Over the past 40 years, the field of behavioral economics has emerged to explain why humans make irrational decisions. We talk with one of the pioneers of the field to find out what’s behind the choices we make, and how we can use this knowledge for good.
The days of Americans gathering around television sets to tune in to a first-run broadcast may soon be over. Viewers are increasingly following series by streaming shows on demand, often “binge watching” dozens of episodes in a single sitting. We take a close look at how new viewing behaviors are reshaping what’s on television and redefining the social norms associated with it.
- Hank Stuever TV critic, The Washington Post; author, ‘Off Ramp: Adventures and Heartache in the American Elsewhere’ (2005) and ‘Tinsel: A Search for America's Christmas Present’ (2010)
- Linda Holmes writer and editor, NPR's Monkey See blog
Are You A Binge Watcher?
Marathon television. Binge watching. Compulsive viewing. Whatever you call it, more Americans are watching episodes one right after the other, sometimes finishing entire seasons and even series before turning off the TV (or computer or mobile device).
Take our poll and see how your viewing patterns compare:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, Filmfest D.C., but first, how technology is changing how we watch TV.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn the 1950s, it was the golden age of television and Americans gathered together in front of their TV screens to watch the newest broadcast of "The Twilight Zone" or "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." Today, critics say TV is seeing a new renaissance, but it looks little like the old days.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIInstead viewers sit crouched in front of their computers, streaming back to back episodes of "Games of Thrones," "Breaking Bad" or "Mad Men." They might contemplate a mid-season cliffhanger for a few seconds as the next episode loads, but eventually episodes blur together like one long movie.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd when the season comes to an end, viewers never know if they can say a word or a tweet about it without spoiling the plot for someone in earshot. We explore how we're watching, streaming and recording this new golden age of TV with Linda Holmes. She is writer and editor of NPR's pop culture blog "Monkey See." Linda, good to see you again.
MS. LINDA HOLMESThank you, good to see you.
NNAMDIAlso good to see Hank Stuever, he is TV critic for The Washington Post again. Hi Hank, how are you?
MR. HANK STUEVERI'm good, happy to be back.
NNAMDIAmericans used to watch the latest episode of their favorite show as it aired and when it ended, they waited until the same time the following week to see what would happen next. But today, that's just one of the ways Americans are keeping up with shows. How are the different delivery methods changing how many viewers watch TV? I'll start with you, Linda.
HOLMESI think you put your finger right on a lot of the ways that it's changing. I think it's changing the nature of the conversations surrounding the shows. I think the fact that people are, as you talked about, binge watching a bunch of episodes back to back changes, in some cases, the writing of shows.
HOLMESSo I think it's having a variety of effects. It affects the social aspect as well as the creative aspect.
NNAMDIFor those of our listeners who may be unfamiliar with binge watching, can you explain what it is and is it as unhealthy as it sounds ,Hank?
STUEVERYeah, it involves a lot of free time, first of all. You have to sort of say no to everything else in your life. You don't bathe. You wrap yourself in something warm and snuggly and then at the end of it, you kind of stagger out having seen all, you know, the last season of "The Walking Dead" or "Game of Thrones" or any of these shows.
STUEVERI mean, people tend to really go toward the really big, meaty stuff. I rarely hear that anybody spent the weekend binging "How I Met Your Mother," although I'm certain it happens.
HOLMESI'm sure it happens. I recently did it with "Scandal."
STUEVEROh see, now.
STUEVERThat's just depravity.
HOLMESIt's a great binge watcher there.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. Are you a binge watcher? How do you pace yourself when you start a new TV series? 800-433-8850, if you go to our website, kojoshow.org, you can see a poll there about your television-watching habits. You can participate in that poll. We'll see how it comes out.
NNAMDIIn the IFC series "Portlandia," binge watching gets the best of the characters. It all starts when they decide to watch the very first episode of "Battlestar Galactica" before they leave the house.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1Let's watch this.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1Okay, listen, one episode and then we go to dessert.
#1Okay. We'll definitely make it. Give me 40 minutes tops.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2This will be good. I've heard really good things about it. It's not just regular science fiction. It's actually good.
#1I love you.
NNAMDIThat was episode one. Two days later, well, they're still watching.
#1Yeah, okay, thanks, bye. So I lost my job.
#1Oh, one more episode?
NNAMDIThat "Portlandia" story is fiction, but there are probably a lot of true stories like it. What is it that makes these shows so addicting?
HOLMESI think what makes it fun to watch a show altogether can be that you don't lose the momentum of the story and that can apply, as I said, with a very sort of over-the-top show like "Scandal," but it's also how I originally watched "The Wire." And I think when you watch a really complex story like "The Wire" with a lot of intersecting pieces, there are times when cutting out that middle, that break between the episodes, helps you to keep track of all the stories.
HOLMESThat helps you to see connections between different things because you're not having those interruptions. It can have some enriching qualities for certain shows.
NNAMDIWell, some of these technologies that have been affecting TV watching habits, like DVRs, have been around for a while so how long has this change been in the works?
STUEVERWell, I mean, you know, Disney had a very violent reaction to VCRs. You know, any time that the consumer gets to take a little bit of control away from the creator, it usually makes the business end of creating content very nervous. It happens in all fields. It happens in the music industry. It certainly has happened in the media industry. So this journey has been with us kind of from the beginning.
STUEVERThere's a great scene in this opening of "Mad Men" where Peggy and her ad agency have to get somebody in the ad agency to describe something that happened on the "Tonight Show" because nobody saw it. That was a nice flashback to a time that many of us remember when if you didn't see it, you didn't see it.
STUEVERYou might be able to see it on a repeat in the summer.
NNAMDIIt was hilarious watching him try to re-enact it.
STUEVERBut I think that yearning, it was funny. I think that yearning has always been with us. You don't -- the fear of missing out, you know. Now we can control that in a variety of ways. We never miss out.
NNAMDILinda, you mentioned "Scandal." It prompted viewers last January to chat on Twitter about the show at a rate of 2,000 tweets per minute. Other shows like "The Walking Dead" and "Community" are also using social media to engage viewers. How is this new dynamic changing how viewers interact with their favorite TV shows?
HOLMESI think TV has gone from being a pretty purely passive experience where people would be essentially completely consumers to an experience that's a little bit more layered. You're watching, but there's a good chance that you're also doing. You're sending something back out into the world, whether it's tweeting or blogging or Facebook or whatever.
HOLMESAnd there are a bunch of different services that have sprung up for people to even just put a stake in the ground and say, this is what I'm watching right now and then you can see how many other people are watching it. So I think there's a little bit more, people are envisioning watching television as having a bit more of an element of give and take.
NNAMDIMy Twitter page lights up during "Scandal" with people saying, I don't believe he just did. I don't believe she just said that. And I'm going like, well, we're all watching. Well, let's not even go there.
NNAMDIHey, when Netflix came out with its first original series "House of Cards," they did something very unconventional. They released the entire first season all on the same day, 13 episodes each an hour long. Is that television still or is that just like a 13-hour movie?
STUEVERWell, it's like a very big book coming out in the book stores and every, you know, like an 800-page book. And you know, highly anticipated or not, some people buy the book the day it comes out and they stay up all night and, you know, and some people buy it and say, I'll read it this summer when I'm on vacation. Please don't tell me about it. Don't tell me how it ends.
STUEVERYou know, with a show like that, you're -- you know, what really frustrated me about Netflix's approach to that was that they only let critics have two episodes, but they gave everybody 13 episodes at once. And I don't know exactly why, you know. So basically there was a silent memo to critics. They're like, you're no longer part of this process. You are going to have to get in line just like everybody else.
STUEVERAnd I fully anticipate this when they come out with "Arrested Development" next month, that we are going to be swimming in the very same pool as everyone else. I'm going to have to watch "Arrested Development" at midnight on May 27 like everybody else and I think that's fine, you know, but the landscape shifts constantly.
NNAMDIAs you said, they're coming out with an entire new season of "Arrested Development" at one time next month, but shows on live television have always been aired in installments. But could the popularity of online streaming take all television in this direction?
HOLMESI think eventually online is certainly what's happening in television. I think the degree to which it happens and the pace at which it will happen is what's still up for debate. There are still places where good quality broadband is very hard to get.
HOLMESThere are people who can't afford great quality broadband. We have yet to break away from the underlying model of cable companies and until that happens, whatever you have in terms of streaming continues to be lashed to the existing model of cable and broadcast because it's still sort of being.
HOLMESYou'll notice if you try to get online to stream in some of these services, you have to prove that you're a cable subscriber. So it's undoing television. It is un-television up to a point and with something like Netflix, it doesn't apply because Netflix is a little different, but most streaming continues to be, in some way, tethered to the existing model so it hasn't undone television quite yet.
STUEVERAnd you know, we're still talking about a marketplace where the vast majority of people still get their television in traditional ways, still are TV subscribers, either satellite or cable or have an antenna at home, and watch television when it comes over the air.
STUEVERIf everybody cuts the cord, so to speak, and, you know, we are going to run into a national broadband issue. Already the providers, your internet provider is already very closely watching how many movies and TV shows you're spending time watching because you're eating up space. And already some consumers have run into that problem that they watch just too much television on the iPad and they have exceeded what AT&T or Verizon would like to provide to them.
NNAMDII'm glad you brought that up because according to Pew, one in five American adults do not use the internet and so they're probably watching television. They're not probably watching television online either. How significant do you think this digital divide is when it comes to watching TV?
HOLMESI think it continues to be very significant and I think that what Hank said is very true that most people are still watching TV the same way that they always have and that's why as you mentioned, on the one hand, we're talking about the displacement of television from the time of its broadcast, but you're also saying my Twitter feed lights up when "Scandal" is on.
HOLMESThat's because most people are still watching it when it's on at the same time, especially with addictive shows that people love like that. So you know, it's definitely true that the digital divide continues to put a lot of people in that position.
HOLMESIt's also true that a lot of people -- there was a study not long ago that demonstrated that a lot of people, even if they watch on the DVR, a recorded piece of television still watch all the commercials because they're just letting it run. So we're not quite as -- we haven't quite outsmarted the television model quite yet as much as people sometimes think.
NNAMDII never watch commercials on my DVR. We've talked about households with no internet. There's also a growing group of young people who are not buying TVs at all. How could television providers possibly cater to both of these audiences?
STUEVERWell, in the case of HBO, you know, there was a piece in The New York Times this weekend. This young woman had written about her experience of all of her friends watching shows on HBO using their parents HBO Go-passwords. So right now, it's as simple as calling mommy and daddy and kind of tricking them really into giving you their password to HBO-Go.
STUEVERYou know, this consumer group, we're talking about a generation that has pretty much never been told no, except when they apply for a job. We're not hiring. But they have reinvented every sort of delivery system for every kind of media, but also they don't like to own cars in urban areas.
NNAMDIThis is true.
STUEVERAnd GM can't get to them. They're very hard to advertise to. They have undermined retail. They don't like paying retail. Ask any restaurant owner about the effect of Groupon. This is a group that will find a way around just about anything they've been told they need to pay for. So this is a challenge for not only television, but for anybody sort of in the American marketplace right now, is how to crack this generation and get them to pay for things rather than find a way to take them.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones, here is Donna in Cabin John, Md. Donna, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DONNAHi, how are you guys?
DONNASo I'm a "Downton Abbey" fan and like a lot of people. And I actually just became one this year and I watched all three season this year in about a two-week span.
DONNAYeah, so we had a party at a friend's neighbor's house and watched the last show of the season. And I have a habit of going onto Facebook and, like, just kind of mentioning things. I didn't mention it by name, I just said, oh no Matt, tell me it's not so. And I can't tell you how many friends got pissed off at me. And my sister texted me and told me that I was not a nice person.
HOLMESHistory's worst monster.
STUEVERRight. Well, welcome to the new etiquette of, you know, who -- "Portlandia" has done a skit about this as well, I believe. When...
NNAMDIIt's become sociably unacceptable.
STUEVER...socially unacceptable to talk about a television show that has just been on. but define just. Was it last night? Was it two weeks ago? Was it two months ago? Was it four years ago? I have people talk -- give me the talk-to-the-hand, you know, stop-what-your-saying about shows that were on a year ago. And I certainly have readers respond -- you know, I'll make a passing reference to something -- I had one woman very angry at me because I had made a passing reference to the season finale of "Homeland" about two months after it aired in the context of another review, which she had just stumbled into because she thought she was in a safe place, that I would not talk about "Homeland" in this review.
STUEVERAnd we kind of went back and forth about how I had ruined her day. Now I do have further thoughts about what is spoiling and what isn't, but I'll withhold.
NNAMDIWell, as we all start watching TV shows at different times, what is the etiquette for talking about it so that we don't become spoilers?
HOLMESThe best etiquette that I can come up with is to communicate clearly what your own approach to it is so that people have some idea of what to expect. I try to not give excessive spoiler alerts like, this discussion of last night's "Mad Men" episode will reveal what happened on last night's "Mad Men" episode. Because if you do too much of that, if you over alert, people begin to believe that unless you alert it won't contain that. So prefer to leave people to their common sense up to a point.
HOLMESThe tricky stuff is the stuff like Hank was talking about, where you're talking about one show and you mention another show, which of course is essential to the richness of reviewing and criticism to be able to draw those connections. But you invariably get people who are very upset who want you to essentially at the beginning of your piece say, I will be talking about the following five shows. But even that can be spoiling. If you write an article that says, great deaths in television at the ends of seasons, and I will be spoiling things about "Downton Abbey." Oh no, there's someone mad right now. I'll tell you right now there's someone right now mad that I just said that.
NNAMDIAfter an episode has aired, how long do you think someone should wait before talking about it, a week, a month, longer? Give us a call, 800-433--8850. We're going to take a short break. Donna, thank you for your call. If you have called, stay on the line. We'll get to your calls. If you haven't yet, you can call now, 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a Tweet at kojoshow. Do you think this is the golden age of television? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about our television viewing habits and whether this is the next golden age of television with Hank Stuever. He is TV critic for the Washington Post. And Linda Holmes is writer and editor of NPR's pop culture blog Monkey See. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send us a Tweet at kojoshow. We got a Tweet from Jules he says, "Binge watching is great for those of us that don't have television or can't remember to watch shows weekly."
NNAMDIGot a Tweet from Peter who says, "I'm still avoiding spoilers for 'The Wire.' I am not proud of this however," says Peter. Here now is Barbara in Indianhead, Md. Barbara, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BARBARAHello. I cut the cord completely. I got so sick of all the junk that's on television that I just turned off the cable and ignore it all. There are great offers for giving me more stations and I bought an antenna and I watch whatever I can pull down on the antenna. And I watch what I can -- I watch documentaries on YouTube or al-Jazeera or BBC, anything interesting.
NNAMDISo do you stream any other television shows at all?
BARBARANo. I don't stream any of them. There's nothing that I'm interested in. I'm just -- none of it is targeted -- I'm 53 and none of it is targeted at me. I'm just not interested in any silly dramas or silly comedies or anything stupid.
NNAMDII'm interested, Linda Holmes. That turnoff factor that Barbara's referring to in the younger generation, as Hank was pointing out, that turnoff factor means not only am I not paying for cable but I'm going to watch everything that's available on cable on some kind of online service. For slightly older people like Barb, it simply means that the cable bill is too much. I'm going back to my antenna and forget the other stuff.
HOLMESRight. I think people have been known to cut the cord for both of those reasons. And obviously discussed with the quality of television is a very long tradition in American culture. And, you know, some people have felt like this for a long time. And I think that what you saw was the advent of cable and more channels and more stuff, and recently a sense that television was a lot better. So it feels a little bit more -- it feels a little bit more revolutionary for somebody to say, I still think that it's all -- you know, as Barbara was saying, I still think that it's all junk. I don't want any of it and I'm going to go back to the antenna.
HOLMESSo people have always taken that position but that position is a little bit less common now that television is -- you know, there's a little more to it.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Michael in Manassas, Va. Michael, your turn.
MICHAELHi guys. I just want to say I am complete binge watcher. I don't own cable. I'm 23 so I don't subscribe to cable. I don't even have a cable box, but everything I watch is on Netflix or YouTube or some online streaming. Sometimes it's illegal downloading like (unintelligible) but -- because I don't have HBO Go or anything like that. I really wish they would make HBO Go available without a subscription because I would pay for it, but they don't. But I -- everything I absorb is binge watching and online. I have no connection to the cable company whatsoever.
NNAMDI(unintelligible) binge watching provokes some strong opinions among, well, TV critics. Some say it brings out the best in a TV series while others are calling for a slow TV movement and asking viewers to watch a series one episode at a time. How much do you think the way you watch a television series affects how you enjoy it?
STUEVERWell, very often I have to binge watch as a hazard of my employment.
NNAMDIYou're a professional binge watcher.
STUEVERI do love when -- especially with some of the higher quality series, once in a great while, usually because they're a little tentative about the marketing and they don't know how the show's going to go over, HBO or Showtime will send an entire series of something. And I will binge watch it. And I do notice that there's a different rhythm also privately, personally. When I watch too much of one show I feel like I start to glaze over and miss a lot of things.
STUEVERI have like contemplation in all things all through my life. I don't like to read a book all night long. I have fallen into that where a book is so good I can't put it down. I don't think TV is ever so good that you can't put it down. And I do think you benefit from a little bit of contemplation between episodes, unless again, you're binge watching something that is just so mindless to begin with that you're entering some sort of private personal nirvana with it that enables you to just keep watching.
NNAMDISame question to you, Linda.
HOLMESI think that it does affect the way you enjoy it. I'm a little more of a -- I enjoy binge watching I think a little more than Hank does. I have more of a tradition of sort of doing that voluntarily, particularly because to me there are just too many interesting things to watch everything that's interesting. So some things -- sometimes something will be a good way down the road before I realize that I really want to pay attention to it and watch it. By which point I really have to turn around and catch up. And that can happen either because the show takes a while to register with me or because the show takes a while to find its feet after the pilot.
HOLMESMy most notorious example of this is that I did not like the pilot of "Friday Night Lights." And I did not watch it from there forward for a while until everyone I knew loved it, at which point I jumped in and caught up because I'm no dummy and I have no dummies for friends.
STUEVERRight. And you encountered a completely different TV show than the one you started with.
STUEVERSo, yeah, it's backward and forward all the time for TV watchers, not TV critics, TV watchers. I mean, you can always go back and plug into something that has landed on some (unintelligible) frankly it did not intend to land on. It became a completely other kind of TV show along the way.
NNAMDINetflix says 50,000 people streamed all 13 hours of the fourth season of "Breaking Bad" in a 24-hour period before a season premier. How do viewers take in traditional TV plot elements like cliff hangers when they watch an entire season in one sitting?
HOLMESI'm not sure how much research there is on that kind of thing but my sense is that it can have sort of a blessing and a curse. On the one hand the speculation that can come around to something like who shot JR for example, can be very delicious when it permeates the culture and goes on for a long time. At the same time, if you're watching a show that has, for example, a really bad stretch -- there's a season of" Lost," for example, that's known to have a terrible boring stretch. When most people watched it, it went on for months.
HOLMESWhen I watched it, it was over in an afternoon because of the way that I was watching it. And I do think it interfered less with my enjoyment of the series as a whole. So I think there are ups and down to plot elements and how they affect, you know, the way that they watch.
NNAMDIHank, same question.
STUEVERYou know, I -- we're talking about something that's enviably personal. Everybody responds -- I do think one of the issues with the big spoiler debate of when -- you've ruined my life by telling me one little plot point. I think you're missing the whole of a TV show, like "Downton Abbey" or any of them. Any of them -- "Mad Men" -- that have from episode to episode things happen. And there are things that you don't want to know happened until you've had the experience of seeing it.
NNAMDIBut that's not the only reason you watch.
STUEVERBut I also respond to people that -- part of what makes a really good TV show a really good TV show is the journey and the acting and the way they get there. And simply knowing what the destination is, that a certain character has died, is not the be-all-end-all of any TV show. And so you do have people now reacting to a television series in a way that I find sometimes unsophisticated, which is only about big plot bombs, revelations, deaths, divorces, affairs. Then you're kind of watching television -- all television shows are soap operas instead of as grand epics that move in a different way than just bombshell.
NNAMDILinda, some TV producers like "Mad Men's" Matthew Weiner go to great lengths to keep spoilers from reaching the eyes and ears of viewers. Seeing how easily information now finds its way online, is a producer like Weiner facing an impossible task?
HOLMESYou know, I...
NNAMDIIs he dreaming the impossible dream?
HOLMESI think it depends on how hard do you want to try and how much do you want to worry about it. Certainly the fact that Matthew Weiner -- I think the best protection Matthew Weiner has is that he makes a really good show that people like. And I think despite the fact that he's well known for giving -- for being somewhat stingy with screeners to critics for example, which is one way information has been known to get out. And then puts a ton of restrictions on what he wants them to say or not say. The best protection he has is that nobody -- there's little hunger to ruin "Mad Men" for anyone.
HOLMESSo I think that if you allow people to use their judgment, most people will not run out there and try to ruin your show. But you are certainly right that there is only so much you can do about it. If you want to go out and find out close to the end of what's going to happen on essentially any reality show season, for example, go dig around. It's out there. Who cares? Spoil it for yourself. Don't spoil it for yourself. You're already watching "The Bachelor."
NNAMDIHere is Laura in Silver Spring, Md. Laura, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LAURAHi. Yes, I'm one of those families who went with cable, went without cable, got a great deal, went back to cable. I'm about ready to get rid of it again mainly because my kids never go to cable, even when it's available. It's purely Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, that's it. And the thing that's really got them hooked lately is the "Dr. Who" series, which we've all been watching together. But they've actually gone back and started watching the 1970s "Dr. Who" on Netflix. And they love it. And they're like 11 and 8 years old. And I can't believe they love it but they do. And it's like they're seeing television's history in the making.
HOLMESYou have wonderful fascinating children. Fantastic news.
STUEVERHow do you watch new episodes of "Dr. Who"?
LAURAOh, so we're not caught up quite to new episodes. So...
STUEVEROkay. And that doesn't -- that's not an issue in your house. Like, nobody's, you know, pining away for knowing that out there BBC America's got new episodes of "Dr. Who" every week. That doesn't factor in?
LAURAWell, we have that situation with Merlin, but we ended up buying it on, I think, iTunes or Amazon.
STUEVEROkay. Sure, yeah.
LAURAYou can actually buy episodes so when we catch up we'll probably look into something like that. Although it's hard because my son's friend knows some of the spoilers, so we have to tell him to shut up.
STUEVERRight, right. Well, you're right in the middle of the new landscape. I will say that if anybody who makes television is listening, they're very encouraged to hear you use the verb buy. Hey, I would think about this to parents out there. You set the tone and just as you would not teach your children to go into convenience stores and take a candy bar, you might want to have that discussion as a family, everybody listening about, you know, what do we take for free and what do we pay for?
NNAMDILaura, thank you very much for your call. And here is Eric in Silver Spring saying the thing that a whole lot of young people simply don't want to hear. Eric, go ahead, please.
ERICHi, everyone. It happens that I work in the television industry, although not -- I'm on the technical side. But we certainly follow the changes in delivery very avidly, especially the internet, what we call over the top delivery, which is people who are watching shows by internet, even though it's coming to them on the cable TV connection, for example. And I just find it amazing that people believe they should get all these things for free. Now in the case of, you know, Netflix, for example, I believe they have licensing deals and whatnot, so people are being paid for the content.
ERICBut anybody who's getting it for free doesn't realize that there's a cost to produce these shows. And if they don't want to pay for them, eventually no one will be able to produce them. The article this morning on Aerio on the front page of the Post -- I mean, this is a big deal in the TV business.
ERICAnd as far as I can tell -- I don't know whether there's a legal case, but it seems to me they're basically taking somebody else's content and selling it. And, you know, how long is that going to go on? If nobody watches the commercials and nobody wants to pay for any of the fees, the shows won't be made.
NNAMDIHank Stuever is nodding, yes?
STUEVERYes. And a very interesting discussion going on underneath that story in the Washington Post -- probably 400 comments last time I checked -- where really it essentially comes down to, with Aerio you're talking about broadcast television, the networks ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX. People who cut the cord suddenly realized, oh I'm not able to watch the big game. Oh, something's happening and I need to watch the news. So Aerio offers a cheap solution to that, which is kind of an American entitlement.
STUEVERIf you turn on the television, the television is on and you get to watch the three big -- four big networks, you know. So in some ways, people are reverting back to the '50s and asking for what was theirs to be theirs again. I kind of see both sides and I don't know where it's going to end.
HOLMESIt's true though. I think what was -- what the caller was saying about how somebody does have to pay something or else watch advertising for somebody else to pay something because if you're not paying something, the model is only sustainable as long as somebody else is paying something. If everybody started downloading everything for free, it is self evident that that could not be sustained. So if you're not paying anything, you only can have that because your neighbor's paying.
STUEVERI mean, HBO doesn't make "Game of Thrones" out of some private endowment that exists somewhere. I mean, it is a subscriber-based model. And if you really love shows like that at some point -- and, you know, public radio makes this case all the time. You listen. Why not every once in a while kick us a few bucks. So...
NNAMDIYou've convinced me. I'll start watching the commercials on my prerecorded shows. Hank just about everyone is calling this TV's new golden age. What is it about the content of television today that makes it stand out from television say in the '80s or the '90s?
STUEVERWell, it -- Linda can answer this too. But, you know, I think it's just a matter of it took all the lessons that great cinema was teaching and converted them to television. I also think we're living in the age of more horrible television than ever. So, I mean, the tradeoff is, you know, the very thing people are complaining about. Why can't I pick the cable channels I want to watch and pay a la carte? Why do I have to also get all these other channels, 400 channels, and still not be able to find anything on?
STUEVERWhy does it have to be so expensive? That's not the golden age of television. If people are so unhappy that they're just giving up on it.
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Linda?
HOLMESYou know, I think that we are -- to the degree it's a golden age, it's because what we're really living in is the age of splintered television. So you have just tons and tons and tons of choices. You can watch 20 shows about cupcakes if that's your personal thing.
HOLMESAnd in a landscape that diverse, there is a certain amount of stuff that's as good as you would want it to be, but there is also, as Hank says, a tremendous landscape. I mean, there was some quiz somewhere the other day about all the tattoo shows, and I thought, I watch a fair amount of television. I had no idea there are so many tattoo shows. So it's sort of golden age of choices, but that means good choices as well as terrible choices.
NNAMDIIf the next time Linda Holmes showed up here she is tattooed all over, then you'll know what she's been watching. She's a writer and editor of NPR's pop culture blog, Monkey See. Linda, thank you so much for joining us.
HOLMESThank you so much.
NNAMDIHank Stuever is a TV critic for the Washington Post. Hank good to see you again.
STUEVERGood to see you, thanks.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, Filmfest D.C., 80 films in a just a few days. Your opportunity to take in all or as many of them as you can. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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