Digital Cable Disaster

Pulling the plug on the horse channels and other crud


Rating: NNNNN


on my digital tv terminal, there are two horse channels — one plays non-stop horse racing, and the other runs the odds for said races. Back in the early 90s, at one of the regular CRTC hearings for extra specialty television channels, some genius proposed the Horse Channel. It promised 24 hours of horses galloping around in various scenes and states.

People laughed out loud at the sheer absurdity of it, and the Horse Channel never got licensed. The baffling leap from laughing stock to reality says a lot about the state of digital TV today.

Since September 7, couch potatoes have been offered more than 50 new channels to choose from, all for free until January 7. As far as I’m concerned, they can take them back now.

Admittedly, the idea of more things to watch, or rather, a better variety of things to watch, is intriguing. There’s a mind-numbing lack of variety on many of the channels out there now, so the potential of niche programming created especially to bust up the monotony sounds like gold.

But how the Men Channel, with its documentaries on barbecue technique, lug-nut analysis and occasional Sting concert footage, fits into this is unclear. My remote control now goes up to 200, and at least 80 per cent of it is garbage.

Want to see a visual rendering of Edge 102.1’s myopic radio playlist? Check out Edge TV. Need more dune-buggy swamp racing in your life? Here’s X-treme Sports. Desperate to know the score of the Leafs’ game but can’t be bothered to flick down the dial to see the actual live broadcast? Tune in Leafs TV, which can’t show live games, so instead offers a scoreboard punctuated with canned crowd noises.

For all the dramatic readings on Book TV and occasionally compelling cinema on the Independent Film Channel, there’s nothing nearly as captivating as, say, the Food Network, which routinely has me staring like a zombie at the screen, cookbooks spread around my chair like some sort of shrine, until 3 am.

It’s still early days, of course, and perhaps we should hold out hope for stinkers like BPM TV and the remarkably un-sexy Sex TV Channel. Yet it’s hard to imagine something like the Game Show Network, with its loop of Family Feud, getting much better with time.

The perception is that the folks at Rogers realize they’ve got a load of crap on their hands and only the laziest fool is going to want to subscribe to all the channels.

Surprisingly, the cable giant is not forcing viewers to buy four channels to get the one they want. You can actually buy individual channels and ditch the rest, which means not having to flip through MuchVibe and Fashion Television to get to BBC Kids.

Out of almost 60 options, I’m keeping two: BBC World for information and Fox Sports World for non-stop soccer.

To the rest, goodbye forever. Choice is overrated.

mattg@nowtoronto.com

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