One Channel Versus Many

“TV is bad.” “TV saps your motivation and rots your brain.” “I don’t watch much TV (therefore I’m better than you).” “TV wastes time.” “Cable wastes money.” “There’s nothing on but trash.”

You’ve heard all that. I’m not going to beat those dead horses.

Cable TV

There is a milestone in the development of television that I believe often goes unnoticed and its societal impact under-estimated. That is cable TV and how cable is different from regular old antenna TV.

I lived in Rio de Janeiro Brazil for six months. Brazil has multiple channels, but for the most part, there is one channel to watch, Globo. The feel there was very different and it felt like lack of cable TV was largely responsible. I say “lack of cable TV” as an American born in 1983, but to them no cable TV – one channel – was normal, nothing to notice.

This is a bit of a rosy picture, but allow me some dramatization. It felt like one big family in Brazil with respect to the TV because everybody saw the same stuff. In Brazil, whether you love the TV darling Flamengo soccer team or not, they are the televised team and everybody watched. Love the current novela or not, everybody watches it at least a little, even in the bars. The news was limited to an hour because otherwise that’s all there would be.

The Good About One Channel

  • Everybody is on the same TV schedule, so it doesn’t get in the way of plans.
  • The news doesn’t have to sensationalize the news to compete with the others, so it is much less emotional and dramatic.
  • Less TV in general, that’s always good.
  • TV was kind of boring, so you didn’t pay much attention to it.
  • I enjoyed the two novelas that ran while I was there, “A Regra do Jogo” and “Velho Chico,” even though I struggled to understand. I was able to get lots of help though because everybody knew what was happening!

The Bad

  • Without competition, one outlet has a monopoly on politics and opinion. Many Brazilians felt like Globo was owned by specific parties and unfairly biased the news.
  • TV was kind of boring. Boring is bad I guess.

The Feeling

I have to admit these differences sound small, but the overall feeling and my perception that it was connected to cable television was really very strong. There was an overall ambiance that the collective attention was outside instead of inside, on others instead of self-focused. Even while actually watching TV, you knew that a good number of homes around were watching the same channel. If you could see in a neighbor’s window, you would see the same channel. If you go outside and run into somebody on the street, you would have just seen the same show. If you go to a bar, the only difference on the TV from your house is that 10 minutes had passed so it is likely later in the same show.

“Winter Storm Harper,” January 2019

I don’t know who started naming winter storms. It was kind of fun having everybody talking about the same thing, but it’s the weather, not the TV. However, instead of the weather – which was underwhelming – we were talking about the TV’s dramatization of the weather. Ridiculous. I heard the grocery stores ran out of food! Hilarious.

So by the way, when did we start naming winter storms?

“When ‘men’ started naming their penises.”

That’s the best answer I heard.