“2 Broke Girls” and the show saver

After giving “2 Broke Girls” more than a fair shake, I’m now fully prepared to write this show off and find a better use of my time (like blogging). It’s sort of a shame because I had wanted to like this show, but it’s simply not funny to me. (That said, more than 10 million households watched Monday’s new episode.)

Many have tried to determine why the show never really lived up to its potential. Some have identified the diner set and the cast of poorly developed characters that populate it as the show’s weakest links, especially because the show has never shied away from exploiting these characters’ stereotypical aspects for cheap and often lame jokes.

An A.V. Club review of Monday’s episode opined they couldn’t rid of the diner although the show’s protagonists wouldn’t be able to continue working there and further their dream of building a cupcake empire.

I quickly fired off a response that they could easily jettison the diner. Doing away with the whole thing might just “save” the show.

What follows is my response, which also displays that I know way too much about this show:

Don’t be silly — of course they can get rid of the diner.

Picture this: Oleg leaves some greasy rags near the stove (why are they greasy? Wouldn’t you like to know, but really don’t because it involves Oleg?)

Anyway, the rags inevitably catch fire, causing the entire diner to burn down in flames. Oleg dies a valiant death trying to put out the fire (insert bad joke about it being the only flames Oleg couldn’t extinguish).

Sophie tries to save her favorite table and collapses from smoke inhalation (and let’s say Chestnut [the horse] dies trying to save her because of a deep relationship that took place entirely off screen).

Han is able to escape, but the smoke seriously damages his vocal cords, causing him to relearn to speak in a non-stereotypical accent.

Max and Caroline weren’t in the restaurant because they were at the Water Department paying a delinquent water bill on their apartment. Their horrible plumbing and leakage jokes take on a tragically ironic note when they realize the extent of the diner disaster.

Max has to take a new job somewhere else because she can’t afford to wait for the diner to be rebuilt. Caroline joins her because she is too distraught at the loss of her beloved Chestnut.

The Garrett Morris character escapes unscathed, because that man is a survivor.

And we all lived happily ever after.

Total: ¥60,428.43

A dozen people liked my comment so far, which is pretty good for me. My most-liked post was the one-word response to an A.V. Club commentary on the longevity of “30 Rock” — banjo.

#nbcfail: Complaints about NBC’s Olympics coverage reach new heights

NBC Live bug during Vancouver Games

“Live – NBC” Something West Coast viewers saw only briefly during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. For this year’s London games, seeing such a thing may almost be a mirage.

During the Calgary Winter Games in 1988, I remember the announcer for ABC (I want to say Jim McKay) explaining to the audience watching at home how, even though the event was live, there could be brief seconds of delay as the feed is uplinked from Canada and downlinked from orbiting satellites to local stations. I believe the point was that ABC was making was that the coverage was as live as technically possible.

Contrast that with NBC’s coverage of the London Summer Games, where they’re largely sticking with their “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you!” mantra. That motto didn’t work for summer reruns in 1997 and it doesn’t work for covering an immense, live sporting event in an age of Facebook and Twitter.

With the London Games fully underway, an old sport of sorts has taken off online — complaining about NBC’s ever-lackluster presentation of the Olympics. As this Associated Press article indicates, critics and supporters alike will point out that this isn’t a new event, but the increasing use of social networking has bolstered criticisms and underscored NBC’s relatively poor broadcasting choices.

Social networking spoils NBC’s tape-delay plans because people around the world are sharing results as they happen. Unless people go out of their way to avoid the results, the results of key competitions are known hours before NBC gets around to broadcasting them over the air.

This was an issue during the Vancouver 2010 Games, but it seems like a much bigger issue today.

I’ve never been shy to criticize NBC’s broadcasting choices, especially those that force West Coast viewers to suffer tape delays for events happening in their time zone (like during Vancouver). In the past, the complaints just seemed to peter out after a while. Not so in London, where comments are shared and added to like flames of a fire.

Thus far, people watching the London Games have taken to using the #nbcfail tag on Twitter to help express their disdain of the coverage. The complaints have been wide-ranging, but have thus far focused on the delayed Opening Ceremonies on Friday and a 7- to 11-hour delay for Saturday’s 400 IM men’s swimming final featuring Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps.

Sunday’s gripes seem to be less focused, with people carping about a bevy of events delayed into primetime and some tweeting about the reaction to #nbcfail. There’s also a Internet meme where people are jokingly tweeting about NBC’s tape-delayed coverage of historical events.

So what’s the solution? I think the Canadian model works well for a sports fan and a viewer — live coverage whenever possible and highlights when necessary. I’m not sure what current rightsholder CTV is doing, but the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation would only air highlight packages during times when live coverage wasn’t feasible … but after airing the live coverage.

Looking at NBC’s position, they did fork out the dough to air the Games, so they’re obviously in the driver’s seat about their decisions. Their arguments include the fact that they can reach a greater audience and earn more ad dollars by airing taped events in primetime. That seems to be borne out by the record ratings for the first two days of the London Games.

They’ve also made fun of the Canadian model. I remember during the Athens Games in 2004 reading about an NBC producer touting the higher American ratings than their Canadian counterparts.

NBC has also countered critics by saying all the events are streaming live online. I appreciate that effort — although I question how much of an effort it really is, considering that Olympic Broadcasting Services provides feeds of every event anyway. Still, it’s a step up from the Vancouver Games, where most events were kept offline until they aired on the Peacock.

The service was fairly comprehensive during the Beijing Games, but I’m shut out this time — people need to prove they’re paying for an expanded cable or satellite subscription before they can get access. People with rabbit ears on their televisions are shut out.

One final point about NBC that people rarely seem to consider is the fact that NBC isn’t a monolithic network — they have to keep their local affiliates happy. I have no doubt that local stations’ desires to garner the largest audiences is also a factor in NBC’s scheduling. That’s also why I believe local news and key syndicated shows are still shown, despite the huge amount of Olympics events available.

It’s hard to say what the ultimate impact of #NBCfail will be. For now, the ratings tend to support NBC’s decisions regarding the tape-delayed experience they offer television viewers. However, perhaps #NBCfail will continue to point out that this should be a golden era of sports broadcasting and that a significant number of people are aware of better, live offerings than what NBC is serving up.

Opening Ceremonies concerns: While I’m still making my way through an over-stuffed Opening Ceremonies, I have to ding NBC Olympics for its decision to air ads instead of showing the Olympic Oaths (prior to the caldron lighting). Amid all of the symbolism of the Opening Ceremonies, having athletes, coaches and officials swear to the true spirit of sportsmanship is a huge one.

The Age of Australia identified the oath takers as UK taewondo athlete Sarah Stevenson, boxing referee Mik Basi for officials and canoeing coach Eric Farrell.

Also, according to the International Olympic Committee’s guide to Opening Ceremonies (PDF), every ceremony is to include 11 elements. The oaths are three of the elements. NBC should have made time for at least the athletes’ oath.

For the record, the oath for athletes is — “In the name of all competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams.”

The network was also criticized for airing a pretaped interview instead of showing a portion of the ceremonies commemorating victims of terrorism (particularly the July 7, 2005, attacks in London).

Cutting the cord on cable

That was Comcastic

A Motorola cable box from Comcast. That was Comcastic.

It’s been about a week since I turned in my Comcast cable box and decided to rely on over-the-air TV broadcasts. It’s been an interesting experience with some small frustrations, but I don’t know if it will help accomplish my goals.

Toward the end of 2011, I decided that I would pull the plug on cable, but it took awhile to get up the moxie to actually do it. Ultimately, it will be nice to save about $23 per month and I was hoping to regain some valuable time. There were many weekends or late nights where the hours would slip away while I was catching up on shows recorded to my TiVo. Even now, I’m still behind on some public TV programs that I recorded last summer.

I didn’t drop cable because I don’t love TV, like those who scoff that they don’t even own a set. I love television, but I can spend way too much time with it. There are so many things that I need to be doing with my life and that glowing box is just too much of a lure for me.

By setting aside cable, I hope to rededicate my time to writing more, cleaning around the house and just getting outside more. I know that cutting down on TV watching will only get me part of the way to these goals.

I won’t be quitting cold turkey. I’ve discussed with my friends about watching missed shows on Hulu or downloading them through iTunes Store, but I also feel that watching TV on my computer isn’t the greatest experience. I also have a digital TV converter box that I’ve plugged into my living room set, so I can watch programs the old-fashioned way — live.

I do like the over-the-air experience since the transition to digital TV. When everything works, the picture is generally pretty clear and shows are presented the way they were intended to. Comcast or NBC affiliate KNVN have recently started showing shows with the images cropped to fit old-school 4:3 TVs, which is annoying when they are meant to be viewed in 16:9 letterbox.

Although I imagine some of my viewing will actually be live, there are still options to watch shows later. After doing some quick Internet research, I was able to find an easy way to connect the converter to my TiVo digital video recorder. That was a relief because I had spent a couple of hundred dollars for lifetime service and I didn’t want to set it aside (although I have recouped the value of that plan over the past two years).

While my specific Series 2 model was meant to work with satellite/cable and not antennas, I was advised that I could set up my TiVo for satellite service and trick the unit into thinking my converter was the satellite box.

It’s not perfect, but I can get most of the broadcast networks (except for ABC affiliate KRCR 7, which is just too far away). Over the past week, I’ve tried to find a good indoor antenna but the cheap $12 unit I bought two years ago still does a decent job. I actually made my own, based on Make magazine’s instructions for using old, metal coat hangers (although I had to substitute copper wire for the increasingly scarce type of hangers). That antenna works all right, and both were superior to the expensive flat antenna that I tried briefly and just as quickly returned.

At the very least, this change has me thinking of new and different projects and challenges (like when I can’t watch a show when I would like). It’s been exciting so far and we’ll see where we go from here.

Stadium games are nice, but NHL should go back to the pond

I’m watching the latest NHL Winter Classic on NBC. It’s been an enjoyable game between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. While the annual New Year’s Day game has become quite the spectacle, I think the game only pays lip service to the tradition of playing hockey outdoors.

While I’ve only laced up hockey skates once (and just for a free skate), I’ve seen the allure of homemade outdoor hockey rinks in people’s backyards or on a frozen pond. I also recall interviews from NHL players talking about how the Winter Classic brings back memories of those backyard rinks.

Why not play an NHL game on a backyard-style rink?

It tickles my imagination to think about the NHL holding an outdoor game in a pond setting.   I’ve mentioned it to a handful of hockey fans over the years and they often love the sound of the idea.

While making accommodations for safety, TV and league rules, it would be fun to watch NHL players play an intimate game on a frozen pond somewhere up north.

I don’t even know if there should be boards — a line of snow marking the boundaries seems like enough. There should be some seating, but nothing like the accommodations for an arena or stadium. Also, a significant number of seats should go to the youth players who are learning the game on those makeshift rinks.

They shouldn’t eliminate the Winter Classic. I wouldn’t want to deprive the league or the host team of revenue, so I think the team that holds a pond game should also hold the stadium game. That way, the spectacle and crowd of the stadium game truly helps hockey get back to its roots with the pond game.

Also, the Winter Classic is a unique event that generates excitement for the NHL and hockey in the middle of a long season. Given the duration of an NHL season, there is enough time to have a stadium game and a pond game.

An aside: I will readily admit that the Winter Classic is geared to American audiences (although the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. airs the game as part of “Hockey Night in Canada”). The game has been played in American venues and features American teams. It’s irksome that much of the publicity around the game ignores the fact that the league has held outdoor Heritage Classics in Canada.

I don’t think NBC or the NHL should bend over backwards to mention the Heritage series, but it feels like it’s totally being ignored. For example, a USA Today preview of today’s Winter Classic speculated about possible future venues for the game. The irksome part for me was the writer mentioning possibly holding the game in Canadian venues (Toronto and Montreal). If you’re talking about Canadian venues, why not mention the two NHL outdoor games already played in Canada as part of the Heritage Classic series?

Given how few of these outdoor games there have been, it would be nice to have the two series considered together, especially for statistics and other such minutia.

Movies I should see – ‘Fanboys’

The genesis of “Movies I should see” began on the back patio at the Bear when my friends launched the latest volley in one of the longest-running debates in fandom: Which is better — “Star Trek” or “Star Wars”? They sided with the Force while I backed the United Federation of Planets.

To support their argument, they quoted lines from the 2008 film “Fanboys,” including one where a character describes Star Trek’s Capt. Jean-Luc Picard as “gay” and mockingly says one of his trademark lines in an overly effeminate voice. That was followed with their overwhelming recommendation to see the film.

As a fan of both franchises, I bumped “Fanboys” to the top of my viewing queue. I saw the line came from a confrontation between the four twenty-something protagonists and a gaggle of Trekkies decked out in faux Starfleet garb in Riverside, Iowa (aka, the future birthplace of a certain James Tiberius Kirk). They break into a pathetic nerd-brawl, but no one really comes out as a winner. Then again, no one ever wins in a nerd-brawl…

Unfortunately, like the fight, “Fanboys” doesn’t appear to be a fully winning effort from director Kyle Newman. The characters weren’t strongly defined and the film lacked a lot of the joy or enthusiasm that encompasses the best of fandom.

The premise — It’s 1998 and the four characters decide to travel from Ohio to break into George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch compound so their ailing friend (Chris Marquette) can watch a pre-release copy of “The Phantom Menace” before he dies.

Others have pointed out that character developments are all over the map. Notably, Marquette’s condition appears to be a non-factor until it suddenly is (I’ll admit some diseases might be like that). Other characters do things that kinda make sense, but aren’t really fleshed out.

Many events are barely explained or superfluous. For example, the most direct route from Ohio to California is a straight shot on Interstate 80. Instead, the crew goes days off course for sketchily rationalized trips to Riverside, Texas and Las Vegas. Such might be the nature of a road-trip movie, but these diversions really aren’t.

The visual and audio allusions to the “Star Wars” series are plentiful (yes, I heard the Wilhelm scream during the chase scene at Skywalker Ranch). There are a large number of cameos from the likes of Billy Dee Williams, Carrie Fisher and William Shatner. Most of these appearances never popped for me and felt like going through the motions.

It’s telling that the most enjoyable “Star Wars” homage was a DVD outtake where the lead characters are traveling down the road when they break into the “Yub Nub” celebration song that the Ewoks sing at the end of “Return of the Jedi” (which was wrongly cut in the special editions). That scene fully encompassed the joy of being a fan in a way that largely seemed absent in the actual film.

One of the larger points the movie tries to make is the trope that the journey with friends is often better than the destination. On this point, it barely succeeds — the protagonists’ journey echoes and calls back the intense worldwide hype and buildup to “The Phantom Menace” and notes that that experience is worthwhile even if the actual movie may be a letdown.

If you are a fan of “Star Wars” or similar franchises, this film is probably worth three stars. For the general audience, it’s more like two — definitely a rental in any case.

Ultimately, “Fanboys” is serviceable, but there are greater and funnier tributes to sci-fi fandom, including “Galaxy Quest” and the “Futurama” episode “Where No Fan Has Gone Before.” Both of those are seen as tips of the hat to “Star Trek,” so I’ll let you guess who I think has won this round of “Star Trek vs. Star Wars.”

Just for fun, here’s a barbershop quartet singing the Yub Nub song:

The worst Super Bowl ads of 2011

Apologies for being a little late on this post, but I’m still a little bleary eyed after watching 6+ hours of TV on Super Bowl Sunday. When I wasn’t gripping the arms of my chair while the Pittsburgh Steelers slowly pecked away at the Green Bay Packers’ lead (which the Pack thankfully held on to), I was underwhelmed by this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads. It’s not exactly true about a bad apple spoiling a bushel, but, man, some of the ads were awful. You can see where the ads ranked on USA Today’s site.
In my eye, the worst ads came from discount coupon sites. Apparently their humor is cut rate as well. One ad that had me scratching my head was LivingSocial’s (which aired during FOX’s pregame coverage). The ad details how the discount site “changed” a man’s life from being trapped to embracing what appears to be a more effeminate lifestyle — including dressing in drag.
While some people are unhappy about LivingSocial making a joke out of transgendered individuals, I had no idea who this ad is supposed to appeal to. Most of the male audience wouldn’t necessarily get or appreciate LivingSocial’s message. Perhaps the ad was geared more toward the women in the audience — that could be savvy insofar as recognizing that the Super Bowl draws a large audience from both sexes.
The other set of ads that I thought were dreadful were the GroupOn ads. They start off with tearful testimonials about the suffering in the world only to say that it’s OK because people can save big bucks with this discount site.
Some of these ads seem to portray potential customers in a negative light. GroupOn basically says use our site and be a tool (but save!). It reminds me of the Sprint ads where people are being jerks but it’s OK because they have unlimited minutes or texting.
Although I’m a Sprint customer, my desire to keep the service is diminished whenever it portrays customers as blowhards. Portraying customers as petty, selfish and callous does seem to run counter to the old advertising tropes where you depict customers being attractive and successful while using a product.
Along those same lines, another ad that portrays potential customers as weird was a Doritos ad where a man apparently just can’t get enough of that nacho cheese-flavored crack — he has to rip a co-worker’s pants off to lick the crumbs that the co-worker wiped on his legs. I guess it might appeal to the more juvenile in the audience, but I wasn’t amused.
Another set of ads I didn’t find funny included two where a dog or baby are thrown into glass. The one with the baby dealt with a vacation home renting site HomeAway (which posited a problem with hotels that I don’t think most people have to deal with). The commercial depicted a lab testing how uncomfortable hotel rooms are culminating with a “test baby” being thrown into the lab’s glass walls. It was a little shocking, but ultimately was a miss.
The other ad with glass included a man taunting a small dog with a bag of Doritos from behind a glass door. The dog is running, running and running until the ad’s punchline where the dog breaks down the glass door, pinning the man and liberating those tasty, tasty chips. I didn’t think the ad was particularly funny and I was a little bored with it.
It’s interesting that people just loved the dog one (it tied for first in USA Today’s AdMeter), but panned the baby one.
Looking at the rest of the list of Super Bowl ads, many of them were just average. I did like the Coca-Cola ad where the two border guards find a creative way to share a Coke while staying on their respective sides of the border.
Movie trailers are interesting if you’re interesting in the upcoming attractions, but they aren’t great Super Bowl ads. I can’t remember the last time there was a creative trailer during the big game. I also won’t take a movie entitled “Cowboys vs. Aliens” seriously.
In the end, the Super Bowl is one of the largest stages left in the world and it might be hard to please everyone with so many people watching. That may be part of the problem — in trying to please everyone or to be “funny,” some advertisers end up pleasing no one.

The long road to Packer fandom via Chico

I’ve been following the Packers off and on for about 13 years. While the Super Bowl XLV has yet to be played, the past couple of weeks have been the most exciting for me Packers-wise as Chico celebrates native Aaron Rodgers’ success as Green Bay’s quarterback.
My first big experience with the Packers came in 1998 when they faced off against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego. The team was training at my college, UC San Diego. As the co-news editor of the college paper, I wanted to make sure we covered this fairly significant event.
The only hurdle and it was a doozy — the NFL didn’t particularly want to give a college newspaper access to the facility (especially since we were asking for permission during the week of the game). To be fair, the league didn’t want to give anyone access without permission. Crews had wrapped the chainlink fence around the track-and-field facility with black tarp.
To make a long story short, the paper staff launched “Operation Packer Tracker.” What was envisioned as a James Bond-esque plan to successfully take the photo and make a getaway, was resolved simply when the photo editor walked to an elevated position on public property and shot into the leased facility. The photo was a nondescript shot of the team on the field with a cherrypicker cart in the air. I was excited that we were able to get it.
My first professional gig was working at a small newspaper in Upper Michigan. One of the odd quirks of where I lived is that we had access to both Packers and Detroit Lions games on TV. If you had to choose, the Packers were usually the better choice considering how the Lions have been mired in mediocrity for a decade.
For those four years, I watched a decent amount of Packers games. I didn’t really become a fan, although my boss for most of those years was a diehard cheesehead.
Despite my lukewarm feelings towards the Pack, it was still a huge honor to take the tour of Lambeau Field in Green Bay in 2004 (it was just a little down the road on U.S. Highway 41). It was pretty cold and I could get an idea of how the frozen tundra moniker came about. I still have the 2004 Media Guide as a momento of the experience (the Brett Farve section was 25 pages long).
Less than a year later, I was on my way to Chico while Aaron Rodgers was on his way to the NFL after being selected in the 2005 draft. I’ve been impressed how Chico has embraced its hometown hero with his alma maters holding spirit days and Packers displays throughout the city. Everything, including media coverage, been a little overwhelming at times, but it’s hard to deny the mounting excitement. Being in this mini-maelstrom has been far more exciting than watching in Michigan or even trying to get that photo in San Diego.
Despite the outpouring of Packers backing, Chico’s not totally in the bag for Green Bay. There are still a lot of Raiders jerseys (even someone wearing a Seattle Seahawks sweatshirt). Some people are rooting for the Steelers or freely express less-than-favorable opinions of Rodgers. This easygoing and mostly welcoming nature is one of my favorite things about fandom in the United States.
Although I’m not ready to doff a foam block of cheese, I’ve enjoyed watching the Packers over the years, especially this run to the Super Bowl. Win or lose, Aaron Rodgers has forged a connection between cities and fans 2,200 miles apart.

In defense of the vuvuzelas — aka those annoying World Cup horns

20100617_vuvuzela.jpg

When I lived in Georgia in the ’90s, we would joke that everyone who visited the state was given a copy of “Gone With the Wind” because the film was a frequent, yet incomplete, base of reference for Southern culture and history.

For the 2010 FIFA World Cup, it seems like everyone in South Africa and their brother were given vuvuzelas, those cheap plastic horns that can deafen stadia and spark a global outcry. Across the globe, there have been stories decrying the constant use of the horns during games. Broadcasters have tried to filter out the buzzing horns and clever software programmers have started pitching apps geared to minimize the vuvuzelas’ droning din.

The whole thing is a hoot to me because I’ve owned a similar plastic horn for more than 15 years, way before I knew they were called vuvuzelas and before they became a controversy. (Interestingly enough, the vuvuzelas were an issue during the lead up to the event exactly a year ago.)

I bought my plastic instrument (pictured at top) as a souvenir during the 1995 Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena. I had finished marching with the Poway High Emerald Brigade and I wanted something to help commemorate the event. If memory serves me, I purchased the trinket from a vendor’s cart for $4 or $5.

During my years with the UC San Diego Pep Band, I dubbed the instrument the “Horn of Victory” and brought it to many sporting events. The horn’s blue color was a good match for UCSD’s blue and gold.

While World Cup vuvuzela performers appear willing to toot their horns for the entire duration of a 90-minute match, I’ve tried to be more discreet. I tried to sound the horn only in moments of triumph — including scores and ultimate victory. I avoided the horn during gameplay (done in part because the NCAA had rules against “artificial noisemakers” while there is action on the field).

Despite my relative constraint, I’ve had to cope with accusations that the horn is annoying even as a lone performer. It has “disappeared” from time to time when a colleague hid it during a game. This week, someone wanted to actually use the horn as a beer bong — an idea I strongly discouraged for health reasons.

For whatever downsides the vuvuzela has, it has a remarkable power. Its sonorous notes can reverberate through arenas. Critics have decried the horns’ overwhelming use in South Africa, but the vuvuzela can be a powerful accompanist during celebrations. As the clock turned midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, I sounded the horn and joined the clatter of banging pots and pans in my neighborhood to greet the start of a new century.

The vuvuzela also causes a sincere ruckus, especially compared to airhorns and their artificial wails. The noise from the horn is drawn from the core of the performer, not from a can of compressed air or some electronic gizmo.

The vuvuzela is egalitarian — anyone who can purse their lips and forcefully exhale can use one. This openness has thrown me off a couple of times — during one of UC Davis’ Picnic Day parades, I was thrown off by what I thought was a blaring trombone only to realize it was a child along the route joyously playing along with the music on his vuvuzela.

While acknowledging that some teams have said that vuvuzela performances have led to on-field communication confusion, I don’t think their use should be discouraged. Fans should be allowed to express themselves as long as it doesn’t
cause physical harm to others or prevent others from witnessing the
game.

Football has a rich and mostly proud tradition of fan participation. The vuvuzela is merely one of the latest in a long line of customs. Long may the vuvuzela buzz.

Comcast digital switcheroo may make a la carte channel choice more feasible

Across the country and soon in Chico, Comcast is slowly lowering a digital boom over its customers as part of the cable company’s transition from analog to digital television services. While the company’s new digital cable adapters will add another gadget to the jumbled electronic menagerie inhabiting people’s living rooms, the change may remove one of the hurdles to many customers’ holy grail — being able to pick, and pay for, only the channels they want to watch.
First off, the idea that Comcast would offer most of its channels as a la carte selections is merely a dream — I haven’t seen any indication that the company would want to do so. I’m only asserting that digital TV makes it more practical than before.
We haven’t heard much about a la carte in several years, but the idea remains intriguing. Instead of paying for 80 channels and watching just four, customers could pick and pay for the four channels they actually watch.
When the customer choice debate was raging, the cable and satellite industry had several objections, including that it was technologically difficult to deliver just the channels a customer wanted. That’s understandable with analog cable — in my experience, it’s difficult for the cable company to block off channels that customers aren’t supposed to have access to.
That hurdle was removed with digital cable and it should become insignificant as Comcast forces its customers to go digital. Cable companies can more easily lock and unlock channels that a customer signs up for. I’ve experienced this several times with premium channels and pay-per-view on my digital cable box.
I haven’t dealt with the more simplistic digital adapter, but I imagine Comcast would still have greater control over what’s being delivered on its pipes than during the analog days. While billing for single channels may be a headache, the delivery system itself should be better suited for a la carte.
While the public desire for a la carte may have waned, I still think it’s worth giving it a shot. Access to individual episodes of shows has taken off through digital video recorders, download sites like iTunes Store and streaming sites like Hulu, but there are some downsides to the individual episode approach. Not all series are available in these different formats. It may be easier to have access to a whole network than buying shows piecemeal.
In addition to technological hurdles, a la carte pricing may not be cheaper than the current bundled rates, based on earlier studies.
The theoretical a la carte offerings may be slightly more expensive, but at least the customers would paying for the services they want and not necessarily what the operators want them to have.

The death of KPIG in Chico: A look at the numbers

Old KPIG Paradise logoWhile much has been made of KZAP-FM 96.7 switching formats from a simulcast of KPIG‘s Americana/folk music to talk radio, I don’t think there’s been much talk about audience numbers. Laura Urseny’s article about the change does quote market manager Vince Shadrick saying there weren’t enough listeners to support the ‘PIG. Looking at the radio ratings for Chico, it would appear that Shadrick is on to something — KZAP’s ratings last fall were about half of what they were five years ago.
According to numbers from Arbitron, Inc., KZAP in spring 2006 had 4 percent of all listeners in Chico — good enough for eighth place in the crowded market. KZAP switched formats from hiphop-oriented Club 96.7 to KPIG in summer 2007. By fall 2009, listeners had dropped to 2.1 percent and the station was in 16th place.
Interestingly, KZAP once ranked as high as second place in spring 2005 with 6.3 percent of listeners.
In Chico, Arbitron’s ratings are based on diaries that selected listeners fill out twice a year. There can be some fluctuations in the numbers — KZAP’s numbers went from 3.2 percent in spring ’09 to 2.1 in the fall.
I only have access to the broadest ratings available from Arbitron, Inc. These are total listeners older than 12 listening at some point from 6 a.m. to midnight everyday. Many radio execs will tell you that they look more closely at more detailed breakdowns based on specific time periods and listeners’ ages and buying habits.
Still, looking at the overall numbers can tell an interesting picture. Three years ago, when KZAP picked up KPIG, market manager Michael Kemph said KZAP had the weakest numbers in a station group that included KFM (KFMF-FM 93.9), The Point (KQPT-FM 107.5) and KALF-FM 95.7. That appeared to be the case last fall, when KZAP again trailed behind its sister stations in total listeners.
KZAP’s switch to “Bold Talk” and its stable of right-leaning talk shows may lead to higher numbers. The news-talk-information format appears to be doing well in Chico. KPAY-AM 1290 was first in the market in fall 2009 with 6.8 percent of listeners. Out-of-market talk stations also pulled in decent numbers. Sacramento-area stations KFBK-AM 1530 and KSTE-AM 650 both ranked higher than KZAP in the Chico market.
And although it isn’t exactly a “talk” station, Northstate Public Radio (KCHO-FM 91.7) and its mix of news magazines from National Public Radio and music programming was third with 6.4 percent. (Disclaimer: I am a volunteer disc jockey at KCHO.)
While news-talk does well, I don’t know if the Chico market _needed_ another station in the format. Also, KZAP has switched formats four times in just over 10 years (from Star to Club to KPIG to Bold Talk). Who knows if news-talk will fit the station any better than the other choices?