Wednesday, May 4TV Month 2016 - The Premium.
There was a time, not too long ago, where entertainment was still sort of an exclusive privilege.
The models still exist in different ways: Netflix, Spotify, Hulu and so on. But once file sharing hit the web, the walls between entertainment and fan were never the same again. Before that, if you wanted to see something, chances are you actually...you know...had to pay for it. Thievery was possible, but far more difficult, with the stakes much higher.
It was so much more than piggybacking on a friend's password or hitting up the Pirate Bay. Stealing cable meant either the literal thievery of a pirated box, or slipping money to an underhanded technician who could work some magic atop a telephone pole. Hardware needed to exchange hands, and the cable/dish companies did not screw around. Police would, and I'm not making this up, patrol neighborhoods looking for signs of illegal hookups. There was even a channel that Dish Network had on their network that could only be viewed by those who were retrieving their signal illegally:
Big networks, bigger companies and big record labels controlled both content and distribution with an iron fist, but as a kid I never really looked at it this way. It was part innocent youth, part Media addict I was, but I saw these companies more as Gatekeepers of Awesomeness. They were doing me a favor by making sure I was aware of all the wonderful entertainment I could not afford. Your opinion may have varied, and mine may have been ridiculous.
So much of this is a result of the age I was at the time. While I was (quietly, awkwardly) transitioning into adulthood, I was also transitioning into the culture of Adult Stuff. Back in the day, the playing field wasn't level between kids and adults like it is now with the Internet. If you were a kid who wanted to see or hear adult-level stuff, it required nearly Prohibition-era secret knocks and handshakes. You needed to know someone that knew someone, or merely had parents that didn't give a shit. It wasn't just there for the taking; it was very much still its own world that you had to graduate in to.
I would sometimes watch these 'Barker Channels' even if I didn't have a pay-per-view ordered that evening. I was just curious to see what sort of next-level entertainment was out there for those in the higher tax brackets. Furthermore, there was a true majesty of the advertising at the time, because it was being equal parts earnest (this was relatively new technology after all) and shameless huckster (I'm not paying to watch a Bruce Willis concert, which was totally a thing that happened).
With premium-tier channels like HBO and Cinemax, they always had a way of making you feel like you were really missing out; the magic of Hollywood would arrive at your doorstep with nothing more than a simple phone call or cable upgrade. I still remember what it felt like to have HBO in my room. The marketing worked like a charm; I felt privileged and connected, even if I couldn't care less what they were airing.
The first pay-per-view I ever bought with my own money was on March 18, 1991. It was a boxing match between Mike Tyson and Donovan 'Razor' Ruddock. I was a boxing fan at the time, but my excitement was less about the fight, and more about the fact that I was buying a pay-per-view. I was in on the ground floor! When the broadcast began, a little light on my cable box begin to flash, reminding me to turn the channel (no refunds, homie) to one that seemingly poofed into existence shortly after placing a phone call to Warner Communications. That blinking light was so much more exciting than the fight. From there, I bought maybe five more boxing events (mostly Roy Jones Jr. title defenses), but once the UFC came around, I jumped to MMA and never looked back.
Since then, I've ordered my share of Premium channels and PPV's, and while you'd probably assume I'd say that it doesn't feel the same anymore, it kind of does. I still get a little excited before a movie or event begins, irrespective of what I'm about to watch in some circumstances. And I know that feeling has everything to do with these moments in my childhood. There's always a hint of nostalgia; a small twinge that reminds me of how special I used to think this all was. Call me a sucker, but they got their hooks into me at an early age and never let up.
Television, music and movies have been devalued (unarguably from a market standpoint, at least) by the ability to pirate and stream. This doesn't necessarily degrade the quality of the product, and I'm not even saying I disagree with the new model, but it's definitely worlds away from how it was 20 years ago. Today, the idea of not being able to see a specific show the day after it airs on your computer or phone (for free, mind you) is ludicrous to most.
This is an embarrassment of riches that even I take for granted on a daily basis. When these PPV's and special events happened in the 80's and 90's, there was a real possibility that, if you missed it, you may never see it again. No Internet, no YouTube, no DVDs. When they said it was exclusive, they meant it.
This is slightly contradictory to what I said earlier, but in getting everything I've ever wanted in terms of Media- in gaining permanent entry to the club previously enforced by the Gatekeepers of Awesomeness- it doesn't always feel as important as it used to. It's dumb to long for a time when things were more difficult to access, but being an insatiable glutton never made me feel satisfied. I think Elaine said it best:
"Remember when you first went out to eat with your parents? It was such a treat. You go and they serve you this different food that you never saw before. They put it in front of you and it was such a delicious and exciting adventure...and now I just feel like a big, sweaty hog waiting for them to fill up the trough."
TOMORROW: THE UHF DIAL.
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