Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

This Year’s Model: Why My Home is No Longer a Box Office

Posted by CinemaPsycho on June 3, 2012

I don’t really talk much about TV here (mainly because this is not a TV blog), but since this also involves movies, I thought I could make an exception in this case. Last week I did something that I never thought I would do: I dropped HBO from my cable lineup. It was a long time coming, but it needed to be done.

hbologo.jpgI did it partially for financial reasons, but mainly because I rarely watch the channel any more. Ever since I got Netflix streaming via my Roku device last year, I found myself watching movies on HBO less and less, to the point where I would record movies off of HBO on my DVR and not get around to watching them for months, even a year. I would rarely watch the channel “live” except for Bill Maher’s show on Friday nights, and I couldn’t really justify paying $15 a month for that. I don’t really watch the shows any more either; I never got into The Wire or Game of Thrones (I know, I’m a bad person). I mainly watched True Blood for the Anna Paquin nudity (what, you want me to lie?) but never got attached to it otherwise. So it got to the point where I started to feel a financial squeeze, and HBO was the first thing to go. It just didn’t feel necessary to me anymore.

That’s a shame, because I have fond memories of growing up watching HBO. I’m old enough to remember when HBO was the must-have pay channel; if you loved movies or were connected to the culture in any way, you were missing something if you didn’t subscribe to it. Before my parents broke down and bought a VCR, HBO was my main entry into the world of movies; I remember staying up late and discovering weird-ass cult movies I knew nothing about, like Get Crazy and Rock ‘n’ Rule (Christ, I’m old), not to mention the joys of softcore porn on Skinemax (again, hetero male). I remember watching everything from Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Stripes to Escape From New York and Videodrome on the channel. I couldn’t wait for that little digest to show up in the mail so I could find out what movies would be showing that month. Not to mention the stand-up comedy specials (where I discovered the genius of George Carlin), concert events like the Simon & Garfunkel reunion in Central Park, the Comic Relief events, etc. Even relatively crappy stuff like Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone and Yor: Hunter From the Future were awesome to me back then. And of course, the endless showings of The Beastmaster (which I actually saw theatrically, believe it or not). Ogling Tanya Roberts was practically a rite of passage in the early 80’s, and it was good old HBO that brought her to us 43 times a week.

Sadly, that time has long gone, but the HBO channels sometimes seem hopelessly stuck in the past. When you have around 500 movies on your Netflix Instant Queue and almost that many on your DVD queue, it’s a little difficult to make time for a random viewing of The Cotton Club or Doctor Detroit. At times it’s rare to actually find anything new on there, especially something that you haven’t already seen. The late-night cult movies seem to have gone the way of the dodo bird. The creativity and try-anything spirit that once typified the channel’s movie lineup has mostly dried up. I’m looking at tonight’s schedule right now, and the coolest thing is an airing of Phillip Kaufman’s NC-17 Henry & June, a movie that was controversial two decades ago. Come on. It seems if you want to see recent movies that are even a little outside the mainstream, you need to go… well, anywhere else. When you can watch The Woman or Cold Fish any time you want on Netflix streaming, HBO’s offerings seem a little quaint.

I don’t want to paint this as purely an HBO vs. Netflix issue, because I think there’s more to it than that. It’s more of a cultural thing, in which HBO no longer seems relevant to today’s movie audience. But as a Netflix subscriber, I find that I just get much more out of it than I do HBO or any pay-cable network. Let’s just consider the basics: not only are there thousands of movies on streaming, but you can rent almost anything on disc as well, including virtually everything that’s shown on HBO, Showtime or Starz, and you can get them months before those channels do. And you can watch them on your schedule, not theirs. It’s simply a better overall model. I hate to sound like a cheerleader for Netflix once again, but seriously, why pay for two separate services when you can get the same movies, and more, on one? It’s simply not logical. And you can catch up on their shows when they come out on disc (they want you to buy the box sets, of course, but one can easily rent them from Netflix). I got rid of Showtime a few years ago, again for financial reasons, and I rent the shows I like such as Dexter when they come out on disc. Sure, you have to wait several months, but it’s better than paying for a channel you otherwise wouldn’t watch that often.

Another issue I have with the pay-cable networks is that they usually don’t show their movies in widescreen, which just boggles my mind at this point. I mean, do we really have to settle for shitty pan-and-scan fullscreen in 2012? That’s like listening to 8-track tapes now. It’s ridiculous, but apparently they don’t want to turn off the idiots out there by showing films in their normal aspect ratio. They have gotten a little better about it – occasionally I would see an indie or foreign film shown in widescreen, throwing us film fans a bone I guess – but really, there’s no reason that all films shouldn’t be shown in widescreen at this point. Give me a break. If I have to pay extra to watch stuff like Green Lantern, I should at least be able to watch it in the right goddamn format. I don’t think that’s asking too much. I’d much rather rent these films on DVD, even if they are mediocre, and see them in a way that doesn’t give me a migraine. I may not necessarily need to see The Change-Up or The Big Year in pristine condition, but if I can get them that way, why not? I don’t see any reason to pay to watch movies in an inferior mode any longer. I mean… why?

Now, I’m not trying to tell people what to do here. If you like HBO and you still watch it regularly (and can afford it), then keep it by all means. Enjoy. But I suspect that a lot of people keep it out of habit or nostalgic reasons. I know several people who subscribe to it but admit they rarely watch it. It just seems like an outdated model to me at this point, when people are watching movies on the Internet and their iPhones and having them directly beamed to their eye sockets (that’s the next thing, right?). I know that they’ve created “HBO GO” to make the channel’s content more interactive and relevant to the streaming generation, but come on. It’s still HBO and the offerings are still pretty limited. For this viewer, it’s just not enough any more. It seems like we’ve moved on and found a better way. I wonder how many others have dumped the pay-cable networks in favor of Netflix or other streaming/disc services. I keep reading about people who have dropped cable altogether and just watch shows on Amazon or Hulu, but I don’t think I will ever go that far. But who knows, maybe someday something will come along that will beat even Netflix, and will provide an even better model. It’s certainly possible – if you had told me several years ago that I would willingly drop HBO, I would have said you were losing your damn mind. But in the future, someone could figure out a way to offer us even more of what we want at a better price.

Until then, I know what my main source of filmed entertainment is going to be. And my HBO days are done for good. But it was fun while it lasted. And we’ll always have The Beastmaster.

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