Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Trans-Pacific Comparative Television Watching

Americans totally have a channel for everything. There are only a few Canadian channels, and then the local area usually has one, but even in Canada we get lots of American channels on cable. You flip though and find a show you like, and if it's on a specialty channel you can go all day watching the same sort of show. I was once not really paying attention to a bad cop show and it took me hours to realize that it was several bad cop shows one after another and I wasn't noticing the difference.

I made a comment about 'the science fiction channel' in an e-mail to an Australian and got an incredulous reply. A whole channel of science fiction shows? Yeah, I think we have two or three: Space, ψφ (or however they spell it), and isn't there something called Xyzzy? Let's see what I have in this hotel ... 53 channels including:

  • A few local Canadian channels from different parts of the country
  • Four channels from the nearest big US city
  • History Channel (USA)
  • Comedy Network
  • Women's Network - lots of chick flicks
  • Spike (USA) - lots of action movies
  • Outdoor Life - Fishing and hunting and survivalism
  • The Food Network
  • Discovery Channel (USA) - wildlife documentaries & Mythbusters
  • TLC (USA) - documentaries about people having babies, and how to fix your house
  • Home & Garden (USA)
  • Teletoon
  • Real Estate
  • Knowledge Network
  • CNN
  • Country Music Television
  • Family Channel
  • YTV - cartoons and youth shows up to high school dramas
  • CBC-Francais (Canadian)
  • Canadian Learning Channel
  • Aboriginal People's Television Network (Canada)
  • Two all sports channels

There's also a channel that tells you what is on on all the other channels. It helps to have a remote with numbered buttons so you can just jump to the channel you want.

There were about ten channels where I grew up. There were 13 on the dial, but at least three of them were just static. But we had an old TV.

In case you're interested, here's the Australian equivalent.

  • ABC (taxpayer funded, runs news and current affairs, kids shows, BBC comedies and dramas, no ads)
  • ABC 2 (same deal, but has more local (ie. bad) stuff, indigenous programming and music tv and repeats of ABC 1, doesn't run overnight)
  • ABC 3 (same deal, kids shows only)
  • ABC 24 (brand new, news all the time)
  • SBS (taxpayer funded, foreign language ABC basically, foreign films, news
  • from lots of different coutries, and esoteric local stuff)
  • SBS 2 (same thing, but worse)
  • Channels 7, 9 and 10 (commercial stations with American movies and tv shows but local news, current affairs and game shows. And Home and Away)

My correspondent says that some areas have a local channel too, but those are dying out.

One last comment on television is a TV Tropes quote about the series Lost: Generally, science fiction can have an open ending as long as the fates of the most interesting characters are resolved. Unfortunately, on Lost, a large chunk thought the island was the most interesting character. Perfect summary.

I promise not to watch any more TV at you this week. My rotation is at least Tivoed, so I can fast-forward to the day I fly out.


mattheww50 said...

There were 12 VHF NTSC channels in North America (channel 1 was blocked off long long ago).

It was technically impossible to use them all at once over the air, i.e. unless there was a 'hole' between the channels (such as between Channel 4 and channel 5, and between 6 and 7 the use of an adjacent channel was impossible.
I.E. if you had a channel 9, you could not have a channel 8 or 10

The TV channel was 6 Mhz wide and the method used to broadcast resulted in some unavoidable 'splatter' outside the channel assignment, coupled with an often not especially selective Televison receiver.

So the most NTSC VHF channels you could have in any market in North America would have been 7:
Ch 2
Ch 4
Ch 5
Ch 7
ch 9
ch 11
ch 13

Jim said...

@Mattheww50 - Your line-up sounds like the Toronto-Niagara-Buffalo area in the 60's, one of the richest areas on the world for TV choice at that time.

I was raised in Northern Ontario (Sudbury) and we had one english language channel (5 - CBC) and one french channel (13, from Sturgeon Falls IIRC). Then channel 9 came to town and became CBC, and 5 became CTV. Life was tough, you had to cross the room to change the TV channel or adjust the volume.

Visiting grandparents in Toronto was a Saturday morning adventure, where the cartoons started at about 6am and continued to noon and were worth watching. The channel layout was the same as what @Mattheww50 listed but I think there was a channel 6 in there instead of 5. Plus UHF. I loved channel 79, especially Friday midnight.

And yes, we walked to school. Uphill, both ways. In snow up to our waist, even in May. With a layer of cardboard in our boots. (Some of this is even true).

Verification: wynest. Wynot?

amulbunny's random thoughts said...

My children don't believe me about having to turn channels with a circular knob. I grew up in Central Wisconsin, we had 2 local channels, 2 (CBS)and 9(ABC). If the wind was right we could get Eau Claire or Rhinelander which was great on a Friday night because then NBC had Star Trek and The Tonight Show.

And I walked backwards in the snow, both ways uphill to my grammar school. We didn't have to shovel the sidewalks because there were no boulevards and the plows put all the snow on the sidewalk.

And if you were smart, your mom didn't give you idiot mittens to wear under your coat.

Aviatrix said...

I think I must have looked at the dial that went up to 13 and imagined that many stations, just as I looked at the speedometer and imagined it could go 200 km/h, because there were that many numbers.

I don't remember that at least every second channel was static, I guess I assumed they were on at different times of day. I do remember that all the UHF ones were fuzzy, and that I was mocked at school because I didn't know that Big Bird was yellow, because we were the last family in my class to still have a black & white TV. I just assumed it was a white bird.

DigitalStill said...

We're not that hard up in Australia! For each of the commercial networks (7,9,10) that you listed (that are all free to air digital channels) most of them have a couple of secondary channels that generally show re-runs of US Sitcoms, or sports etc. In most populated areas we there is generally about 12-14 free channels broadcast. We also have a pay TV (satellite or cable delivered) called FOXTEL that has about 70 channels (not including the timeshift and HD channels) or so...yes including a Sci-Fi channel. Only problem is it costs anywhere between $50 - $130 a month depending on how many channels you want, so therefore only about 30% of homes have it.

DigitalStill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sean said...

I think your correspondent is a little confused.

On free-to-air analogue television, the list is actually a little shorter and includes ABC, SBS, 7, 9, 10 and local UHF channels (31 in Melbourne, TVS in Sydney).

Analogue television is in the process of being switched off. The programme is slated for completion in 2013. In the meantime, the networks are focussing on increasing digital content, in order to encourage people to transition to digital.

Since the move to Digital, the free-to-air channels have increased significantly. In Melbourne, the list is:
ABC (taxpayer funded) povides
- ABC (news, current affairs, political content, local content),
- ABC2 (like ABC, but with specific content for children in the morning, teenagers in the afternoon and evening)
- ABC3 (dedicated childrens' channel with no advertisements), and
- ABC News 24 (24 hour news)
SBS (partially taxpayer funded, includes ads) provides
- SBS (multicultural programming, includes less commercially successful sports such as soccer and cycling. Also the launching place for shows such as Top Gear and Mythbusters in Australia)
- SBS2 (multilingual channel. Primarily news and political programmes from around the world), and
- SBS World News (rotating foreign-language news from around the world)
7 (commercial) provides
- 7 (traditional analogue channel),
- 7Two (expansion of 7. entertainment shows, BBC comedies, a lot of older series), and
- 7Mate (marketed for 18-40 year old males. Sport, Comedy, Cars, etc)
9 (commercial) provides
- 9 (traditional analogue channel),
- GO! (teenage targeted. Has a large contingent of shows from US networks like CW), and
- GEM (new channel, mainly shows like Wife Swap, Secret Millionaire, and Ellen)
10 (commercial) provides
- 10 (traditional analogue channel),
- 11 (partially owned by CBS shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy, etc), and
- One (24 hour HD Sports channel)

These 15 free-to-air channels have a mix of standard and high-definition.

If you move over to cable (which, as DigitalStill suggests, can get expensive) there are up to 180 channels available, depending on your subscription.

Wayne Farmer said...

And now I understand how the channels were assigned in Southern California. Growing up in San Diego in the 50's, we had 3 local channels: 6 (ABC), 8 (CBS), and 10 (NBC). Channel 6 was actually broadcast from over the border in Mexico, as station XETV. Los Angeles had 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13. Santa Barbara had the left-over channel 3. With a tall rooftop antenna and a rotor, you could pull in a snowy Los Angeles channel from San Diego, but hardly ever channel 3.

Ryan said...

Several of the channels you've listed as "(USA)" are actually Canadian, or at least sort of Canadian.

Food Network is the Canadian-owned, licensed adjunct of the US Food TV, but they have some Canadian content to go with it. Comedy, Teletoon and W (the Women's Network) are all Canadian channels with no direct connection to any US station (though each licenses the content of similar US stations with abandon; Teletoon buys the rights to the bigger animated hits from both Cartoon Network and Comedy Central, for example).

Outdoor Life (OLN) is even weirder: they're a Canadian-owned channel that used to license the name (and much of the content) from the US channel of the same name, but when the US entity changed its name to Versus, OLN Canada stayed as OLN. But still licenses a lot of Versus content.

Ah, the wild world of Canadian cable content!

Enjoy this PDF chart of Corus Entertainment's various properties, including Teletoon and W.

Aviatrix said...

Thanks, Ryan. I'll fix that.

Chris said...

53 channels and nothing but cats...

When I was a kid growing up in a rural area in Oz we had two channels, ABC (government funded) and WINTV, the local channel. They both ceased transmission at about midnight.

And stay off my lawn, you kids!

Aviatrix said...

They played the national anthem and then went to a test pattern! I know I accidentally record an hour of test pattern every once in a while, so there must still be channels that sign off and go to bed. I loved that.

Rob42 said...

Yes, Chris' comment reminds me of visiting the extended family in regional Australia when I was growing up, when they received only two channels. Of course, the commercial channel (Mid State Television 689, if I remember rightly) could "cherry-pick" the programs from anywhere, so it was a pretty good service - I believe "CHiPS" was the highlight for me on those days...

Also, don't forget OneHD in your list of Aust channels - off-shoot of Channel 10, and all sport all the time, and that ABC2 is broadcast gold for those of us with young children - solid kids shows, no ads, morning and evening (ABC3 is more for the yoof rather than young kids).

Brandon said...

I think I'm just barely old enough to remember watching the test pattern for 15 minutes or so before the cartoons started on Saturday morning. That was probably about 25 years ago. I think they all show infomercials now instead.

jwenting said...

sheesh, to think we were excited when I was a kid when the 3rd channel was launched here on public television somewhere in the 1980s (though there were protests against it, people considered it a waste of money to have 3 channels on TV).

Of course they didn't transmit 24/7, only starting around 4 in the afternoon and ending before midnight.

We could also pick up 2, sometimes 3 (depending on weather conditions) German channels, and that was it.

And now, thanks to cable, I could get hundreds of channels, each worse than those 2 channels we used to have 30 years ago :(

silver horde said...

It was just BBC and ITV when I was a kid!