Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Working Out the Bugs

from Kolchak:

I don’t know how long it’ll take. It could take years, but it could happen a lot faster. All I can say is that sooner or later--my bet’s on sooner-- I won’t be able to watch first- run television, whether it’s on broadcast or cable.

And I’m not complaining about the shows themselves--not yet, anyway. I’m complaining about how difficult it is to watch a show when the picture has been all but crowded off the screen by an infestation of network identification logos, animated ads for other shows and lines of text marching across the bottom of the screen.

At this point, you may be thinking: What a wuss. You can just tune that stuff out. Well, ,maybe you can. Me, I still hear the Muzak that they play at shopping malls.

I realize that network logos--sometimes called “bugs”-- serve an actual purpose. They’re the easiest way to identify specific networks, when you’re running the dial.

I particularly like how the operators of Logo, which specializes in gay interest programming, actually use their bug to make a visual pun. While most networks put their bugs in lower right hand corner of the screen, Logo’s on the upper right, which is consistent with a network with…um, how shall we say it?… different orientation.

Most of the time, though, we have to deal with more than just bugs. There are ads for other shows which usually include some sort of animation or miniaturized clip (a video bite, rather than a sound bite?) for the show. These ads can vary in size. The largest ones I’ve seen so far--on TNT, I think--can fill a quarter of the screen. When you’re watching a sitcom or a police procedural, that’s not a problem. When you’re trying to watch, say, The Fellowship Of the Ring, it becomes a different matter entirely. Can people actually follow what’s going on in these shrunken clips? Does the motion in these scenes do anything but distract the viewer from the show he or she is trying to watch? Granted, that may be a good thing in some cases, but, it’s still annoying.

Things get worse when you turn to CNN. On this channel, there’s a bug; the time and a ticker-style headline display at the bottom of the screen. Immediately above that, there’s a space used for captions relating to, or a quick summary, of the story currently being told. Sometimes, when CNN is using a broadcast from an affiliate station, its graphics partially obscure the ones that the station is using.

That’s not all, folks. CNN’s morning show recently added a video wall to its set.

On top of that wall is another news ticker, displaying headlines. So there are points when there are headlines at the bottom of the screen and at the top. And they’re not the same ones.

A relatively new cable service called Current has brought its own twist to the clutter problem. As you may know, Current broadcasts short non-fiction videos.(which they insist on calling pods.), many of which are contributed by viewers. I’m not sure whether it’s accurate to call these pieces documentaries, which is one of the problems I have with Current. But it’s also off-topic at the moment.

No video runs more than eight minutes, but, apparently, the Powers That Be at Current are afraid that may be too much for their target demographic.

This network has a two-part bug, and both parts are moving. The word “current” is built in the lower right-hand corner, while a loading bar, like the ones you find on some websites. You can’t tell exactly how much time is left in the video you’re watching, but you can tell whether you’ve passed the halfway mark

While all this is going on, a photo of the video’s creator flashes on and off, along with shots from coming distractions, er, attractions.

I don’t have any theory as to why this is happening, except to say that even I’ve noticed the similarity between these screens and the screens on most computer games. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that my proficiency with computer games is almost too small to measure. If I spend a lot of time with a game, I can usually work my way up from Hopeless to Mediocre, but that’s it.

Still, there’s a upside to all this. It’s a good rationalization for buying DVDs. Just don’t talk to me about Blu-Ray, okay?


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