Pubs, Bars, Breweries...and Televisions in 2019

 

Chris McClellan

 

It all started, quite innocently, with a simple twitter poll. All good things start on Twitter, after all.

 
 

The origin of this twitter poll stemmed from a conversation I had with my colleague, Mike Reardon, at Guinness. He called me with a very basic question: Why do most pubs he walks into have TVs? What are they gaining from having a television?

He set the scene: There were three TVs at the pub in question. One of them was playing a water polo match (not kidding), and the other two were tuned into CNN or something like that. His point was well made: They were clearly playing, at best, a bunch of visual white noise, and he wasn’t having it. Why have them at all? What were the TV’s doing for their business?

Let’s break this down.

Breweries don’t seem to like tv

As you can see from the results of the twitter poll, 70% of the breweries these folks patronize don’t have televisions. It’s a small sample size of responses, but this is in line with my experience across the country as well. Breweries represent, in many ways, the new public house of the 21st century. They are community watering holes full of families, laughter, and scintillating discussion, and just like a traditional pub, they are built to accommodate conversation, encourage listening, and bolster the innate camaraderie one feels when one is surrounded by their tribe. TVs distract you from the people around you, plain and simple. It’s a distinct and natural choice that most breweries make to not include more screens in their feng shui, and it certainly lends a unique authenticity to the overall experience.

Humans love looking at screens

As a species in 2019, we spend an absolutely bonkers amount of time looking at screens. Computers. Phones. TVs. iPads. We get all of our information from screens. We spend half our damn day looking at a screen, if I’m generous with the stats, and that means we spend at least that much time not talking to the people around us directly. That’s not a commentary on the digital chasm we find ourselves stuck at the bottom of by the way…that simply a fact. I’ll say it again. We f$%king love looking at screens. It’s mental crack cocaine, and the modern person simply needs it.

TVs, which once held a relatively rarified status in society, haven’t held that status in a long time.

There was a time when having access to a major event, whether it be a sportsball game or a rocket launch, was not a resource for the proletariat. TVs, and cable, weren’t for everyone, and so if you wanted to watch something, you made a proactive choice to go watch it at the local public house…and have a beer while you were there. It was a unique occasion in your life, and subsequently the experience around that occasion was often sweeter than it would have been had you just plopped down on the couch and hit the power button on your remote. TVs are now, obviously, commonplace, and while the cordcutters are increasing, the number of streaming services has completely nulled any effect that might have had on overall screen time. While we watch more deliberately, and often in binge-like quantities, we watch as much or more TV than ever before.

So back to our question: Why even have TVs in the first place?

This is a gnarly question, and gnarly questions are best left to the mob. I put out the bat signal to some of the beer industry’s more vocal constituents to get their take on TVs as a supplement or detriment to the public drinking experience, and my oh my did they deliver. I don’t have room for all the answers unfortunately, but I chose a few select quotes below from writers, breweries, bar owners, and all manner of beer industry hooligans. I was pleased, as both a marketer and entrenched beer nerd, to see such a variety of answers, and more importantly, some good perspectives on what TVs mean to the whole occasion in 2019.

Internet Sound-Off

“Do you think TVs have a place in our country’s pubs, restaurants, and breweries in 2019? Are they too ubiquitous? Are they necessary in creating the atmosphere people want when they go out?”

 
 
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Kate Bernot

Associate Editor at The Takeout

“Unless I'm at a sports bar, I mostly find TVs in bars unnecessary at best and distracting at worse. Humans are bad at ignoring screens--even when it's something we don't have much interest in, it's hard to look away. Something I think bars forget is that they can turn TVs off. I understand they might want to have them on during the women's World Cup final or the World Series, but if it's the middle of the afternoon and the best broadcast option is Dr. Oz, let's just turn the screens off, shall we? I've been in a few bars where the staff deliberately puts on something off-the-wall: foreign game shows, bizarre extreme sports, Soul Train. If that encourages customers to talk to each other and sets a playful mood, fine, but couldn't we come up with some non-digital ways to do that, too?”

 

 
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Harry Schuhmacher

Publisher of Beer Business Daily

“I like TV’s in bars. It’s better than looking at your phone. A TV behind the bar gives you something to talk about with your friends, and gives you something to look at. Young people just don’t go out anymore, plain and simple, so instead they “Netflix and Chill”, or just sit there and get high, and the TV at least might give you a reason to go out with your friend. Personally, if I go out to a bar or restaurant and see the score of the game, and if you’re interested in that, it’s a nice to have. At the very least, it’s a pleasurable distraction.”

 

 
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Joshua M. Bernstein

Beer journalist and author of the forthcoming Drink Better Beer

"I don't go to bars to stare dead-eyed at a TV, taking in the flickering entertainment and not talking to anyone. TVs in bars always attract eyeballs, turning customers into silent consumers of alcohol, sitcoms and the nightly news. (Sports bars get a pass; it's their mission to broadcast sports while serving social lubricants.) I go to bars to try beers and have conversations with friends both new and old—beer makes you talk for a reason, so take advantage of it. If I wanted to drink beer and not talk to anybody, I have a very comfortable couch at home and a Netflix account."

 

 
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Ben Keene

Editorial director for BeerAdvocate.

“At their best, taprooms bring people together and encourage friendly exchange. I'm all in favor of a TV for special events (the women's world cup this summer, for example), but I prefer a taproom without the distraction of yet another screen. I think bars and pubs (in the US at least) are a bit different, and people go to them for particular reasons: wine bars, beer bars, sports bars, video game bars, dive bars, karaoke bars, etc., etc. Hopefully one of the reasons you've chosen to drink beer outside of your home is to meet friends, new and old.”

 

 
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Jeff Alworth

Author and Writer of Beervana

“I don’t have much on this subject, honestly. Pubs come in all shapes and sizes. We have pubs in Portland that show games on massive projection screens. Those are wonderful for Timbers and Blazers—and they’re pretty entertaining for college sports, too. Because it’s an immigrant city, you get massive crowds for games with Badgers and Wolverines. I also love pubs that refuse to have TVs so as to create a more intimate space. The only places I don’t like are those in the uncanny valley in between the two, when you have large flashing screens no one’s watching while they huddle over pints.”

 

 
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ZAck Mack

Beer writer and Owner of ABC Beer Co.

“My personal belief is that each place can do whatever the hell they want. I would hate for someone to tell me I’m right or wrong setting up my own public facing space. We don’t have TV’s at ABC Beer Co, so our work around is that we use a projector that we can bust out when we absolutely need it. If you’re a totalitarian TV-free space, you’re going to have an issue when there’s something on that everyone wants to congregate to watch. Personally I get super distracted by TV on above my head, so I prefer not to have something turned on to a random movie, But I will never tell someone they’re wrong for wanting or not wanting to have flatscreens all over their spot. If you want to watch a presidential debate or a Stanley Cup match or a Mars landing, it can help bring everyone together. One of my favorite moments in this city was watching the Mars Curiosity Rover land at a bar, and watching Obama’s inauguration…I was hugging strangers during those moments. I think that’s bigger for NYC than most other places, but we watch things in public here more often than not”

 

 

Chris McClellan

Founder of The Brew Enthusiast

“I’m not a fan of TVs about 95% of the time. I think about drinking in “occasions” personally, and when I think about the occasion of “going to look at another screen in public with a lot of people”, that occasion is exclusively centered around sports. Good sports bars are good for that, and I’m glad they exist. Otherwise, my favorite thing thing about pubs and breweries is being enriched by the people around me. The people in my life provide more pleasure for me than any other thing I can think of, and I don’t want that conversation watered down by the occasional and pointless glance at the baseball game I don’t really care about. Then again, it would be nice to go to my favorite bar that also happens to be playing the game I want to see, but in that case, keep the TVs off unless there’s a specific customer request or something huge happening that’s worth being distracted by.”

 

 
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Matt Allyn

Features Director at Hearst and Beer Writer

“I like bars and taprooms that have a TV in reserve for big events, but keep it off most of the time. My local brewery, SingleCut, will play the biggest sportsball games, then have their projectors off, or playing a classic 80s movie like The Dark Crystal with the sound off. There's one thing I've experienced that's worse than TVs overpowering a bar, and that's when all your buddies play fantasy football and constantly stare at their phone to check their score despite being unable to affect it in any way. Personally I go to beer establishments with friends and family to connect, talk, and bullshit. TVs only distract from that.”

 

 

Andy Farrell

Brand Director at City Tap House

“It’s hard to ignore the influence that television has on modern society, and it’s absolutely everywhere, even in our pocket. That being said, I think it’s backwards to ignore it. We use TVs for a variety of purposes at City Tap House, and they have so much functional power beyond sportscenter, from customer engagement, beer menus, train schedules, etc. I don’t think there’s any need to show Dr. Oz in the middle of the day, but their functionality can’t be ignored, and a lot of people wouldn’t come to one of our restaurants if they knew they couldn’t watch something specific. If your vibe is to encourage conversation without TVs, that’s great, but I don’t think it takes away from the experience.”

 
Chris McClellan