The older of my two sons came home last month on the night that the United States national soccer team was playing an important game.
However, it wasn’t so important that it was going to be on a major cable sports network.
A former All-Western New York soccer player who still plays the sport recreationally in his late 20s, my son said the game was on an obscure cable channel. He added that he was sure that I didn’t get it, which meant he had to go to a bar to watch it with a buddy.
If that seems just like an excuse to go to a bar, then you might not remember that 20-somethings don’t need any excuses. Certainly not my son, anyway.
So I drove him to the bar like any responsible parent, returned home and went through my cable guide only to discover that I actually could get the channel – something called beIN – for a monthly fee that was less than two beers at a local pub. It is on channel 179, as any soccer fan probably knows.
It turned out my son and his friend couldn’t get in the bar because it was overcrowded with soccer fans. Then his buddy told him that he got beIN at home anyway and they walked a few blocks there to watch the game.
In the few hours before I picked up my son, I got to thinking about the number of cable channels that even a television critic doesn’t realize are on the local system, why they are there, and why we have to pay for them even if the U.S. has a better chance of winning the World Cup than I would have of watching many of those channels.
I know the answer to why we have to pay for the channels we don’t watch, rather than pay a la carte for those that we do watch. The cable industry’s long-held position is that if subscribers get to pick the channels they pay for, the great majority of cable channels will disappear because the little guys won’t get enough subscriber fees to survive.
The argument makes sense even if it costs subscribers a significant amount of dollars monthly. Many of the channels I want to see probably differ from the channels my neighbors want to see.
The subscribers I really feel badly for are the ones paying a hefty monthly price for all the ESPN channels even if they have zero interest in sports. ESPN uses all that dough to buy the rights to more sports events, such as Wimbledon, NFL games, major league baseball games, NBA games and the most popular college sports games that we used to be able to see for free on the broadcast networks.
It does take some time to get used to having the big sports events on cable. Even I initially looked for “Breakfast at Wimbledon” last weekend on NBC before realizing that ship had sailed over to ESPN. After Sunday’s finale in which Scotland’s Andy Murray ended Britain’s 77-year-old Wimbledon drought in men’s singles, I had a little time on my hands and got bored.
So I decided to do something I never do – search the entire channel guide for channels I rarely look at or knew even existed.
I’ve heard from cable experts over the years that the average American watches only about 20 or 30 cable channels. I’m average with an asterisk. As a critic, I get a lot of DVDs from channels I couldn’t find on cable.
To be honest, I couldn’t have found G4 before South Buffalo native Patrick Hall appeared on “America’s Ninja Warrior” last Sunday. I thought G4 had something to do with bingo. G4 is on channel 129 on Time Warner, 767 in HD.
I couldn’t have found the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) on 105 and on 899 in HD before Lance Armstrong decided to confess to her a while back. And I couldn’t have found the Discovery Channel HD on Channel 738 before Nik Wallenda’s walk over a gorge near the Grand Canyon a few weeks ago.
I hadn’t realized that TWC carries two Spanish channels, Univision on Channel 38 and Telemundo on Channel 60.
Raise your hand if you knew that something called Russian Television is on Channel 194. I’m of Russian descent and I didn’t know. I turned it on for a minute and discovered the people on the channel talk in English.
There also is Jewish Life on Channel 178, which shouldn’t be confused with Jewelry Television on Channel 193.
We also get a New York City channel, NY1, on channel 100 and in HD on Channel 700. I’m familiar with TWC’s downstate version of YNN because I frequently visit New York, but I never expected to see it at home. I hope all the University at Buffalo students from downstate are aware of it so they can follow what is going on back home.
I wasn’t aware of such channels as Hub on 101 and 763 in HD; Up on 135 and 882 in HD; Reelz on 146 and 885 in HD; Chiller on 173 or Cloo on 174. The website for Cloo says it is a division of NBC Universal. It was showing a “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” episode Sunday, which made me wonder why there isn’t a channel entirely devoted to “Law & Order.”
I felt a little guilty about not watching Reelz since I am a big movie fan. I was aware that BBCAmerica is on channel 109 and on 860 in HD because Buffalo native Tom Fontana’s latest series “Copper” is on the network. But I hadn’t realized that BBCA carries so many James Bond movies, as it did last Sunday.
I also haven’t spent much time watching the Fox Movie Channel on channel 108, which on Sunday was showing a film called “Definitely Maybe.” Definitely, maybe I will try FMC again when I get bored on another Sunday afternoon.
You should consider channel surfing on a lazy Sunday afternoon, too. After all, it isn’t any more boring than watching soccer for two hours. (Sorry, son.)