Another View

The Horse Network is no longer a joke

There is already lots of TY choice, although there are tiny gaps in such areas as polo and Northern European chess

Charles Gordon June 3 1996
Another View

The Horse Network is no longer a joke

There is already lots of TY choice, although there are tiny gaps in such areas as polo and Northern European chess

Charles Gordon June 3 1996

The Horse Network is no longer a joke

There is already lots of TY choice, although there are tiny gaps in such areas as polo and Northern European chess

Another View

Charles Gordon

Whenever there is a lull in the proceedings, someone comes along and proposes more channels for our television sets. It used to be a big deal when this happened. That was when we could count the number of channels on the fingers of two hands and perhaps one foot. But technology has moved past that, and so, as it turns out, have we. The thought of more channels once could divert us from the more serious matters at hand. But it won’t work this time.

If you believed in conspiracy theories, as of course none of us does, you might think that modern capitalism has conspired to give us more television channels to disguise the fact that it is giving us fewer jobs.

Not that anyone believes in conspiracies.

Everybody knows that the market has a mind of its own and everything it does ultimately benefits us all. We read that in the Report on Business every day. Still, there is a lot of unemployment. And there are a lot of channels.

A couple of issues ago, this magazine gave us the latest rundown on the 100-channel universe, or the 200-channel universe, or however many hundreds we are up to by now. The CRTC was hearing 40 proposals for new channels. The new channels would be increasingly specialized. Everyone knows about The Horse Network by now and treats it as a joke, or at least a metaphor for silly television channels. But there are also cartoon channels proposed, and comedy channels and mystery and science fiction channels. So horses aren’t that out of line, and dogs will be next and cars and quilting. The Scenery Channel, a specialty service for people with no windows, can’t be that far in the future.

You will remember the mighty howl that went up last year when the cable people tried to charge us for new channels without giving us a clear choice as to whether we wanted them or not. That should have been a signal to the industry that the people were changing, that they wanted more out of life than more channels. Instead, the signal was misinterpreted. The industry thought it meant that Canadians were deeply engaged in the question of what they would be watching. They thought it meant that television was about the most important thing on Canadians’ minds. What it actually seems to have meant, in retrospect, is that Canadians had reached their channel limit.

This becomes clearer now in some of the coverage of the current channel kerfuffle. A survey taken by the Canadian Cable Television Association shows that 52 per cent of cable subscribers think they already have enough channels. More significantly, another 28 per cent say they already have too many channels. Too many. And we haven’t reached our first hundred yet.

If there were conspirators in the marketplace, and no one be-

lieves that there are, they are doomed to fail.

The powerful lesson of all these channels is just now being driven home. It is that there is nothing on television. For years, television viewers and those who had hope for television as something other than a toy managed to convince themselves that television’s shortcomings were the result of a lack of choice. Now, there is choice and lots of it, although there are tiny gaps in such areas as polo and Northern European chess. We can watch anything. And what is happening?

No one is watching. Do you watch television any more? Do you know what is on? Do you watch the CBC news? Seriously. Don’t say yes just because you think you should. Do you watch as many baseball or hockey games as you once did? Can you distinguish between Bravo! and Showcase, between The Discovery Channel and the Life Network? Do you pass up all those movies, skip the science? Do you somehow not get around to taping shows you had to miss? Do you forget when Seinfeld is on?

In short, has television become irrelevant to you? If it has, you’re not alone. As television comes closer and closer to realizing the potential that was predicted for it, viewers are coming to realize that it doesn’t say anything to them.

More channels? More reruns. More old movies. More bad new ones. More advice. More talk. More animals in their native habitat. More devices for your abs. More American stuff, except when the new channel has artistic pretensions. Then more British stuff. More Australian stuff. More stuff we can live without.

What will become of us all when, very soon, we collectively arrive at the conclusion that it doesn’t matter how many channels there are, that there will never be enough and always be too many?

Well, we will have to do something else. Some are already turning to the Internet, a place with an infinite number of channels. But even there the sensation of flipping through the dial, only using a mouse instead of a zapper, will wear thin. There is only so much information one can absorb. There are just so many mouse clicks our index fingers are capable of. There is only so much downloading we can do.

Eventually we will tire of it, and seek an alternative. Then, we will lift up our heads from the screen and emerge, blinking in the daylight, to see what is available in the real world. And that’s when we find that it has all been shut down, in order to get that darn deficit under control.

No theatre, no zoo, no museum, no wading pool, no festivals, no junior kindergarten, no school trip. Admission fees for stuff that used to be free. And, of course, no jobs. The quality of life has been deteriorating rapidly, while our attention was diverted. If we hadn’t been watching TV all the time, we would have noticed. Now, we’re not watching TV. Hear us roar.