Thursday, December 22, 2011

Svengoolie and the New Digital Revolution

On to other matters. I am channel surfing last weekend and encountered Svengoolie playing a horror movie with a side order of bad jokes, and I am surprised, not the least because I am in Seattle and he is part of my Chicago area past.

Clear all Airlanes for the Big Broadcast! (WCUI/Jim Roche)
OK, backing up. Svengoolie, (better called Sven, and played by Rich Koz) is a horror host out of Chicago. I used to watch him on Saturday afternoon on WFLD, which we got up in Lake Geneva, back he was called the Son of Sven (because there was an earlier horror host named Svengoolie and ... yaknow, never mind). This time Sven turned up on ME-TV, which in Seattle is a small reruns station in the upper registers of the cable that showed up about a year ago.

And I got to thinking - where did this station come from, and why am I watching Sven in Seattle?

Part of the answer goes back to when the area (and a lot of other areas) went fully digital and dropped the analog (old rabbit ears) mode of transmission. Now our stations come through cable, with an added fee where it was once free (well, you had to get the antenna, but other than that, it was free, and what you got depended on the strength of the broadcast signal). But the other result of this change was the creation of digital subchannels.

Now this is the cool part. Programming that used to be coming through the airwaves now comes through digitally over the cable line. You don't notice the difference unless something fouls up, and you get this big grainy pixels. But as a result, you can ship a lot more info through the lines. The local broadcasters don't need to use all their bandwidth, and can now create new channels in their allotted spots.

Here's a partial local list - KOMO4, which is ABC, is also THiS Television (showing old movies). KIRO7 is CBS, but is also giving bandwidth to Retro TV (Old TV shows). Channel 12, KVOS is also MeTV (where I found Sven, but also has old TV shows) as well as KVOS2 (which is playing old rock videos), 22 KZJO ("Joe TV" - recent old TV shows) is also Antenna TV (Older TV shows), and while KCFQ (Q13 is Fox), which has Accuweather, but both 22 and Q13 are Tribune stations. the full list is here and contains some interesting connections. Oh, and all the parent channels have HD components as well.

So what do we take away from this? Well, despite the fact that we have more channels, we still see a lot of the same local guys involved in running the stations. But countering that, we see a sudden need for content. Cheap content. So we are seeing small, new, national groups that may turn into the next Nick (remember when they used to run old Dick Van Dyke shows?). So old repeats of "Too Close for Comfort"  and "Peter Gunn" have returned.

And with it, Son of Sven (and Elvira as well, I have discovered in my digging - what's next, Rhonda from "USA Up All Night?")

Now this is the third time that I can point at where this sort of thing has happened (and by "sort of thing" I mean late night, hosted horror movies). Back when stations actually stopped signing off right after the late news every night, there was a demand for content. Late night programming thrived, and with it the Horror Hosts. Then, when we saw the expansion of cable options, we saw another rise, this time of the national movie hosts, the most prominent being Elvira and MST3000. Now, we're in the same place again - we have an increase in ecological broadfcast niches, and old movies (and old television, and music videos) have moved into those niches, like groundcover after a wildfire.

How it all turns out will be interesting, Late night "former broadcast" TV has mostly given way to (even cheaper) infomercials. The plethora of cable channels have gone through repeated material to generating original material. Will these new digital sub-networks create their own evolutionary path, forcing out the early pioneers into yet another incarnation? I dunno, but to be frank, for the moment is is good see Sven again.

More later,