You Need TV (Really)

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The US Senate is so concerned about your ability to watch TV, they want to spend 3 billion dollars to ensure your TV still works in 2009 when we switch to digital TV. I suppose 3 billion for schools, shelter, food for the homeless, etc. would have just been insane.

I've thought about this before, not in relation to digital TV, but in relation to losses incurred by the studios due to DVR, downloading, etc. I had thought - why not get rid of free TV? There is no consitutional right to TV. (In fact, I'm sure many people would be more well served to have less TV.) There are only a few shows on the major networks that I would consider paying for and would be more than happy to lose all the rest of the tripe.

So with that being said - why even worry about it? Some would say, what about educational programs and news. First off - the major networks carry a grand total of 30 minutes of news, if you ignore the Sunday "Talking Heads" type shows or the morning shows which are more entertainment than real news. Could we not subsidize newspaper subscriptions instead? Seems like you would get more news, and more activity for your brain.

What about educational programs? There are some good ones on TV, PBS at least, but most educational programs are on cable (Discovery, History Channel, etc.), and be honest, how much viewership does PBS get in the first place? I certainly don't think the government should tell people what to watch - but at the same time, do we need to subsidize people watching the Young and the Restless?

So - with all that being said - what if the major networks decided to do this anyway? Let's say they are tired of DVR units resulting in a loss of ad revune. The big four certainly have the right to just "pull out" and stop broadcasting. They wouldn't, of course, since they still earn a significant amount of money from ad revenue, and with Congress spending 3 billion to ensure they don't lose customers, why would they? Maybe Congress can buy the poor TVs? (Since books would just be insane - again.)

I do see some logic to this. Congress is forcing the upgrade. However, TV is still not a right. The change is still four years away, so it isn't like people will not get to use their TVs. People who can afford a TV, but not the converter, have been warned. A portion of that 3 billion could be used to simply run public service announcements. (I.e., don't buy a new tv if you won't be able to afford the converter.)

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About Raymond Camden

Raymond is a senior developer evangelist for Adobe. He focuses on document services, JavaScript, and enterprise cat demos. If you like this article, please consider visiting my Amazon Wishlist or donating via PayPal to show your support. You can even buy me a coffee!

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Archived Comments

Comment 1 by lad4bear posted on 10/23/2005 at 7:51 PM

lol ... take away tv?!! It's a crazy plan but it just might work ;)

But on a more serious note, I do believe that tv is a right. or to be more precise access to information is a right and tv is one means of delivering this. If you take away tv, do you take away radio when the US switches to DAB? All sound a bit 1984 to me and with tv being the Opiate of the Masses what exactly do you think would happen if millions of Americans were to suddenly have way to much time on their hands? Maybe I'm cynical but I don't imagine it's going to be series of love-ins and community improvement projects.

That's not to say that 3 billion to fix the problem isn't excessive but when you compare it to the $5.6 billion the US is spending each month fighting the war in Iraq it doesn't seem that high really. (source:

Just my 2p worth as I was passing :)

Pete (aka lad4bear)

Comment 2 by Raymond Camden posted on 10/23/2005 at 7:59 PM

As far as I know, there is no consitutional protection for you to receive information. You have the rights to publish information (free speech, freedom of the press, etc.), and the government can't block that, but that doesn't apply to this case. Maybe one could make the case that by the government couldn't say, for example, make the use of paper illegal, as that would block newspapers. Maybe. ;) I'd argue that it is a problem. It is a change. We all know about it. If we don't know it, it is our fault for not paying attention.

Comment 3 by Britt posted on 10/24/2005 at 12:51 AM

Of course the government is going to spend money to make sure everyone can watch television now and in the future. How else are they going to FEED us the information they WANT us to see and hear? It simply comes down to that...control over society. Education, and books, shelters and food in now way will help the government, it only helps the people. Sad, if you really think about it.

I hate TV.

Comment 4 by john posted on 10/24/2005 at 3:30 AM


I would simply follow the money. The government doesn't care about us and our *right* to watch TV. This about the fact that 21 million household eyeballs are about vanish. Thus, TV advertising will not be as valuable as it was. Who loses? Broadcasters, who depend upon the perceived value of advertising being high. I'd bet you a large sum that it is their lobby who pushed for this. I'm sure they would love to wrap this in a fake rights issue, but I'm afraid it's really about money. The subsidy is not for those "left behind," it is for those who sell advertising. Without it, the TV wont be able to push as much product, er, I mean deliver quality programming, er, win the war on terror, er, control the masses. OR am I being too cynical?

Comment 5 by Jake posted on 10/24/2005 at 7:54 AM

To take John's "follow the money" comment in another direction...

Think about what else is involved here - the entire marketing and advertising industries are based on TV. The foundation of those two industries (which support/drive nearly every other industry in some way) is TV.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that TV is good or that a free market "let the market fix itself" approach shouldn't be had here.

I'm just pointing out that every single person here is dependent on TV's money in some way or another for their livelyhood.

(And before you start saying I'm an industry hack who doesn't understand the way things should be in the new world of Web 2.0, check out one of my several blogs - where I talk about how to get away from old school models)

Comment 6 by Patrick McElhaney posted on 10/24/2005 at 5:07 PM

Jake, how is my livelihood dependent on TV's money? What is "TV's money" anyway? How did we ever get along without "TV's money"?

Comment 7 by Daniel Greenfeld posted on 10/24/2005 at 9:24 PM

I have a good one word answer as to why spending $3 billion dollars for TV is a good thing.


In essence, television is the predominant way that households get emergency news flashes, poor or otherwise. Spending $3 billion now so that we can alert millions in the case of something like Katrina is on the way, or what to do after Katrina hits, is worth the money spent. Especially since radio is on the decline and most poor and/or rural households don't have easy internet connections.

When Rita was on its way, the Mayor and General Honare gave a press conference specifically to inform people what to do. AFAIK, they broke into normal broadcasting for this event. This is exactly why TV can be a good way to send messages. Plus, it gave us Honare's famous "Don't get stuck on stupid" rant against the media.

Heh heh.

So while I personally think little of 95% of television fare, and think less of the quality of news media, the fact remains that the relatively small amount (by US government budgetary standards) spent to keep the populace informed on critical events is worth it.

And yeah, I think more money should go to books and education stuff too.

Comment 8 by Raymond Camden posted on 10/24/2005 at 10:11 PM

Daniel - now that is a good reason. I really had not thought about it. But it begs the question - how would the goverment get messages out w/o TV? If the power goes out, you are screwed essentially.

Comment 9 by Jeff Wilkinson posted on 10/24/2005 at 11:54 PM

Jake wrote: "Think about what else is involved here - the entire marketing and advertising industries are based on TV. The foundation of those two industries (which support/drive nearly every other industry in some way) is TV."

That shows the vital tie, but IMO, it's backwards....
I'd say instead that TV is based on advertising.

Most people think TV is there as a service the audience and advertising helps pay for it. I'd say it's the opposite. The entire purpose of 'free' (ad-paid-for) TV is to provide eyeballs to advertisers.

As far as why 3 billion? keep in mind that political ads run on TV... How would politicians ever survive and 'get the word out' to vote for them without TV? Useless and misleading as we think all political TV ads are, the polis seem to live or die by them. THEY certainly aren't willing to give them up yet.

... now, if the transition costs could only be paid out of the political ad money... I'm sure $3 billion is a small part of the yearly ads bought by polis... unfortunately that would mean we'd have even more of the damn things...

Did anyone notice whether the transition will happen on a major election year? I bet it doesn't. ;-)

Comment 10 by Daniel Greenfeld posted on 10/25/2005 at 12:27 AM

Ray -

From working at a local charity, I can assure you that those who make less money than us code monkeys often make the capability to watch television an uncomfortably important priority. They don't want a blackout to interfere with watching football or basbetball.


So while the power may go out, but I'm sure that many folks in Louisana had access to television.