too often, what got “taped over” was a show another household member really wanted to see – and hadn’t yet got around to watching.

Another limitation of the VCR was the storage method itself: videotape cassettes. If you put it on the slowest speed (which meant the crappiest reproduction) you could maybe get six hours of programming on one tape. At one point in the mid-80’s I had well over 300 videotapes, carefully labeled and stored.

The TiVo was a step forward, but I never bought one. It came out just before Charter started offering the Moxi-box to its customers, so we went with that. Moxi allowed hi-def recording, and like similar systems, was easy to program. It was intuitive and you could program it easily with the remote control. The principal limitation, in the early days, was storage. You could only “save” about 8 hours of hi-def content. In a later version of the Moxi box, which we changed to about four years ago, storage was essentially quadrupled.

Now, we have DishNet, and its hi-def dual VCR. You can record two programs at the same time – without actually watching either one of them. Back in the VCR days, you couldn’t do that. Back then, when audience share was dominated by ABC, CBS, and NBC, the networks would often “counter-program” – schedule on of their programs to run opposite another network’s popular programs, forcing you to make a choice about which one to view.

By my count, my wife and I regularly watch 7 programs (not counting news broadcasts), and 3 of them are on HBO. I watch Ice Road Truckers on the History Channel, and there are 2 on ABC and 1 on Fox we watch. We love Mad Men, which is on AMC Sunday night opposite one of our HBO shows, so we DVR it and watch it later in the week. And when Breaking Bad and Dexter start new seasons, we’ll DVR those shows, too.

If you don’t like the song the radio is playing, you change the station…or, you don’t listen to radio for music and play your own CD’s or mp3’s. With the number of cable or dish channels available today, and the ability to easily time-shift them, the majority of Americans are now their own program director.


  1. The Mrs. and I can't imagine life without the DVR, not just for the time-shifting convenience of it, but because the standard commercial break on basic cable is around 4 1/2 minutes in length, and the interruptions become intolerable when watching in real time.

    I have been watching old hour-long "Twilight Zone" episodes on DVD lately--each episode runs 52 minutes, compared to today's standard, which is something around 44. There were fewer channels back in the day, but more show.

  2. I thought "Dexter" was on Showtime, not HBO.

  3. Jill - it is. You're correct. Thanks!

  4. So I bought a .44 magnum it was solid steel cast
    And in the blessed name of Elvis, well I just let it blast
    ’Til my TV lay in pieces there at my feet
    And they busted me for disturbin’ the almighty peace
    Judge said "What you got in your defense son ?"
    "Fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on"
    Apologies to The Boss.