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Foxtel Dumbs Us Down

August 20, 2011

Given a privileged position by Canberra Foxtel responds by treating its paying clients as chimps, dumbing us down American-style. The standard of pay TV is the biggest scandal in the Australian media.

Last night, wet and wintry, viewers like me turned on TV. A good documentary, you might think. Or something on an arts channel. Surely possibilities on a multi-channel medium to which you subscribe.

First the History Channel. Between 7.30 and 10.30 it screens programs on motor mechanics (even though they have their own motor channel, called Turbo Max) including the story of a vehicle flipping over three times before landing in an icy Vermont river. An hour devoted to garbage called American Pickers. This, on the History Channel when in the libraries of British and American sources there is material – priceless TV masterpieces – we will never see revived. Foxtel, programming on the cheap, won’t make a bid.

Foxtel used to have an arts entertainment channel,surely not an indulgence given they seem to have whole channels devoted to documentaries on the pathologically fat, to plastic surgery, to psychic practices and a so-called “Bio Channel” that runs a US court room routine called “Judge Judy”. But an arts entertainment channel? Last night their Studio channel, promised to subscribers as a revival of their old Ovation channel, served up two hours of punk rock. Meanwhile The Guardian website has been able to stream the Glyndebourne Meistersingers for a week. Hey Foxtel, that’s what an arts channel is supposed to do.

Forget a broader media inquiry. Give us a targeted investigation of pay TV and the avoidance of broadcaster responsibility. Foxtel’s programing is a colossal fraud, the serving-up of pulp – Teen Mom, Psychic Sally, America’s Fattest Honeymooners – only because it is dead cheap. No serious documentaries, no arts entertainment. Just a dedicated cretinisation of public tastes.

I am seeking allies to get action on this out of Canberra. To start, can someone tell me what body has a supervisory responsibility for pay TV? Seems one of the mysteries of the universe. And why can’t the Fairfax media take this up? And I am only focussed here on program quality. Leave for another day arguments about ads now being forced in every six minutes – this on channels you are already paying for.

I will run a special section on this blog for Foxtel’s most egregiously bad programing. You can make your own nominations. It will be a crowded field.

  1. August 20, 2011 11:54 am

    Go Bob! ROFL. But, yes. You make a very valid point…

  2. Kev permalink
    August 20, 2011 12:05 pm

    Gave up my subscription a while back. If you’re not interested in sport, “reality” shows or the latest “blockbuster” movies, it’s just a waste of money.

  3. Pete permalink
    August 20, 2011 12:14 pm

    I am glad they are who share my concerns. If you are truly concerned about Foxtell dumbing down, watch Sky(Fox) News.

  4. Nick Andrew permalink
    August 20, 2011 12:26 pm

    I cancelled my foxtel subscription some years ago. Never missed it.

    Is it the government’s problem that Foxtel shows dreck? I could argue that it is, but only to the extent that the cable network gives them a monopoly on programming – which is to say, a fairly small extent. Consumers can also watch free-to-air TV, choose Optus cable (in selected areas), or get their video off the Internet.

    With the coming NBN rollout, higher bandwidth will be available to consumers and over time more video will be delivered over Internet, reducing the power of Foxtel to control what we can watch.

    So I think Foxtel has a shrinking window in which to sell us mediocre TV. What we need is better education to reduce, over the long term, the demand for such programming pap.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      August 20, 2011 12:33 pm

      Fine. Agreed. But imagine what an asset to the schools a decent History Channel would be. Or an arts channel. Or a plain documentary channel. Instead we get superstition, crime, plastic surgery, Pyschic Sally, America’s Fattest Honeymooners and Teen Mom.

      • Watson permalink
        August 21, 2011 8:40 am

        An easy argument, but who would pay for ‘a decent History Channel’ for our children to learn the truth about the world? – The Tea Party?, The Evangelical Young Earth Creationists? The Koch Bros?, or closer to home, The Galileo Movement?
        Hmm, Instead of trying to clean up Fauxtel, it might be better if a secular democratic government paid for its own rational and transparent history curriculum delivery.
        For me, the main value of Foxtel and its emulators, is as a ready source of subject matter for a course in ethics or critical thinking.

  5. Stuart permalink
    August 20, 2011 12:34 pm

    Hi Bob, this issue is being seen in the US as well.. Just do a quick search for the Stargate Universe Facebook page and you will find over 60 thousand sympathetic ears…. They are dedicated to the decline of a specific channel (SyFi) but there is a plethora of comments which all boil down to a simple Why are they making such a bad decision?

  6. August 20, 2011 12:51 pm

    One problem is art is subjective. For example, I concider Punk to be art. From the Aussie Saints, to The US punk of Blondie, Talking Head and even the british Sex Pistols and Clash.

    However, Art is hard to comercialise, especially by people who run media companies. Having the content being produced by artists via the web is a low cost but more effective as there is no gatekeeper.

    I think new media, decentralised and high access is the only hope for art.

  7. Jesse D permalink
    August 20, 2011 12:54 pm

    Agreed. But not fair to call it American style. Pay TV channels in US make the highest quality drama in the world.

  8. Steve permalink
    August 20, 2011 1:06 pm

    Step 1: cancel foxtel
    Step 2: buy a digital video recorder (I have TiVo, but any will do)
    Step 3: watch what you want when you want without paying a monthly fee – there is plenty on free-to-air but often at awkward times. So record and watch later

  9. August 20, 2011 1:18 pm

    This is why I don’t waste money on a subscription to Foxtel. I’m happy with ABC and SBS 90% of the time. But, taking this a little further – am I right that Foxtel bought the Australian rights to the US Comedy Channel and promptly cancelled the showing of the Daily Show? If this is right it’s a spectacular example of dumbing down.

  10. Albert permalink
    August 20, 2011 2:44 pm

    ACMA is the regulatory body, though it is very light touch. PayTV is a monopoly in this country – doesn’t help. I hate the ‘packages’ – make you pay for channels you would never dream of watching. I cancelled my subscription, you don’t notice not having. Get AppleTV and rent some movies. Get a Tivo box and record lots of stuff on the ABC and SBS and commercial channels. You soon have plenty for the wet nights indoors.

  11. August 20, 2011 4:12 pm

    While I don’t usually have much trouble finding an interesting doco or program to watch, more often than not it’s a re-run of something I’ve already seen. And don’t get me started on all the ‘reality’ trash out there or the constant life and funeral insurance scare campaigns, oops I mean ads.

  12. Rod Cuthbertson permalink
    August 20, 2011 4:45 pm

    Heartily agree! I’d cancel Foxtel if the free-to-airs weren’t so awful during my usual watching hours (late night to early morn). And whilst at it, we need a huge campaign against their incessant ads and promos! Remember when we got cable and one of the big reasons was the complete lack of adverts? We’ve been done again!

  13. August 20, 2011 5:14 pm

    Couldn’t agree more bob. Our ‘free To air’ is eaqually as bad if not worse, mind numbing pap passed off as Reality?? interrupted by the same ads in every 5 minute break. Please, please ABC SBS don’t go down this path.

  14. boy on a bike permalink
    August 20, 2011 5:56 pm

    Read a book instead. Or a good blog.

  15. Kerry Wright permalink
    August 20, 2011 5:57 pm

    I often wondered why we exchanged one of the best TV situation in the world (four commercial stations, showing the best of the commercial shows, with SBS -fantastic- ABC -cultural comforts- and endless possibilities – then digital – all free to air) to flood our minds and nation with sheer pap (I had lived in US for two years, I know how hard it is to find something good to watch with 73 channels!)!

    Could we not still just have small packages of Pay TV for those who want endless sport, real cultural input, music, or even lots of rubbish in one place, etc?

    Sometimes we are a foolish nation, as we often seem to have everything, and then blow it: we end up working harder to give a lot away to those few who happily blackmail prime ministers and blow billions on casinos (not to mention muddying the standards and waters in other unfortunate countries!).

    Even our news and weather is full of triviality and hype on most stations. Why?

    This is one issue, the standards of TV, for our children and ourselves, that I am with you on, Bob. Australia has more chance than most to get it all right, if we can sidestep those with a vested interest in widely dumbing our once-beautiful culture down- or selling it out.

    Care must be taken, and discussion encouraged. We can do better (again).

  16. Tomasso permalink
    August 20, 2011 6:37 pm

    I cancelled Foxtel about 8 years ago. The kids (primary school age) complained for all of half a day or so, then recovered from the loss of their cartoons. There was a real history channel back then which the kids did watch, but the material was starting to morph to the sensational and bizarre.

    Foxtel dropped me about 8.1 years ago, so I dropped them! I used to do the prospect and customer targeting analytics for their direct marketing. It worked, but the issues which Foxtel refused to address were around content, value for money, packages/bundling of channels, and how they priced. Primary, they sold sport, sitcom re-runs, new movies and cartoons, apart from sport, they are much more readily available via free to air, broadband and video shops.

    My guess is that their current strategy is to use sport and lowest common denominator crap to keep the great unwashed subscribed, and forget any discerning viewers. They are the most retainable customers. [Jeez, I sound like an elitist]. If my guess is right, I don’t expect any improvements in content.


  17. August 20, 2011 6:41 pm

    I do not have any pay tv so have not experienced this problem. However, if is is as you say ….. what can be done? What will you do?

  18. Tom Round permalink
    August 20, 2011 9:47 pm

    > “Psychic Sally, America’s Fattest Honeymooners”

    Please, please tell me Mr Carr is quoting “The Simpsons” Kent Brockman or Troy McClure here, and that these are not actual real Foxtel program[me]s…

    • Bob Carr permalink
      August 20, 2011 10:18 pm

      One is real, one satire. Look at their programs, though, and you will conclude this outfit is beyond satire.

  19. Scott permalink
    August 21, 2011 7:03 am

    I am an Australian, now living in Canada.

    Here, having cable is not an option- I live in a city of 150,000 people and you can’t get a proper free-to-air signal. If you want to watch television, you have to pay.

    It’s mostly garbage, same as in Oz but there’s still some nuggets. Channels like Knowlege (a BC provincial channel) PBS, CBC and Turner Classic Movies provide some good stuff, and my wife and I have a weakness for the classic 1970’s stuff which we find on an oddball US channel called KVOS which is just below the border.

    The dumbing down is happening as per Australia but because it’s not a Rupert monopoly in Canada, it’s not quite as ferocious. Here, there is more duopoly then monopoly, with the big Canadian telephone giants dominating. Each company is dominant in one part of the nation.

    But this is a global trend. People are being dumbed down worldwide.

  20. Bernie permalink
    August 21, 2011 9:32 pm

    I can only agree, Foxtel is a con, we are unlikely to renew our superscription. Adds and reruns are the order of the day. I deplore the US documentaries with the endless summation of the few facts before and after each add break. The movies are mostly B grade in my opinion and I rarely watch them. Sky news Fox news is rubbish, you only have to compare with ABC or SBS news.
    Who wants to watch all that US sports, grown men skateboarding or card games!

    Then there is the way that they will stop showing a program or change its timeslot, without notice.
    I could go on and on ……………………

  21. oscarg permalink
    August 21, 2011 10:16 pm

    Like it or not Bob but many people of a different generation would consider ” punk rock” to be art and material worthy of consideration on a arts channel. That being said I agree absoloutely about the garbage on the history channel.

    A few years ago the sheer inanity of there programming decisions was exposed for all to see when between the umpteeth episode about the munitions of the second world war , they aired a documentary by holocaust denier and general ratbag David Irving.

  22. Byron permalink
    August 23, 2011 1:32 pm

    IMHO welfare institutionalisation / nanny state policies dumb us down more than foxtel … my personal “nanny state” gripe are where the state interferes with capable people wanting to start families (i.e. anti-surrogacy laws, esp. nsw) … see foxtel like humour “idiocracy” [movie] family tree scene … … lol.

  23. Johnny permalink
    August 23, 2011 2:21 pm

    Bob, Springsteen wrote a song about it, 57 Channels (and Nothin’s on). lyrics;

    I bought a bourgeois house in the Hollywood hills
    With a truckload of hundred thousand dollar bills
    Man came by to hook up my cable TV
    We settled in for the night my baby and me
    We switched ’round and ’round ’til half-past dawn
    There was fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on

    Well now home entertainment was my baby’s wish
    So I hopped into town for a satellite dish
    I tied it to the top of my Japanese car
    I came home and I pointed it out into the stars
    A message came back from the great beyond
    There’s fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on

    Well we might’a made some friends with some billionaires
    We might’a got all nice and friendly
    If we’d made it upstairs
    All I got was a note that said “Bye-bye John
    Our love is fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”

    So I bought a .44 magnum it was solid steel cast
    And in the blessed name of Elvis well I just let it blast
    ‘Til my TV lay in pieces there at my feet
    And they busted me for disturbin’ the almighty peace
    Judge said “What you got in your defense son?”
    “Fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”
    I can see by your eyes friend you’re just about gone
    Fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on…
    Fifty-seven channels and nothin’

    Copyright © 1992 Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP

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