“Grandpa, tell me again the way video worked in the old days. You know, back when you were a kid!”
The old man chuckled as he rocked the child on his withered knee. “Timmy, we didn’t call it video. It was television or TV.”
The child squirmed angrily. “Tell me, grandpa! Tell me about TV!”
“Alright, young pup. I’ve told this story so many times. I still can’t believe you want to hear it again …”
“I do! I do!” interrupted the child.
“… but here goes. The TV was a box we kept in a special room. Just like we usually keep the refrigerator in the kitchen.”
The kid nodded, indicating he understood the strange concept.
“Television wasn’t something you did at your computer. Or carry around in your pocket.” The old man pointed at the device held in tiny hands on which Timmy’s total attention was affixed.
“Sure, it took a minute for the TV to warm up. But once it did, you could turn a thing called a dial as fast as you wanted. Oh no. There were no remote controls back then. You had to earn it. The point is, if you listen, goddamn it, that the picture would change just as fast as you could turn that dial.”
The old man paused for dramatic effect.
“Back then,” he whispered conspiratorially, “there was not such thing as … loading.” He punctuated the sentence by spitting on the floor.
An angry female shout came from the other room. “Pops!! Cut that out.”
Gramps had to get in the last word. “Pah! That’s before you youngins came along with your so-called digital and ruined it all.”
Say what you will about cable, but it did bring us The Golden Age of Channel Surfing.
In the Golden Age, several elements converged for the perfectly sublime surfing experience. The UP and DOWN buttons on the remote control had been perfected. Cable television provided 80 channels of shit to choose from. And, most importantly, the switch from one channel to another was instantaneous.
Fast-forward a few decades and here we are. Click play and get ready to wait. It’s like a modern version of a stare down. Who will blink first? The companies that stream video on the internet are betting increasingly that you will. And when you blink, they win.
I first noticed the problem on my Roku and my beloved NASA channel. Oh the good times we had, like sharing shows about food that was five years old. I’ll never forget those memories. But then they added commercials.
I don’t know if ROKU did this or if it was NASA. But one day I turned on my favorite channel and it said, “Your program will begin after this message.” Then there was a friggin’ beer commercial.
I was shocked. Is the federal government making money off this, I wondered. Because something tells me that profits from beer commercials shouldn’t mix with our government. That just feels wrong. Perhaps ROKU or someone else is getting those profits, though. I don’t know. All I know is that I asked for the NASA channel and I got hit with a beer commercial. To the end user the association is obvious. NASA = beer.
There’s something more ominous at work here, though. Time and time again I tried to watch the NASA channel. The commercials always loaded up like butter. The actual content, though? It would get to 33% and stay there like we were stuck on the dark side of the moon.
I realized that The Covenant had been broken. What is The Covenant? In the context of video streaming, it is the implied promise that if you watch the commercial(s) then you’ll get the “content.” Ah, the promised land of “content.”
It’s no accident that they force you watch the commercial first. Even if you don’t get your content, they have already been paid. In short, delivery of the content to you is completely irrelevant. You’ve done your bit to become a “metric.” Now fuck off.
Some people say that accidents happen. Like the price for an item on the shelf at Target being a sale price, but the scan price at the register being a higher price. Ooops. “Accident.” On the other hand, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe they’re happy to rip off the lackadaisical people all day long.
Or how about the fact that content producers for decades shoved commercials down our throats with higher audio levels than the content? They did this with a trick of a loophole regarding volume and peak levels and shit. It was all very deliberate, too. A crass gambit and an attack on our subconscious to force us to be better consumers and squeeze out a few more drops of ad revenue for the fatcats who don’t have a creative bone in their body.
Now here we our. In the glorious future of video delivered over an internet that was never designed or intended as a system for video. And, over and over again, I’m noticing that commercials load like butter and content never loads at all.
Is this deliberate? Or they putting the best servers on commercials and the weak ones on content? Is it throttled? Is it somehow otherwise load balanced so commercialsalways get the top priority?
WHAT OF THE FUCKING COVENANT?
Oh, that’s right. There isn’t one. There is no law preventing this sort of thing. It takes our government decades to catch on, and when they finally do, any solution they come up with will be bought and paid for so many times over and watered down it makes even the drinks at Applebees appear strong.
Last night we tried a new channel on our Roku called “Anyclip.” We picked something at random and give it a try. Yep. Up popped a commercial. Jesus Christ, that thing loaded fast, too! Then it was time for the clip.
We actually gave it a whole fucking five minutes. Finally my wife threw the remote control at our TV (that’ll show ‘em) and yelled, “Fuck these bastards!!! Channel deleted.”
And so ended our experience with “Anyclip.” Long may they rot in Hell.
Netflix. NASA. Anyclip. We’ve been sold a promise of empty lies.
How Video Streaming Works On The Internet