BY BRITTNEY HENTON
DANVILLE — It will be easy for people to overdo it today. They have a smorgasbord of choices, more than enough options to indulge their palates.
No, it’s not the snacks for a Super Bowl gathering. It’s a different type of menu, one that has emerged for television viewers.
James Hay has been teaching TV studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign since 1987.
“In 2010, that was the first year since the 1940s since the sales of TV sets declined … ” Hay said, “while the amount of hours watching TV programming continued to increase.”
Consumers spent nearly 35 hours per week watching video across screens during a three-month period in 2012, according to Nielsen, a global information and measurement company.
That could mean watching shows not only on a television set but on a tablet, mobile phone or computer.
Hay questions if the word “television” is just a leftover term.
“I don’t know what the term TV refers to any longer,” Hay said during a phone interview.
Hay emphasized the current age is one of on-demand TV features, of “watching television when you want to watch it and where you want to watch it.”
At the end of 2011, about one-third of consumers streamed movies or TV shows through a paid Internet subscription service, such as Netflix or Hulu-Plus.
Consumers also can watch video though Vudu, Amazon Prime, Roku … and that’s just the beginning.
Hay said the last decade and a half has also been a move toward a more interactive type of television.
For example, during today’s Super Bowl game, fans can pick from camera angles while watching the game live online, simultaneously Tweeting with other fans about the game and discussing commercials as they air.
“I’m not sure whether that’s television (but) elements of the past which continue into the 21st century.”
Choosing a digital diet
Charlyn “Charlie” Hester of Danville fought the transition tooth and nail … at first.
Her husband, Matt, 37, suggested they try dropping Dish for six months. And Dec. 12 — the “drop” date according to their daughter Natalie — they did.
“Now, I’m really glad that we did,” said Hester, 35, of Danville. Hester added she does not think the family will go back to traditional television.
Her husband said the switch from Dish allows his family to save roughly $100 a month.
“We’re looking to get a bigger house,” Matt said. “We’re looking to expand our family.”
The family of two adults and three children ages 10, 12 and 13 watch many of the shows through subscriptions to streaming services. They watch shows via their Wii game console.
Online streaming allows them to still keep up with some of their favorites: “Dr. Who,” “Ghost Hunters” and “The Walking Dead,” to name a few.
There are some things they have not been able to watch. The Food Network for one. Just the mention of the show “Cupcake Wars” engenders a resounding “awwww” from the three females in the room.
Still, Hester said the family is more productive this way.
“I don’t think that we’re unhappy … with the decision to get rid of (Dish),” Hester said. “We pretty much make our own entertainment around here.” All members of the family are actors, by the way. And the children do a lot of artwork.
The Hesters are friends with a couple who also canceled their TV service.
“The first six months, we went cold turkey,” said Alyson Ferren, 41. “About two years ago, we got Netflix. Now we just do Netflix and Hulu.”
“Originally it was because we just realized … everybody was getting home in the evenings, and we weren’t talking or doing anything together,” she said.
Ferren said the family would just flick on the TV to find something.
“It didn’t even have to be something that we were looking to watch,” she said. “It was a huge waste of time.”
Ferren said her children, ages 9 and 12, did not really complain when they nixed their satellite service.
“We came home and just played games and did stuff outside together,” Ferren said.
Ferren added they all have things they still like to watch through streaming on their Internet-enabled devices, but it’s not a huge priority. They can watch shows at any time.
“We try to make sure that we shouldn’t be doing something else.”
Julie Neier, of Danville, commented about the topic on the Commercial-News Facebook page recently, saying that in addition to Internet streaming, she uses an antenna to watch local stations. She said she also catches a few shows online for free.
“Saves a lot of money,” she wrote.
Neier and her husband, Teyler, did not use the Dish Network enough to get their money’s worth, she said during a phone interview.
“It was an easy bill to cut,” said Neier, who now pays about $8 a month for Netflix.
They also had more reasons for dropping traditional TV. Neier said the pair wanted to get more involved in their church and prepare for when they have children.
“When we do have kids, we don’t want them watching the stuff that’s on regular TV,” she said.
Matt Hester said when he was a child, children’s shows only aired during certain hours or on Saturday mornings.
“Nowadays there’s something for kids 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “The kids could sit and watch TV all day if we let them do that.”
The Hesters’ children said they did not have a hard time coping when the family dropped Dish. Their dad said he doesn’t really miss it either, but …
“I would probably have (Dish) again if you could kind of pick what channels you wanted,” he said. “With a basic package, I have to get 87 channels I’m not interested in to get the three I want.”
For those with doubts about dropping cable or satellite service, Ferren highly recommends it.
“I think people … will not regret it,” she said. “Taking that first initial leap is the hardest thing.”
Digital media menu
Whether you’re looking to save a little money or be more productive, here’s a brief synopsis of the options readers on Facebook were buzzing about:
--Netflix — Subscriptions to this paid service start at $7.99 per month for streaming only. Subscribers can watch TV shows and movies; they incur an additional cost if they want to rent DVDs. The DVD rental service includes a broader selection of movies.
--Hulu/Hulu Plus — Hulu is the free version of an Internet streaming service that offers television shows strictly through one’s PC. For $7.99 per month, Hulu–Plus offers more TV episodes, many in high-definition, film options and access to shows via more devices.
--Vudu — This on-demand Internet-streaming service allows consumers to watch, rent and buy HD movies and TV shows; it is available without a monthly contract and offers many movies the same day they come out on DVD; many movies are available to rent for $2 for two nights.
--Amazon Instant Video — Rent or buy movies and TV shows via online streaming. With an Amazon Prime membership, people have access to other perks as well as unlimited instant streaming for $79 a year, or about $6.58 per month.
Streaming online shows through a television set usually requires some type of third-party hardware or software program.
In addition to using “seventh generation” gaming consoles, such as Wii, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, or blu-ray players with Internet-capability, more options include:
--PlayOn — A media server software for Windows PC; it includes the ability to stream about 60 web channels as well as content through streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix; a current sale offers a lifetime license for a one-time fee, starting at $39.99.
--Roku box — A streaming player that includes 700 channels and hundreds of thousands of TV shows and movies; the box does not require a PC, only access to wireless Internet; boxes start at a $49.99 one-time fee.
-- Apple TV box — users can stream movies and shows from iTunes to the TV as well as one’s own photos and music; it offers access to live sports games and compatibility with online streaming services; cost: $99 from the Apple Store.
--Google TV — Available via a box or integrated TV set, users can access shows via streaming services, apps and live TV through current cable/satellite service; “buddy box” starts at $99.99; advertised integrated TV suggested price, $1,699.99.