TV Providers Hate Their Customers

I’ve been using Comcast for Internet for several years, but we haven’t had any TV service at all since we cancelled DirecTV about 18 months ago. And thanks to iTunes, Netflix, thedailyshow.com, and colbertnation.com, and BitTorrent, we haven’t missed it one bit.

It has been our preference to download officially sanctioned TV shows and movies. But there are a number of really great shows shows for which the current season’s episodes aren’t readily available through sanctioned online channels. There are only three ways to get them, that I know of:

  • From a cable or satellite provider
  • BitTorrent
  • Wait for DVD/Netflix/iTunes releases

Yeah, that’s it. And it’s even worse if you don’t happen to live in the US. I’m grateful for thedailyshow.com and colbertnation.com, and shows that appear pretty quickly in iTunes, like Breaking Bad. But many quality shows do not. Of course there are services like HBO Go, but they’re only available to cable and satellite providers.

I don’t want to download such shows from BitTorrent; I want to make sure that the people who created them are well rewarded for quality programming. So if I want to see them now, that leaves me only one choice: subscribe to a cable service.

Into the Lair

A few weeks ago we did that. We added phone and TV (including HBO) to our Comcast service. The Internet service was the same as ever (pretty good), while the phone service is pretty transparent (and cheaper than Qwest). And that makes sense: These are just services for pushing bits around, not at all complicated.

The TV service was something else entirely.

Holy mother of hell is it terrible. We opted not to get a DVR; the pre-DVR technology is worse than you remember. But it’s not the technology that’s so awful, since we could always opt for a DVR or subscribe to TiVO. The real issues are:

  • The remote is impenetrably complicated; I don’t have any faith a DVR remote would be much better
  • The on-screen menus are miserable to navigate and read
  • I couldn’t find shit about what “package” we had on the web site
  • Comcast.com thought we didn’t have HBO and so wouldn’t let us access HBO Go
  • There are 1000s of channels of shit
  • I called support, and before I gave up, at some point an ad for pay-per-view programming streamed into my auditory canal
  • Did I mention that there are 1000s of channels of shit programming?

Truly, the user experience is just terrible. Now, I know it can be better, because we had the old DirecTV TiVO, which worked pretty well. But even DirecTV doesn’t use TiVO anymore, and from what I understand, all other DVRs have a terrible interface.

And don’t get me started on the programming. Remind me again why I should pay for the privilege of getting horrible programming and atrocious ads pushed into my TV? Shouldn’t they pay me for that privilege?

I can only conclude that cable and satellite providers hate their customers. They get them to sign up for a plan to auto-pay $80 or $90 or $125 a month, and then they don’t have to care about what kind of service they provide. Interfaces don’t matter. Design doesn’t matter. Simplicity doesn’t matter. Complication matters.

I don’t want this. Why do I have to pay such a heavy price in terms of usability and quality just so I can pay for the shows I actually want to watch? I don’t want to give Comcast my money. I don’t want to give “Real Housewives of Miami” my money. I want to give Blown Deadline and HBO my money.

A Plea

Dear Distributors and Production Companies:

Please don’t make me pay the cable or satellite provider tax! Don’t make me pay for a bunch of crap I don’t like, and for a terrible user experience, just so you can get a small slice of it. Please, please, please let me pay you for your shows. Release them on iTunes. I’ll pay. Release them on Netflix. I’ll pay. Make them available outside the US, people will pay to be caught up on the great stuff everyone else is talking about on Facebook! Just let us find your shows easily and pay to download or stream high-quality videos to play on our computers and Apple TVs. (Bonus if I don’t have to deal with flash!).

If you make it easy for people to pay for great shows, we’ll pay. Netflix now streams more content than BitTorrent because it’s easier to use: and people pay for that.

Back to Reality

After 2 weeks, we called Comcast and cancelled the TV service. We’re back to our original plan, minus BitTorrent. Here’s what we’ll do:

  • If a show is available from Netflix, we’ll get it there.
  • If a show is available for free on the web, like thedailyshow.com, we’ll get it there
  • If a show is available from iTunes, we’ll get it there
  • If a show is available on DVD, we’ll order it from Netflix

And for shows that are not immediately available for the current season by any of these means, well, I guess we’ll wait. I think most shows come out on iTunes or DVD after a year or so. We’ll just deal with the lag. I wish it wasn’t there, but it is, and I’m no longer willing to dirty myself using a TV service.

Backtalk

James wrote:

This is exactly why I cancelled cable! I kept Internet but it's truly frustrating how the pirates have it completely figured out!

Within an hour of a show airing, it's all over the Cloud in 720/1080 HD with the commercials stripped and maybe even that annoying network bug stripped as well. BBC shows showing up hours before they air in the USA. Entire back catalogs of every single episode from every season including holiday specials free for the taking! Don't get me started on movies, they show up weeks before the DVD/Blurays even hit the stores!

Various tools to feed data into a player and multiple home streaming options available to beam these files around the house from computer, to gaming console to TV's and tablets (iPad / Android). Oh and the user interface on these tools? Fantastic designs and community skinable, blows TiVo away! Completely automated systems where you enter the show you want and it just does it all for you. Want the back catalog, review the list and select the ones you want or select all. In a couple of hours you have them.

Just don't exceed that 250GB's per month data cap!

Watch what you want when you want it... I would pay for such a system. But there is no way to get On Demand without buying a huge package that I don't use!

whim8y wrote:

Went the no tv route

After years of having only basic cable and doing this, that & another thing to keep up with the video content I enjoyed I trashed the TV, mounted an iMac "media center" above the mantle and gave Hulu, websites like those you mentioned, iTunes, et all a go

By the time 2 years of that had gone by... And i'd gotten 15 years if VHS & DVD converted to m4v...

I found tv time got soaked up other useful ways. 

Now, a remarkably rare trip to redbox fills the desire for new media options well enough (I'm ok leaving empty handed). 

Yup. There is a lot of creative, interesting stuff out there. Most of it misses me, these days. The time needed to consume it is one thing. The effort to acquire it is anouther (stupid ridiculous hard) thing. The money needed to view it, at least when I can just buy the bits that I want vs. gagging at the buffet, is a 'no-thing.'

After more than 5 years away from old TV habits my past self is surprised at how little I miss being in touch with the TV I once knew. 

Aloha. 

Robert wrote:

I just disconnected my cable yesterday after being Comcast customer for 5 years, so your post hit the nail on the head.

Not only do they hate us, they think we're idiots. I had planned to keep my internet service going until I was informed by the "Customer Retention" rep that there would be a $25 fee to disconnect the cable service because their antiquated system requires a visit from a rep. She would not be able to waive the fee. Are you kidding? I'm still keeping you as my ISP and you want to risk that over a $25 fee?

After a lengthy conversation and hold, a supervisor agreed to waive the fee. I'll be ditching them as provider as soon as I can get another broadband connection lined up.