The more things change, the more they stay the same

Published 6:12 pm Friday, April 22, 2022

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There used to be only three channels on TV.

Or so I’ve been told. By the time I was born, there were plenty more options than just a few basic broadcast channels.

An over-the-air antenna, which is what we had when I was young, is still mounted to the top of my parents’ house even though it’s no longer in use. That piece of equipment could provide you with not only the major three broadcast channels, but also a couple more options if you wanted to watch TV. Provided, of course, that your antenna was pointed in the right direction and the weather wasn’t too bad.

When I got a little older, we made the switch the satellite TV. The dish was mounted on the roof in just the right direction so that any nearby trees wouldn’t block the signal. Suddenly, we went from having 15-ish channels to well over 100 to choose from. All the cartoons that my friends at school could watch were available on our TV too, so I finally could see for myself what they were talking about all the time.

Back in those days, along with all the cartoons, I often had fun watching music videos on channels like CMT (and sometimes, MTV as well). Interesting documentaries on the History Channel and other similar networks would sometimes catch my attention. There was also a weird time during my high school years when I could find anime late at night on a couple of different TV stations, when previously, it had been almost impossible to watch without buying or borrowing a DVD copy of whatever series I was interested in.

Of course, when I headed off to college, I brought a small TV with me. But, as it turned out, I rarely ever used it outside of the DVD player function to watch movies with my roommate. In college, I had better access to the internet, and TV lost its appeal to me. Why would I bother watching my old regular TV shows every week when I could navigate the internet to binge watch TV shows from other countries that I never had access to before??

Television-related technology changed over the years too. We started off with VCRs to play VHS tapes. Then everyone started switching over to DVDs, which I personally still like the best. DVDs gave us multiple language tracks and space to add bonus features that a VHS tape didn’t generally offer. I still haven’t jumped to using Blu-ray yet, but those seem to be the most common nowadays if you still want to buy physical media. Additionally, satellite and cable TV at some point started offering DVRs as another way to record television for later. And then the ability to rewind and pause live TV as you’re watching it. (So no need to wait for a commercial to run to the kitchen for a refill!)

By the time I finished college, streaming TV had started gaining popularity. Netflix and Hulu were the biggest options back then, offering up a wide selection of TV and movies to watch, commercial free, without the hassle of having to collect and store a whole bunch of DVDs or Blu-ray discs. As they got more popular, more and more people started “cutting the cord,” meaning they decided to quit paying for cable/satellite TV each month in favor of the cheaper streaming option. And often, there were no pesky commercials to get in the way either. (For the record, I’ve personally never minded watching commercials. My poor attention span appreciates the breaks.)

These days, it feels like every single company offers a streaming service. There’s Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video and ESPN+ and Paramount+ and HBOMax and YouTube Premium and Peacock and AppleTV. Any big platform you can think of probably offers some sort of exclusive streaming service. There are even streaming services for anime these days, which is such a change from when it used to be so difficult to find (outside of odd late-night hours on TV and the DVD section at BestBuy).

I have to admit, I’ve never signed up for any streaming service because coming home from college also meant leaving the good internet behind. So I’d rather save my money for other things. I’ve missed out on plenty of popular TV shows and such that everyone else has been watching, but I’ve also missed out on rising prices and the angst of having to sign up for YET ANOTHER streaming service just to get access to that one particular show you want to watch.

Just this week, several news outlets have reported that executives at Netflix and Disney+ are considering adding a lower-cost tier subscription option that would include commercial breaks during episodes. That’s something that both companies previously said they’d never do.

It almost sounds to me that streaming services are becoming the same as the cable/satellite TV that people were trying to switch away from. Paying for five or six or more streaming services might start adding up to the previous bills people had to pay. And, in the end, they still can’t get away from commercials!

As for myself, right now I’m basically back where I started with TV. I’ve got an over-the-air antenna, though it’s a little digital box that sits on my windowsill instead of being mounted to my roof. I only get a handful of channels to choose from. If the weather’s particularly bad, I might only be able to pick up three channels at the most.

Isn’t it funny how some things in life just seem to loop back around again?

Well, I don’t mind not being able to watch a lot of television these days. It gives me more time to devote to other hobbies. Maybe one day, I’ll learn something useful, like knitting.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.