No TV

This post was updated in November 2013 to reflect changes to available services. To skip straight to the TV licensing info, click here. To go straight to the information about on-demand services, click here.

In 2009, I got rid of my TV. April or May, I think it was, though I could be mistaken on that particular detail. For all the inspiration TV offered me, the annoyance it caused got the better of me.

While my annoyance was mostly with the BBC, I’d be lying if I claimed that was the whole story. It certainly wasn’t. But I’d say it was most of the story for me, for sure. I don’t know what it’s like today, but at that time I felt that for every gem the BBC broadcast, it seemed they would broadcast at least five shining examples of sheer and utter rubbish. And I don’t mean broadcasts that I simply didn’t like (perhaps because I wasn’t a member of the targeted audience for it), no, I really mean relentless bile that should never have been put on air; for instance because it was poorly researched, or because an interviewer appeared either completely out of his or her depth or too unbalanced (possibly biased), or because an expert on Victorian macramé did not quite turn out to be the ideal guest to have been invited on a programme to share their insights on twenty-first century legacies of the Third Reich.

In fairness to the Beeb, they were not the only ones producing rubbish. They were, however, the only ones to do so using my and everyone else’s money paid through TV Licensing. So when my resentment with having to pay for a TV licence grew to the level that I could no longer justify it in my budget, I gave up on the TV.

Resisting any naughty desire to open the window and throw out the TV (read: realising that (a) I wasn’t a rockstar and (b) the darn thing wasn’t quite portable enough for me to be able to physically throw it), I left it on top of my wheelie bin outside, with a note attached that said “Take me! I still work!” or something to that effect. Hours later it was gone.

Life without TV

Do I miss having a telly? Not at all. You see, life without a TV – for me – isn’t life without television. It’s just a life without the appliance in my home, and it feels good. If I want to see a televised football match, I go to my local. As for everything else, I’ve become a selective online consumer.

There’s a popular myth that “if you own a computer or have an internet connection, you have to have a TV licence”, but that’s just that – a myth.

“You need to be covered by a valid TV Licence if you watch or record TV as it’s being broadcast. This includes the use of devices such as a computer, laptop, mobile phone or DVD/video recorder.”

“You need to be covered by a licence if you watch TV online at the same time as it’s being broadcast on conventional TV in the UK or the Channel Islands.”

So since letting TV Licensing know I no longer needed a TV licence, I’ve only forfeited live TV (including online live streams), and by choosing what I want to watch carefully and selectively, I find myself only very occasionally confronted with TV drivel, thus minimising annoyance.

TV on demand, online

Let me be very clear about something: I don’t mind paying for what I’d like to watch on TV, I merely resented having to pay for a TV licence when the hard-earned money I paid was – in my opinion – being squandered in a manner that took away from the quality broadcasts that were made from time to time. So I am not interested in dodgy peer-to-peer platforms or other questionable websites that provide ‘free’ this, that, and the other, especially because of what they don’t tell you there: the spam, spyware, trojans and other malware they provide you with – now that’s not just annoying, it’s outrageously risky, if not dangerous. It’s unnecessary, too, as there are plenty of safe alternatives.

BBC iPlayer allows me to avoid live streams (though they are available, for those with a TV licence) and stream or download previously broadcast programmes perfectly legally and, as it happens, free of charge. Other UK broadcasters have their own versions – ITV has its ITV Player and Channel 4 (including E4, More 4 etc.) has 4OD – where content contains commercials but that means viewing is free of charge. Sky Go contains a mixture of free and paid content, and you have to set up a user account, but you don’t necessarily need to have a paid Sky subscription (although the latter would unlock much more content); the live streams require a TV licence so I avoid them. TVCatchup is a no-no for me; it may be free and (apparently) legal, it’s also streaming live TV so would require a TV Licence.

For movies and TV series I personally prefer using iTunes because that way you only pay for what you want (no commitment) and because you download the content to your desktop, you don’t have the annoyance of buffering/lags. Web-based alternatives (which do stream the content and may therefore buffer/lag if you’re not on superfast broadband) include Netflix (which requires a regular subscription) and (Sky-owned) NowTV and Acetrax (Amazon-owned) LOVEFiLM. (NowTV requires a monthly subscription, like Netflix, whereas on Acetrax you only pay for what you rent or buy.)

Regrets?

After three-and-a-half years I can honestly say I have no regrets. The annoyance of TV has gone, as have the information overload and noise. Selective media consumption (not just in respect of television) is definitely the way to go for me. Moreover, I’ve since down-sized to smaller, more flexible/nomadic living arrangements; a TV (not to mention any set-top-box/digital-antenna malarkey now the analog signals have been turned off) would simply not fit in with that lifestyle. I can highly recommend it.

Note: if you are considering chucking out your TV like I did, remember that while you may not require a TV licence, I would recommend making sure you have an ‘unlimited data’ contract with your ISP if you intend to stream or download media.

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Re: Collins on TV: Embarrasing Bodies

(Previously posted as a comment in response to Collins on TV: Embarrassing Bodies)

[Is Embarrassing Bodies] TV porn? Absolutely, no doubt about that in my mind. But sadly, besides entertainment this programme does serve another, very important purpose, and I don’t mean in terms of ‘educational’ value to viewers. If anyone ever wondered why any of the ‘patients’ featured on Embarrassing Bodies would be so brave to go on camera with their crooked, prolapsed or otherwise wonky body parts and/or cavities, the answer may well be this: because it gets them medical treatment or surgery they otherwise might not get.

With NHS primary care and hospital trusts already exceeding their budgets year on year, not every NHS trust will authorise surgery that they consider to be ‘cosmetic’ rather than ‘life-saving’ or even ‘functional’. As a patient suffering with any such medical problem you will be subject to the NHS’s now all-too-familiar postcode lottery. And even if the treatment or surgery you so desperately need or want does get approved, your name may be added to a long waiting list before you actually receive it. (Note: even if you thought your private medical insurance might provide where the NHS can’t ― or at least not in your area ― you have no guarantee).

So what better way than to take your fifteen minutes of embarrassment rather than fame on national television to get yourself booked in with a Harley Street specialist who ― at no cost to you* ― will ease your medical problem or possibly even rid you of it altogether? As someone whose life and career are severely blighted and often debilitated by a chronic medical condition, I have to admit that I would jump at such a chance: any such TV appearance, however embarrassing to the patient, would soon be forgotten, yet the impact of the medical treatment offered could be potentially life-changing.

While one of many reasons I got rid of my TV was the high level of ‘bear-baiting for the sake of bear-baiting’, crazy reflections of dumbed-down Britain, and entertainment at the expense of someone, this is one form of TV porn that might actually serve a purpose ― however sad (and pathetic?) that observation may be.

*This only applies to the UK version of Embarrasing Bodies; I don’t know what it’s like for non-UK versions/adaptations of the format, other than the recent exposure of TV fakery in The Netherlands on a similar TV programme.

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