40 Comments

I don't know if I'm the only one - but I have less than zero interest in listening to a podcast. Any podcast about any topic.

Dates back to the days of terrestrial radio. I hated talk radio. One of my favorite radios stations (who otherwise played a good mix of AOR) thought it a good idea to put on the Howard Stern show in the mornings. Never listened. It carries over IRL. I like to talk with people. I hate listening to people talk. I mean others conversations.

I sure wish you guys would post transcripts of your podcasts.

Expand full comment

I wish I could like this 100 times.

Expand full comment

The unbundling of "content" has been a disaster, to my mind. At least, when I complained about cable (and boy, did I complain about cable), I didn't have to pay for cable/internet, Prime, Netflix, Peacock, Apple+... to get the shows I wanted to watch. I'm definitely paying more, and missing things (thinking about signing up for Hulu, just so we can watch "Only Murders in the Building", and then probably cancel it. Already let HBO/Max/WhateverTheHellItIs go, though probably going to want it back at some time. The only bright spot is that XFinity (in a rare moment bit of passably good service) now supports many of the extra "channels", so we don't have to get an extra box and futz with switching inputs on the tv to watch things.

Expand full comment

No, I’m quite happy with streaming. I can watch what I want, when I want, and I don’t have to worry about paying for junk I will never watch. Plus, now I have access to plenty I could never watch before. I couldn’t watch any German soccer match I wanted, or any NHL game. Now I can.

Expand full comment
Aug 29, 2023·edited Aug 29, 2023

Thank you for this.

I still hold on the my cable sub, not because I don't understand streaming or afraid of tech or love ads, but this issue of (eventually) paying more for less, by jumping into streaming, is exactly what I anticipated early on. Doubly so for sports content.

I guess Knight Rider was wrong, one man CANT make a difference. :(

Expand full comment

Elysium is a bad movie. It's not the worst movie, there are many movies that are FAR worse, but it isn't good. The only thing I genuinely enjoyed was Sharlto Copley as the evil henchman

Expand full comment

I don't think I want movies and TV to be "magazine" bundled. I don't want to feel induced to spend more time in front of a screen because additional content I didn't ask for is there, and I've already paid for it. Unlike the best magazines, and magazine-like websites, I don't believe that any major film studio or TV channel exercises such editorial judgement that their offering is itself a recommendation. I'll happily pay for film content that I know I want, or that is recommended by a friend or a real critic.

Expand full comment

Bulwark+ is the only Substack I will never let go of, for the same reason you cited: it’s truly a magazine. And you, Mr. Bunch, created the content I never miss within it. As said before, I’m legally blind and I won’t do movies in a theater--I can squint at my phone--but I love to read about movies, and ATMA is a hoot. By they way, I can watch John Carpenter’s “Dark Star” today. What does everyone think of it?

Expand full comment
author

Haha we do our best. That’s one of the only Carpenters I’ve never seen, let me know how it is.

Expand full comment

I think we would have become crankier no matter what cable/streaming did.

But yeah - we pay for cable; then we add on Max, Hulu, Netflix, Apple +, Showtime; and we have Amazon Prime as part of Amazon. (Max and Showtime may be through our cable provider; not a separate charge) A la carte is fine if you only want a couple things; in the software business, a suite license is less than the cost of the individual components. I like the Suite idea. My husband likes the a la carte but admits it's gotten pretty pricey. We ended up with both.... We'd love the NFL Pass but just can't justify adding it. and we refuse to add Disney Plus because really - don't we have enough to watch? I so want BritBox - but again, don't we have enough? (We have access to PBS because we do monthly donation to our local station.) The madness will never stop, will it?

And hitting a firewall on a news source when you only read one or two articles a year from that source is frustrating as heck.

I'm pretty sure we would have been crankier no matter what.

Expand full comment
founding
Aug 26, 2023·edited Aug 26, 2023

I can't help thinking that we treat "entertainment" as if it is important and it's not only:

1) Bad because it eats time without building any cumulative benefit or more than the most fleeting and spurious satisfaction-- reducing the time available to devote to productive activity

2) Bad because, like any other thing (drug) that stimulates reward neurochemistry, it habituates, so greater and greater stimulation is required over time to attain the same level of pleasure -- resulting in more time being devoted to empty and increasingly deleterious stimulation

3) Bad because the entertainment we consume is overhwelmingly what we seek out, which being carefully formulated to exacerbate appetitive urges, degrades taste and judgment.

4) Bad because it short-circuits the virtuous cycle of effort --> progression of small achievements --> progression of smaller cumulative gratification --> inclination to engage in productive effort --> more achievement. This distorts perception of what satisfaction and happiness are.

A virtuous cycle: music lessons, daily practice, improving skill, leading to a lifetime of satisfaction and capability. Our vicious entertainment culture: "air guitar". (Go to your child's elementary school talent show. I was astonished to see yes, one or two kids playing piano, or actually dancing -- but half a dozen or more doing "air guitar" to whatever crap pop "music" was polluting the cultural air of the day .. and others lip-synching rap (not taking time or effort to make verses themselves) ... and even more astonished that the parents of those kids were immensely proud of their progeny's accomplishments. )

Entertainment in a healthy society both diverts and ennobles. The entertainment in our deeply sick culture is like the White Witch's candy in The Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe: it degrades and sickens while at the same time increases appetite for the leprous distillment.

Mr Bunch accurately depicts the circumstance we are in. Those who would subjugate us offer us free "choice" of what we want to take in, and of course we choose to take in what degrades us into slaves.

Just turn the goddamn things off, and stop encouraging people to attend to the garbage.

I'm 68 years old. If I could go back and rescue the stupid young person I was at the time from the folly of his inclinations, I'd dope slap him and tell him to turn of the idiot box entirely. When I'm gasping out my last tortured breaths I'll be regretting the countless hours I pissed away filling up time with Gilligan's Island... which was practically Shakespeare compared to the tsunami of peccant garbage spewed out today and like forever chemicals taken into the metabolism of our society -- to the ruination of all.

(Also get those damned kids off my lawn!)

Expand full comment
founding

When I was a youngster my hubs worked for a TiVo competitor. That company had developed an algorithm that allowed you to skip commercials automatically. The guy who wrote that code is brilliant, and it just worked. We had one of those beta boxes and In our house for about two years, I never saw a commercial. He even put in a commercial mode so that you could skip the football at the Superbowl and just watch the commercials. Bet you never heard of this right? Because a whole bunch of content providers banded together and sued the company out of existence. Commercials will be coming back on all services, it's like crack to those content providers. It's only amazing that it's taken this long.

Expand full comment

I actually completely agree with this. I think streaming may only be preferred because cable is still an option, for some streaming becomes a premium feature. I'm not sure if I'm unique, but I get most of my "streaming" through the on-demand parts of Xfinity. I get live TV and on-demand. It's a pain but I don't want to spend my time managing all these subscriptions where more seems to mean less.

Another thing I'm noticing is a lot of TV is a one time experience. We know some episodes from our favorite TV shows because they were just on a channel and you got sucked it. You got a lot more passively. Now if you want to rewatch an episode, you have to actively seek it out. I have some favorite TV shows that I barely remember because they were streaming only and I'm usually off to the next streaming show.

Expand full comment

What Laurel says below is the real problem with cable. People didn't mind paying for stuff they didn't watch. People minded paying for stuff they HATE. If you're a liberal, you HATE that your cable fee is subsidizing Fox News (and OAN!) If you're a conservative you hate that you're helping to pay Rachel Maddow's salary. Single bros hated paying for the Oprah channel and Lifetime. And non sports people hated that the biggest chunk of their bill went to ESPN and its brethren. Personally, I thought we got a great deal with cable. I watch sports, my husband watched all those WWII channels, we watched Doctor Who on BBC America, Covert Affairs on USA, Mad Men on AMC, and way too many shows on Freeform for someone withouth teens. Plus cable news, network TV, TBS, METV. We even got "free weekends" of the premium channels that let us watch all the good movies that HBO had since the LAST time we had a free weekend. It was great. But it kept getting more and more expensive. And there were fewer and fewer shows spread out across all those channels. And do you know how hard it was to try and watch reruns? I'd set the DVR to record every episode of (fill in the blank favorite old show) only to have the power go out one day, or the cable go out. It's so much easier just to find that show on a streaming channel and binge watch the whole thing.

Right now, I have Hulu with live TV. It's a great bargain. I was already paying $15 a month for Disney+, so for $50 more a month I get all the same channels (more or less) that I got with Uverse for about half the money. I don't get AMC or PBS (why don't any of the streaming services carry PBS?) But you can get a month of both through Amazon for around $6 and catch up on the few shows you might want to watch. The only problem is that they don't get Bally Sports so I can't watch the Braves. But I can't justify paying $50 more a month just to watch baseball.

Expand full comment

The problem with cable and the suite... is that the cost creeps up. I discovered our monthly bill was over $250. I cut all the cable, increased the wifi service (we get Max included) and my monthly is now $90. I am down to Netflix, Prime (no added cost since I'm a member anyway), Disney + (ends mid December), Peacock (ends mid-September), Hulu (ends mid September) and AMC+ (ends mid Jan 2024). I don't know how we ended up subbed to so much but I think the Peacock was subbed at $0.99/month so it must have been a special they were running. I also have access to free streaming apps like Pluto, Hoopla, Roku, PBS (we are donors). My husband seems to really enjoy Netflix still so we are going to keep it until such time he decides the quality is too degraded d/t ads and AI. Many of the streaming channels have cut content so it feels more difficult to find the shows you want to watch, even old ones. My project this Fall will be to get a Plex system set up.

Expand full comment

Yeah, there are just too many streaming services. It's ridiculous. I got Peacock so that I could watch Days of our Lives (after they moved it off NBC.) In addition to the Hulu/Disney bundle, I also have Prime (which I would never pay for as just a streaming service), MAX (free with my internet), I share passwords with a friend who has Acorn and I have BritBox (and those should be ONE service. We don't need TWO British TV channels.) So the only expensive one I have is Netflix. Once the Crown is over I want to cancel that last one. And there's nothing but crap on most of these!

Expand full comment

For me, cutting the cord was not about the bundle but about a) escaping "linear TV" (ie scheduled programming), and b) not paying to watch ads.

I love streaming. I'll never go back to cable even if it costs me more. I'm getting exactly what I want in this format. I don't know if this is true of everyone, but I really really loathe commercial interruptions and not having control of what I watch or when I watch it. These are the things that made TV (and by extension the cable bundle) so awful to watch.

Expand full comment
author

[whispering] all of the streamers are introducing ad tiers and they will all be charging more for you to access ad-free tiers

Expand full comment

I had a great conversation with a coworker and he is going to help me set up my Plex - I still have boxes of DVDs and they are also super cheap secondhand and I plan to build my own streaming channel and my own cloud with no commercials ever for the cost of a lifetime membership (about $100) and some hardware.

Expand full comment
Aug 26, 2023·edited Aug 26, 2023

That's true Sonny, but more importantly, they're still offering ad free tiers, which is something cable never did in my lifetime. They ate their sandwich from both ends, generating ad revenues from their programming and subscription fees from viewers. My attitude towards streaming will completely shift if they drop ad free tiers and go full cable. That would be a regrettable paradigm shift.

In any case, I just wanted to point out that there are reasons (and more serious ones) besides bundling that that led to cord cutting. And anecdotally, among my group of friends, I certainly was not alone in feeling that way.

p.s. I don't know If the economics of ad-free programming are viable, but from the outside looking in, I don't understand why programming free of commercial interruptions wouldn't be viable. Greed? Imagine for a moment that movies at the theater introduced commercial breaks every 15 minutes for a movie you paid $20 to watch. Would we tolerate that? Why do the economics work there but not for TV programming? Would love to hear some insights/discussion on that.

Expand full comment
author

This actually came up in my convo with Matthew Ball, but the streamers can earn more revenue by charging less for subs and also selling ads. The richer you are the more desirable you are and the more valuable ads to you are, so the price for ad-free tiers is going to keep going up to capture more and more of that market. https://screentime.thebulwark.com/p/whats-to-come-in-the-streaming-wars#details

Expand full comment

I'm not sure this is an argument against it, though? Isn't the Econ 101 corollary, the richer I am, the more I should be willing to pay to not have my time wasted?

Expand full comment

Have to disagree with Sonny on this one. 🤔 Cable was the absolute worst.

The problem with streaming isn't so much the experience, it's the 1-2 punch of rising subscription costs coupled with pulling any show that doesn't immediately take off like a Saturn V rocket. How *dare* Netflix take a pass on a third season of "Mindhunter" and charge me more?

The Santa Clarita Diet could have run for another three seasons!

Expand full comment
author

Here's the thing: streaming has only just begun to suck. It's going to keep getting more expensive; cancellations are going to continue because renewing old shows matter less for customer retention than creating new "hits"; and ads are going to proliferate. Things are going to get much worse and they will likely never get better.

Expand full comment

Sadly, I am pretty sure you are right.

Expand full comment

'District 9' & 'Chappie' is to Neill Blomkamp as 'The Sixth Sense' & 'After Earth' is to M. Night Shyamalan - their best (by far) & their worst (several vying for this spot). How can studios keep throwing money at these guys considering their track record of absolute awfulness?. Come on, fight me, bro.

Expand full comment

I'll go back even further -- I miss pre-cable. There was nothing wrong with having three networks plus PBS and what became Fox. Watching the same shows, at the same time, helped bring Americans together. In October 1980, a big chunk of the country watched the movie "The Burning Bed" about spousal abuse. Tens of millions of people tuned in it at the same time on a Monday night and then talked about it for days. By the end of the week, new laws were passed to protect spouses, police departments changed policies, our country was different. "Roots" changed us; not enough, but it changed us. So did "The Day After", about nuclear war. And there were other things that held us together -- laughing about Cosby the morning after (not any more, of course); listening to Republican colleagues admit that Jesse Jackson had given a superb speech at the Democratic Convention (which they had to watch because all four networks broadcast the conventions simultaneously); "60 Minutes" stories that provided conversational fodder for a full week. I think we underestimate how the advent of cable robbed us of shared experiences that held us together.

Expand full comment
Aug 28, 2023·edited Aug 28, 2023

I think of, and miss, those shared experiences a lot, and it also applies to albums. Remember when you and your friends all bought "A Night at the Opera" (for example), and everyone listened to the same songs in the same order and talked about them at length? Sigh. Those were good days.

Expand full comment

As they say, you don't know what you have until it's gone. What's crazy to me is that, for all of the flaws of our current era, in 20 years, what will we be lamenting to return to that we take for granted today?

Expand full comment

In my day we watched the cooking fire in the cave… and liked it.

I actually don’t disagree. You make good points.

Expand full comment

The final episode of MASH....

Expand full comment