Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got a special feature today from longtime Uproxx commenter Slothrop. Enjoy.
On October 7, 1992, I went to Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama to see U2’s outside broadcast of the ZooTV tour. With a couple of friends and a head full of intoxicants, I saw a spectacular show and thoroughly enjoyed myself. No one who saw that tour has forgotten the stunning visuals and at times confusing messages both on the dozens of video screens and the band themselves.
Among the memories that stick out in my mind, 18 years later, is Bono’s alter ego ‘The Fly’ channel surfing during the first set. His remote control linked the video screens to a satellite that allowed him to flip between any number of feeds and shows from dozens of countries. While it was largely an ironic gesture during the show, ZooTv’s video show was truly something to behold in the pre-Web, pre-DirectTV world.
So here we are, 18 years later, and yet not one American television viewer has The Fly’s lineup. Why? While one could argue that few people outside of Germany want to watch the late local news from Berlin, the point is, why not have the option to buy that channel?
At the moment of this writing, only in sports programming are we close to ZooTV. For example, I got up early to watch Burnley and Birmingham play in the English Premier League. The match was broadcast in HD (Bono didn’t have HD—score one for the 21st Century) on ESPN2 and it will feature British announcers and commercials for worldwide services like phones and football gear. Then at 10, I’ll tune in to Aston Villa and Manchester City on Fox Soccer Channel. While it will be in Standard Definition, it will again feature non-American commentators and universal commercials. Had I bought another tier of programming in my cable package, I could also watch Bayern München and Bochum on GolTV. Later in the day, another live soccer match, this time from Milan, will be on FSC, and I might watch that. There will also be Spanish League soccer matches, Indy Car racing, the Kentucky Derby, the Stanley Cup playoffs, the NBA, MLB, and the LPGA and PGA. For the sports addict, this is black tar heroin. But I want more.
Through iTunes, one can buy an application that plays nearly every Major League Baseball radio broadcast, everyday, all season. Home and away, English and Spanish. It’s fantastic. One can buy similar season packages for video broadcasts of NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA games, but still, I want more.
I want ALL the EPL matches, live. I want all Bundesliga, Ligue 1, and Serie A matches. I will watch them. I watch Australian Rules Football and rugby and cricket and darts when they show up on ESPN2, FSN, Versus. I have stayed up late to catch curling, hurling, and sumo wrestling. I love trying to figure out scoring, rules, penalties, and the fantastic jargon each sport creates and fosters. Did some hurler in Dublin or Belfast or Cork just get sent to the lane? Where is the lane? What happens there? Oh, the line. That makes much more sense. Too bad, I want it to be the lane. Bad things happen in the lane, man, stay out of the lane.
But even this is not enough, 18 years after ZooTV. I want access to Canadian Parliament, British Parliament, the Russian Duma, and the Japanese Diet, live, maybe translated, maybe not. I don’t care. I want more streams of information. Bono had more. BBCAmerica is lovely. But give me BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, BBC4. Give me the weather in Lima, Auckland, and Cape Town and commercials for foods I’ve never eaten and products I’ve never seen. The world is on tv—I just don’t get that channel.
Television, more than the spoken word, more than the written word, more than the Internet, is the great democratizing force in our world. Let’s have more choices—á la carte channel lineups should be possible if not a given by now. People will pay for more. JustinTV, ATHDE, and all the other online pirated feeds can be great, but often only momentarily. And I don’t want to be a pirate. I want to be The Fly.