150 Channells and Nothing To Watch
September 16, 2007 6:22 AM   Subscribe

Why is there never anything good on TV? More specifically, why is there not a movie channel that shows 3, 4, and 5 star movies 24-7? I have HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc. etc. and most of the time all of the movies are shiite. How hard is it to look at movie reviews from the past 40 years and pick out what to show? Is there some type of market / economic factors that I am not considering here? Is HBO bound to certain studios? What is going on here?
posted by jasondigitized to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Same thing that is going on in first run movie theaters. 5-star movies will fill up HBO and movie-theaters when they start selling more tickets than Fantastic Four II.
posted by centerweight at 6:26 AM on September 16, 2007

I would bet that it has everything to do with the fact that crap movies are cheap to license. The cost of running a channel that only played the crème de la crème would be a losing proposition.

That's why you see all those old 40's movies on those obscure end-of-the-dial stations late at night. Cheaper than reruns. Still, I thank those channels for introducing me to actors like Adolphe Menjou...
posted by qwip at 6:32 AM on September 16, 2007

Turner Classic Movies does that, the movies are just older, but they are almost all quite good.
posted by caddis at 6:52 AM on September 16, 2007

With HBO, specifically, it's explicitly their business model: as qwip said, crap movies are cheap. So HBO fill up most of their schedules with extremely cheap stuff, and save all their money to pour into a few high-profile, high-quality, must-see shows and films. I'd imagine the same is true of many other channels - though they arguably do it less successfully than HBO.
posted by flashboy at 7:01 AM on September 16, 2007

Why pay a lot for quality when people will watch whatever crap you show anyway?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:22 AM on September 16, 2007

Yes, that channel is called Turner Classic, but it's limited to Turner's library and what Ted Turner thinks is good. Sundance and IFC are similar, for independent rather than good.

Why: you disagree with most people about what a good movie is. They want to show movies that people want to see, like the various Ernest movies and Fantastic Four 2 and anything with Rob Schneider and, soon, OW MY BALLS!.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:31 AM on September 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

Do you have On Demand? That allows you to pick what you want.
I mean, it's not all bad. Cinemax is showing The Departed every day and I thought that was a pretty good movie.
posted by ALongDecember at 7:51 AM on September 16, 2007

Cinemax has a channel called 5StarMax, that is supposed to be this.
posted by smackfu at 8:02 AM on September 16, 2007

Once, there was a channel like the one you seek: Z Channel. This documentary will help you understand the context of your question.
posted by bingo at 8:06 AM on September 16, 2007

...but it's limited to Turner's library and what Ted Turner thinks is good.
Ummm...you do realize Ted sold Turner Broadcasting to Time-Warner back in '96? Kind of time to stop flogging that tired, dead horse.
Per the Wiki:
    Not only did this put TCM and Warner Bros. under the same corporate umbrella, but it also gave TCM access to the post-1948 Warner Bros. library. Besides MGM and United Artists releases, TCM also shows films under license from Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and Columbia Pictures
I'd say that gives them an available library substatially larger than what you imply. Frankly, I find myself settling on TCM on many nights, especially when I've had my fill of KFC commercials every 5 minutes.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:35 AM on September 16, 2007

Pay channels do have exclusive contracts. Starz has Disney and Sony. HBO has deals with Universal and Fox. Wikipedia lists a lot of these, but I couldn't verify them.
posted by ALongDecember at 8:41 AM on September 16, 2007

There isn't a channel that shows 4 and 5 star movies back-to-back because there aren't that many great movies. That's Hollywood's fault. You should get TCM, though, because there are a lot of great classic movies shown on that channel. AMC used to show quality classics, but now the management seems to think Molly Ringwald movies are classics.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:46 AM on September 16, 2007

You didn't ask for a resolution, but I'll recommend Tivo and Netflix. I still watch crap teevee, but it's my choice of crap.
posted by theora55 at 9:53 AM on September 16, 2007

The major studios are bullyboys. Contracts with the big players normally oblige the licensee to acquire X number of titles from them. This will consist of one or two blockbusters, some cat A's, Cat B's etc.

A broadcaster can't afford to discard those terrible movies that may have gone straight to video -- they've paid for them.
posted by NailsTheCat at 11:31 AM on September 16, 2007

Here is the real reason:

Movie studios sell their films to cable TV companies as packages. There is no ala carte choice in most cases.

The studio will offer something this:

Oscar winning, hit movie that everyone wants to watch
Hit action movie with terrible critical reviews
Crappy flop movie #1
Crappy flop movie #2
Crappy flop movie #3
Crappy flop movie #4

So to get the first two movies, they have to buy the 4 crappy movies as well. They simply WON'T just sell you the two good movies. If you want the good films, you gotta buy the crap. Once you buy them, you gotta air them or the Finance guys start talking about 'maximizing use of assets'. So you start airing the crappy movies...

Also, films are on cable TV for a specific 'window', after which it can be pulled off of cable TV for several years. The windows tend to be Theatrical, DVD, Pay Per View, Cable TV, Broadcast TV. The 'digital media' window is tying up the studios in knots trying to grasp the compression of the windowing. For example, films will hit iTunes at either the DVD or PPV window. This makes the studios heads explode because "it was working so well before the damn interweb came a long".

There are few exceptions. IFC cherry picks a bit. Mark Cuban's HDNet and HDNet movies have a different system since he buys just the HD rights to films, often going deep into the back catalogs for good films (even if they are 20 years old)
posted by Argyle at 11:38 AM on September 16, 2007 [4 favorites]

HotPatatta writes "There isn't a channel that shows 4 and 5 star movies back-to-back because there aren't that many great movies."

I have no idea what you'd consider a 4 or 5 star movie and there doesn't seem to be a universal rating system. However it's not hard to imagine that 12 would be produced every year in Hollywood and an additional 12 in the rest of the world (sure most of those are going to be foreign language but the criteria is good movies right).

That gives you 2400 movies from the last 100 years. Assume an average of 2 hours per including time for interstitials1. That gives you 4380 time slots to fill every year. So you could run those movies back to back for over six months before repeating.

It gets even better if you fill up some of those slots with highly rated series (say Weeds or The Sopranos) marathons.

Of course there is no way you'd ever get the rights holders to agree. Too bad the vast majority of these films won't enter the public domain until after we're dead.

1 Maybe even some short films. There are lots of excellent examples and they rarely get any exposure.
posted by Mitheral at 12:03 PM on September 16, 2007

Copyright laws

If copyright laws were still now what they were originally you would have such channels. Anything published before 1979 would be free and legal to copy, torrent or broadcast.

Star Wars, The Sting, Alien, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather I and II, Taxi Driver, Superman, Rocky, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, THX 1138, Annie Hall, The Passenger, Network, Young Frankenstein, The Conversation, Killer of Sheep, 2001, The Good/Bad/Ugly, Dr. Strangelove, Lawrence of Arabia, Battle of Algiers, The Manchurian Candidate, Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo, Singin' in the Rain, North by Northwest, Touch of Evil, Day the Earth Stood Still, Sunset Boulevard, etc..

Not a bad Fall line up.

10 years from now we would get all those awesome action movies from the 80's.

In 20 years we would get all the movies from the 90's - it would probably take half a lifetime to get through all the good movies made in the 90's. Although a good chunk of those are foreign films and US copyright laws wouldn't apply, but still.
posted by parallax7d at 12:48 PM on September 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

Ah, Z Channel. It's possible their failure served as a sort of warning to its competitors. Maybe.
posted by Reggie Digest at 3:30 PM on September 16, 2007

I can only really speak for Canadian television, but I'll go out on a limb and assume it's the same in the US and elsewhere: The quality of programming has diminished drastically as the two or three major cable content providers switched to digital cable and each had to fill twenty new channels. The money and the content is just spread too thin. The 'core' channels are beginning to lose their brand identities (MTV syndrome) as they fill up with cheaper programs and repeat them more often.

Plus, since the explosion of digital cable coincided with the explosion of DVD and the internet (whose on-demand nature is more desirable than waiting around for random movies to come on random channels at random times of day), digital cable just isn't doing as well as expected.
posted by Reggie Digest at 3:48 PM on September 16, 2007

I used to work in a video store. If a discriminating movie watcher ever complained to the owner that he carried way too much crap (like, you know, sixty five copies of Judge Dred) and not enough good stuff, he'd respond, "My customers don't ask my employees 'What's good?". They ask them "What's new?"

Newer stuff rents. Older stuff, even the really really great older stuff, doesn't. I assume the same applies on cable; newer movies get better ratings.
posted by Clay201 at 9:56 PM on September 16, 2007

And that's exactly why I stopped patronizing video stores. When I couldn't find a copy of Dr. Strangelove or Forbidden Planet or Our Man Flint (because they didn't have any copies), it convinced me that they weren't going to give me what I wanted. If I only wanted recent pieces of crap, I already had television.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:29 AM on September 17, 2007

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