Opinion: Missed ending of ‘Breaking Bad?’ Thanks, corporate greed

Breaking Bad
I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore. I’m addicted to my DVR, and it’s betrayed me once again. Settling back to watch Breaking Bad last night, the episode played beautifully on my Dish Hopper DVR, almost. But almost only counts in horseshoes and nuclear weapons, because last night, the recording stopped right at the pivotal moment of the entire episode. I was seething, and still am.

Sure, it’s a First-World problem, missing the last crucial moments of a TV show. So yes, I’m a brat and it’s come down to this — I’m complaining about a miraculous piece of technology that grabs HD television shows from space, records them in mysterious digital pulses and then lets me play them back at my leisure. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, that doesn’t make me any less annoyed.

Exacerbating matters is the fact that none of this gnashing of teeth is necessary. Did you know there is technology that can completely eliminate the uncertainty of when a program is going to end, even if it’s a live broadcast? It’s called “accurate recording,” using information provided (in real time) by television providers that lets DVRs know precisely what’s going on with a broadcast now, and what will be going on immediately thereafter. This information has satisfying name: “present and following,” giving DVRs the skinny on whether that TV show it’s recording is over or not.

“Present and following” brings perfection into the world of DVR recording. But not in the United States.

But wait. You might say DVRs in the United States receive similar information, and you would be right. The crucial difference? It takes about 24 hours for that information to get through the convoluted TV scheduling system that winds its way from broadcasters to the DVRs in the United States. That’s too late for DVRs to know when the baseball game is going to be over, or when tricky broadcasters have intentionally scheduled a program to go past the top of the hour, just to keep people from tuning to their competitors, and tricking them into watching more TV commercials.

The program guide system is lame in the United States, and I think that’s intentional. I think its pokey distribution is one of those processes that’s deliberately slowed down because it benefits the greedy assholes who are running the system. It’s like the banks, pretending it takes four business days to transfer a few electronic bucks from one bank to another, yet those same banks can execute trades on Wall Street in a matter of a thousandth of a second.

When corporate greedmeisters want the system to be slow, it’s going to be slow — customers be damned.

Same thing goes for broadcasters. Networks hate DVRs. The wonderfully creative and innovative AMC — home of Mad Men, Hell on Wheels and Breaking Bad — hates DVRs. DVRs break its business model, giving viewers the ability to skip over its bread and butter: commercials. Why would AMC want to go to any extra trouble to make sure people can rely on DVR recordings? Why would the network want viewers to be absolutely positive the whole show will be recorded from start to finish, without that frustrating programmus interruptus at the end where you miss the most important part of the show?

Broadcasters don’t want people to be certain they’ve got the whole program recorded. Networks want there to be uncertainty, in hopes that people will stop relying on DVRs.

It’s not going to happen.

You might be saying, “Just extend the end of the program’s record time with your DVR, dumbass.” And yes, I usually do that, but on a program-rich Sunday night like last night there are more excellent programs that deserve a spot on the DVR then there are tuners available (Breaking Bad, The Newsroom, Low Winter Sun, Ray Donovan, Dexter), and overlapping recordings take up even more tuners, too many for even the mighty Dish Network DVR.

But that’s beside the point. If there is an accurate DVR recording system available somewhere in the world, why can’t we have it?

It would take some coordination to get a system like what’s possible in Scandinavia, Ireland and the UK: Accurate Recording requires broadcasters to include “present and following” information somewhere within the broadcast signal. For broadcasters, that would be easy. They’re in the communications business. And it happens in Europe all the time, where broadcasters transmit “present and following” information up to the second, notifying DVRs that the program is over precisely when it is actually over. Many Europeans can actually depend on their DVRs, even when watching live sports events. Americans, basking in their “land of the free,” can’t, because the corporate suits at the TV networks don’t want them to.

We have to guess when a programs going to be over, an activity as absurd as a laughable occurrence that would happen all too often at a TV station where I once worked, when our newscast would be delayed because our network’s baseball game was running long. Camera operators would come to me — the director of the upcoming newscast — and ask, “When is the baseball game going to be over?”

Here in the U.S., our lack of accurate DVR recording is yet another symptom of a systemic problem with broadcasters and program providers. Even though TV is in a second Golden Age, its bean counters are still in the Stone Age. These suits want everybody locked in to their network, watching all the commercials like lapdogs. They want to control when viewers watch their shows and keep on raking in spectacular profits, as they always have. The focus is on profits, and not on the individuals who are making it possible for them to wallow in the big bucks.

No, they don’t want viewers to have the right to use their broadcasts however the viewers see fit.

Broadcasters are getting away with it, because the 46% of the viewing public who have DVRs haven’t complained enough about missing the most important parts of TV shows.

Why haven’t DVR users complained enough? It’s inexplicable. Perhaps they’ve found out how easy it is to download AMC’s episodes from Usenet, complete with all the commercials electronically removed (which is a better way to watch those programs, anyway, so I hear).

Consider this my complaint. I’m going to stop recording AMC’s dramas. From now on, I’m going to download all of my favorite AMC shows from wherever I can find them, never watching them on my DVR again. Being a satellite TV subscriber, I have the right to view those TV shows, and although it’s not exactly legal for me to download them without the commercials, I’m going to do it anyway, because I feel I have the right to watch those programs once, in whatever manner I see fit, without having to pay for them over and over again.

Come to think of it, the Dish Network won its case about commercial skipping, prevailing in multiple court cases where judges refused to block its automatic “AutoHop” feature. Before you take me away in handcuffs, copyright police, consider the downloading of “illegal” broadcasts by someone who’s already paying for them via satellite subscription another way of commercial skipping.

By the way, Dish, if you’re so courageous about commercial skipping, why don’t you try to convince TV networks to adopt Accurate Recording? It’s frustrating to know that other countries have this wonderful feature that brings perfection to DVR recordings, but we in the technologically proficient United States can’t have it because of corporate greed.

Corporate profits keep the wheels of the economy turning, but standing in the way of technological progress always fails. Program providers and broadcasters are so busy protecting their antiquated business model, they’ve forgotten about who their ultimate customers are: viewers, not advertisers. Without viewers that will be no advertisers. Broadcasters cling to their old business model at their peril.

Image: High Bridge Entertainment, Gran Via Productions, Sony Pictures Television

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