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I Worship TV, But I Don't Need It Everywhere

By Published on .

Credit: Taylor Callery for Advertising Age
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An admission: I haven't been a cable TV subscriber since 2008.

Another admission: I'm just an average guy who just wants to watch his shows (i.e., if you think I'm some sort of canary-in-the-coal-mine harbinger of doom for traditional, ad-supported linear TV, you're way overthinking it).

The truth is, I didn't really consciously decide to get rid of cable. It's just that nine years ago I moved (solo, from one New York City apartment to another) and, though I immediately signed up for broadband internet access, I somehow avoided settling on a cable package. And then I quickly realized I could more than make do with various streaming options on my laptop and on a repurposed big-screen iMac. (In 2008, Hulu was celebrating its one-year birthday and Netflix was a year into layering streaming on top of its old mail-order-DVD business model.) Well, that and the occasional mooching off of friends' and loved ones' TV+cable.

Over time, living without cable went from being a short-term experiment to being a long-term experiment to being a lifestyle choice.

In retrospect, I was an earlyish adopter of the cord-cutter phenomenon. As an accidental veteran, I've got some thoughts about what's really been going on:

Myth: In ditching cable TV, per conventional wisdom, I supposedly engaged in a major behavioral change.

To that I say: Nonsense. If anything, the TV-industrial complex has simply been adjusting its behavior to accommodate my entrenched consumption habits -- not only by constantly expanding streaming options and content offerings over the past nine or so years, but by, most recently, launching YouTube TV and Hulu Live TV, which will help fill in some of the few remaining gaps in the already vast menu of content I can easily access.

The thing is, even when I was still paying for cable, I almost never watched TV live. In effect, I've been an on-demand viewer since I bought a TiVo in 1999, the first year it came out (I still miss the "bloop-beep" sounds of TiVo's adorably simple early interface) -- and the real appeal to me of YouTube TV and Hulu Live TV is not the liveness but that they have built-in virtual DVRs.

Myth: I want TV everywhere and anywhere.

In his new commercial for AT&T, Mark Wahlberg declares that "We -- and by 'we,' we mean 'us,' the entertainment-loving people of America -- have updated our terms and conditions." The first: "From now on, the word television will no longer be defined by that thing over there on the wall. We want all our things to be television things -- phones, iPads, refrigerators, heart monitors." Cue a shot of Wahlberg in a surgical suite, tub of popcorn in hand, as doctors and nurses look on. "OK, maybe not heart monitors," he adds.

Actually, please, not refrigerators either (if you think you need a fridge with a built-in screen, you have too much money). TV on iPads? Mostly useful if you've got a small child you need to keep entertained in a place where a regular TV is not available. In my experience, "TV anywhere" is most useful or desirable on my laptop in a hotel room, but that's about it.

TV on a smartphone? Nice in theory, but sucky in practice. (Short YouTube and Facebook and Snapchat videos? Totally fine. Actual TV shows? No.) Speaking of which ...

Myth: Streaming sports on mobile is awesome.

I'm tired of seeing ads that show consumers riveted by the games they're watching on mobile while out and about. How lucky they are that they can sneak squinty glances at their smartphone screens at restaurants while annoying their long-suffering spouses, right?

Pro tip: Set the DVR, avoid social media spoilers, then go home and watch the damn game on a proper screen. Or avoid scheduling dinner-date night when your team's playing. Or get a divorce -- I don't care. Just don't try to sell me on the idea that watching anything other than game highlights on mobile is an acceptable or sustainable user experience. (And to that one weird, rude guy who uses the free Wi-Fi at my favorite neighborhood coffee shop to stream soccer games that everyone can hear: Please buy a pair of earbuds so I can strangle you with the cords.)

Myth: Freedom from linear TV opens up a whole new world of relevant advertising.

It's maddening how little progress has been made on this front.

In fact, over the years, I've occasionally taken to Twitter to issue pathetic little cries for help to the universe regarding the barrage of nonrelevant, insanely repetitive advertising I endure as a streaming-media consumer. Like on April 21, 2014: "Hulu really, REALLY wants me to get some Osphena for my menopausal vagina." Or Sept. 26, 2016: "the microsoft cloud, the microsoft cloud. the microsoft cloud. the microsoft cloud, the microsoft cloud. #igetityouhaveacloud."

And don't even get me started on Geico ads.

I know that various major players (e.g., AT&T) are, even as we speak, continuing to build out the infrastructure for a brave new world of cross-screen addressable advertising, but the reality is that most brands and agencies aren't ready to do it right and at scale.

Someday, I do ardently hope to inhabit a streaming-media bubble in which I, a non-car-owning New Yorker, am no longer inundated on a daily basis with commercials telling me how I can save 15% or more on my car insurance.

When that day comes, I will find a gecko and, tears welling, I will bro-hug it.

Simon Dumenco, aka Media Guy, is an Ad Age editor-at-large. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.