Jack Ryan: Swimming Upstream with TV

Online streaming TV is the future. I understand. But it’s definitely a work in progress.

It struck me again last Thursday night, when I only watched a few minutes of the Green Bay-Tennessee football game on Amazon Prime.

Granted, Mary Ann and I had some catching up to do on other shows on our main service, DirecTV. These shows definitely affected the time I had for the baseball game.

“Jeopardy” is in the middle of the Tournament of Champions. We tape every episode of “Ghosts,” a 30-minute CBS comedy that’s seriously fun. And we watched the Thanksgiving episode of a new CBS show, “So Help Me Todd,” which has potential.

But in the past, when Thursday Night Football was on NBC, I didn’t skip a lot of games. Last night was big: Aaron Rodgers is quarterback on one of my fantasy football teams, and I have Tennessee running back Derrick Henry on another team.

For personal bragging rights, it was a big game. But it was better to watch recorded shows for a reason: When streaming live on TV, you can’t surf during commercials.

Generally, sports ads are above average. But a long time ago, armed with my DirecTV remote, I learned to check other channels when commercials popped up during a show I was watching.

I am not anti-advertising. The newspaper and website have lots of ads, but you don’t have to watch them for two or three minutes like you do on TV.

With a cable TV or DirecTV remote, you can surf anywhere during commercials. I tend to put on the TV guide, which lists two hours of shows across six channels at a time, and skim through it to see what else is there.

I’ve developed a good feel for the end of a block of commercials on the show I’m watching and usually come back on time.

Tried to do this recently while on a break from a Thursday Night Game on Amazon. You can watch what’s available, but if you choose one, it starts at the beginning unless you’re already watching it. What’s the point of that?

Last weekend Mary Ann and I were in Memphis for a grandson babysitting weekend. Audrey and her husband Zach have YouTube TV, which offers a range of channels like cable and DirecTV.

That’s fine, but it’s much harder on YouTube to bounce from channel to channel during an ad. Or, to put it more precisely, the service probably has shortcuts that I don’t know about.

I asked at the office, and someone who uses the Hulu streaming service for broadcast and cable channels told me you can create favorites lists to find them faster.

If you cut to the chase, the problem is as much with the TV remote as it is with how the streaming systems have set up their programs.

There is no “back button” on the streaming remotes I’ve seen. I don’t understand. The back button makes anything with dozens of channels more manageable. Who had the brilliant idea to leave that aside?

It turns out that YouTube, and I suspect other streamers as well, have a back button. You just need to know how to find it.

Someone else in the office called her husband, who told me how to get a list of channels you’ve recently watched. Sounds easy and I’ll try it the next time I watch YouTube – now that I know.

This is probably one of the many easter eggs hidden in streaming TV operating systems. I remember a similar confusion when Mary Ann and I switched to DirecTV about 13 years ago.

While it’s annoying to have limits on your TV browsing abilities, I’ll concede that it’s a minor annoyance – even if it makes for a fun topic for a column.

And there is no doubt that online streaming is winning the battle for viewers. However, I just have to throw this out there – what happens when the internet goes down? Because it happens.

Between them, Mary Ann and our three kids have access to Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Disney+, and probably a few more that I can’t remember. They all talk about the fact that streaming is cheaper than cable or satellite, and that may be true for just one service. But don’t try to convince me that having all that access is cheap.

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