The Commish Online                                                                                
Quality Over Content in our HDTV World
March 25, 2004

While surfing the internet recently, a banner ad for Best Buy appeared, hawking their vast selection of High Definition televisions and digital music players, which got me thinking about our increasing tendency to push quality over content.  In an age of plasma, LCD, widescreen, digital video, digital audio, 5.1 surround, CD quality downloads, and DVDs with hours of “extras,” has anyone noticed that the content displayed or heard on all of our technological advancements is often just plain miserable?  Flipping through hundreds of channels on my digital cable box (including TEN HBO stations), I found nothing worthwhile except for the crossword puzzle on the coffee table, so to the paper I went.

Whether you are watching Two and a Half Men on an RCA 13” black and white or on an $8,000 Sony 50” Plasma WEGA HD-Ready Flat-Panel TV, the show is still bad and Charlie Sheen still can’t act his way out of a paper bag.  A Britney Spears song downloaded from iTunes is (gasp) still just a Britney Spears song.  When you bought the VHS version of Fools Rush In, starring Matthew Perry and Salma Hayek, it didn’t make sense several years ago, and it makes even less sense now that you have splurged and sprung for the DVD version so you can watch it in widescreen, “as it was meant to be seen.”  Please.

As American consumers, it appears that we have a strong desire for better things but, in the absence of good content, we settle for improving the quality around our bad content.  Surely the NBA will be better if viewed in high definition, right?  Pearl Harbor has to be better if an additional two hours of footage is added along with the director’s commentary, all in crystal clear DVD quality!

Not all content in our entertainment world is bad, and some of it actually does improve with the technology.  I would assume that watching Forrest Gump on that 50” HDTV would be a pleasurable experience, and listening to a Peter Gabriel concert in 5.1 surround sound (or 8.1 or 10.1 or whatever new audio tricks the goateed musician is playing around with nowadays) would likely be a feast for the ears.  However, for every Forrest Gump, there are 20 Glitters, and that means we have perfected the art of producing an absolutely stunning, well photographed, intricately directed pile of absolute trash.

Who says you can’t judge a book by its cover?  Emboss those letters, bold the font, finish the cover with a bright hue, throw in a free bookmark and that backup quarterback’s autobiography will sell, sell, sell!  We have no one to blame but ourselves.  Consumer demand will drive the product, and if we prefer watching Yes Dear and Average Joe: Adam Returns to such high quality shows as Scrubs and Arrested Development, then we are just going to have to settle for a Wal-Mart ring in a Tiffany box.

So what’s the solution?  Like an elegant napkin, it’s twofold.  First, it begins and ends with the writers.  From songs to movie scripts to books to sitcoms, our entertainment dollar is largely dependent upon the quality of writing.  Writers are on the front end of a project and are essential to the product’s overall attempt at decency, yet they are paid far less than the production end.  Plenty of good writers exist in the media world, but what is viewed as good often does not result in profitability, which is why companies cannot be blamed for underpaying the writers and overpaying the producers.  This cycle is the reason we get so much high gloss garbage in our entertainment world, which leads to the second point. 

On the technology side, we demand the best, so the best are put to work and have given us everything we want.  On the entertainment, side, however, we are much lazier consumers, so the best writers often sit on the sidelines or get pushed aside to cable TV or the CD bargain bin while the king of the two-star movie signs a multi-year television deal.  In other words, as said before, it is essentially up to us to choose what is good, not what is easy. 

Until that happens, I guess I can take advantage of our latest technology and rent the DVDs of the television shows that were canceled in favor of Fear Factor and The Bachelor – unless, or course, some media mogul is looking for a good writer, in which case I can start tomorrow.