Evolution of the Playlist

I grew up on cable and as a child of the 1980’s I amazed my mother with how I could tell time just based on what show was coming on next. There was predictability and an order to things by which you could tell time. Who needed a watch?  Our playlist (though we did not call it that at the time) was devised based on the day of the week and hour of the clock.  We showed up to our playlist then.  Experimentation occurred in the off-season; an uncomfortable period of time when our playlist favorites went on sabbatical until the Autumn and we needed to find a new routine, something new to show up to; something new to depend on to be there.  It was a bit of a gamble that our timeframe would be filled with something equally entertaining, albeit a little different. Usually the off-season playlist garnered one or two shows that were added to regular Autumn viewing.

As a college student of the late 1990’s and new millennium my friends and I put our powers of prior proper planning to use in devising an intricate table of recording and watching on key nights when there was just too much on to watch at once.  Recording devices, in their infancy during the 1980’s, were now common place and a cost effective alternative for the average consumer to take some control over their playlist. There was a pecking order of priority of what got watched in real time broadcast and what got recorded for later viewing.  Sometimes we had two VCR’s going at once.  Programming was different then.  There was comedy and drama, VH1 Behind the Music and Trading Spaces on TLC.  There was genre variety and all you had to do was channel surf to find something entertaining or at least interesting to watch.  It was media for the masses.  Something for everyone.  Sports, music, drama, comedy and life style.

Somewhere in the mid 2000s the programming format shifted and variety seemed harder to come by.  As the playlist I relied on fell apart I began looking for alternatives in entertainment, education and general media consumption.  I have always been a basic service kind of gal, so in the interest of full disclosure this post is written from the experience of a budget conscious consumer.  Premium channels and multiple DVR’s do not enter the equation.

Like most, programming is the great escape from the reality of the day.  My escape was in the story and still is.  As series like Friends, ER, Judging Amy, Gilmore Girls and Will & Grace came to an end, more reality tv shows and game shows took their place.  Competition.  The situational comedies and dramas that those of us grew up on could no longer compete.  Competition it’s self was now programming and it was a competitive race to the top for the number one show.  Over the years it seems most of the game shows petered out and made room for large talent shows.  I did watch the first few seasons of American Idol and a few episodes of Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance.  It was entertaining for a change, but these competitions could not replace the excitement of watching the latest “chapter” in situational programming.  I found some great dramas in Grey’s Anatomy, Parenthood, Numbers and Medium.  I turned to Food Network and TLC for some lighter entertainment but found that, even there, competition and drama were in the forefront.  Cooking was not as relaxing as I thought it would be when waiting for someone to get “Chopped” at 9:30pm. There was little out there in light-hearted programming.

When I began to realize that what I watched stressed me out more than the day I was escaping from I began to ask myself, “Why?” The answer had to do with the content and timing.  Dramatic acting is very good.  The story, characters and performance suck you in to the moral and physical drama of medicine and law or the overall challenges of interpersonal relationships.  It transports you to the reality of that situation without getting bogged down in the mundane details of reality TV.

I decided dramatic TV was a bad idea right before bed.  Even cooking, tattoos and  dogs were eventually thrown off the nighttime playlist.  Seriously.  Even the lighter fare programming was laced with personal drama or competition.  The writing strung you along through the commercials, and left predictable cliff-hangers to the next episode, much like a daytime soap opera.  When those shows became more about the drama and competition they stopped being fun and informative.

After taking a break from watching programming all together I began to think about my playlist.  Actually I thought about two of them; the playlist I abandoned and the playlist I wanted.  The playlist I abandoned was one I created from narrowing options provided to me via my content delivery system.  Even more narrow was the window of time through which I had to consume that content.  If I was willing and able to pay more money I would have opportunity for programming variety as well as recording and playback methods.  The ability to acquire more content and playback options was an economic moving target.  I began to consider the playlist I wanted and by what means I could really have it on a basic service budget.

With YouTube and other online video forums well established for the distribution of amateur to semi-pro content, mainstream media began dipping its pinky toe into online distribution of its content via Hulu, Fancast, Netflix and custom platforms.  I decided it was time to give it a try as a consumer.  I found Hulu offered the best variety of TV shows in a great delivery platform. While episodes often had an expiration date I usually had a week or more to consume the content via my computer or smartphone.  I can browse available programs, favorite them and receive updates when new episodes are available.  I love my delete button and have used it when something is not engaging. I am more inclined to try a new program because it does not compete with one I am committed to. I usually have access to at least the full current season so I can catch up.

Aside from Hulu+ I have three other subscriptions.  My subscription to Lynda.com is invaluable when learning new software for work or simply to satisfy my inner nerd.  Youtube offers some great free programming.  I can’t learn crochet by diagrams in a book but I found some great videos.  They are not fancy, or even pretty but they give me what I need.  No frills repetition of a basic technique that I can compare my efforts to and know that I am getting the hang of something new.  I use Apple iTunes for movie rentals.  They have the best selection I have seen with a great playback platform.

I mastered my media on a budget.  Aside from a standard internet subscription I probably pay about $450 annually in online content fees.  The economic savings comes at another price.  The fact that I have multiple subscriptions to get the variety I crave is a little ridiculous not to mention the management of it: multiple logins, multiple bills.

While I am currently pleased with my playlists and the means by which I access them, content and distribution is forever changing.  There is a price for everything and while I am not unwilling to pay there is a limit.  If the price for my current methods of content consumption becomes too great compared to their rewards, I may be on the hunt again.  That is the non-monetary price of choice; the time and energy of evaluating what you are getting from any given option and looking for something better – there is no forever and there is no perfect.

What does your playlist evolution look like?

Copyright 2013 Digital Design Digest

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1 Comment

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One response to “Evolution of the Playlist

  1. Pingback: Thinking of Cutting the Cord? | The Digital Design Digest

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