Ignorance is bliss. And my cable company is making sure I stay that way for the next couple of weeks.
In a previous post, I wrote about watching scads of TV while my wife was away on a trip. I also made reference to Newton Minnow’s 1961 speech to the National Association of Broadcasters where he famously referred to television programming as a “vast wasteland.” Little did I actually know at the time that my own viewing choices at home were actually more than the basic options normally available to us. I had vast more wasteland than I was apparently aware of having. And with apologies to a certain Mr. Townshend, it continued to be a senior one at that.
An error by our cable provider has resulted in an array of premium channels becoming accessible on our cable box without our actually paying for them. Instead of the really bad movies and shows that I’ve been watching on run-of-the-mill basic cable networks, I could have instead been enjoying equally inferior entertainment on prime channels such as HBO or Showtime. Opportunity came-a-knockin’ but I mistook it for the Fuller Brush man and shut off the lights and closed the blinds.
At the top of this post is the official announcement that Comcast sent out to inform us of a mistake they made on our account. Its pithy style, so unlike the normally expressive circulars I’m used to seeing from them, gave me a few grins. I have to wonder about the number of drafts this letter may have gone through at Corporate before ultimately being given the final stamp of approval to send out to customers (“For God sakes, Hampton, I told you to keep it vague!”).
But, yes, a cable company did in fact admit to an error. Sort of.
What I love about this letter from Comcast’s Senior Vice President is that she never actually reveals two semi-important things: (a) exactly what channels I’ve been receiving by mistake, and (2) for how long?¹ Yes, the same industry that will never tell you precisely what time they’ll arrive at your home is nothing but consistent. That’s for them to know, and you to find out.
Still, giving customers new channels without even bothering to tell them? Splendidly unique. Perhaps they are now, ‘er, subscribing, to that famous Rumsfeldian condition popularly referred to as Known Unknowns.
Of course, it’s absolutely appropriate of the cable company to mess with my head. This is a business that never fails to bewilder me with its complicated pricing and content. Just like the airlines, I’m pretty sure even their corporate by-laws require total obfuscation when communicating with customers. And generally we all do collectively tend to enable this type of behavior. Consumers seem to accept rhetorical dances with service companies; ones that sashay in and around the gray areas of truth and outright deception. It runs in parallel to the same kind of beguilement entrenched in our leaders and institutions too. We hear lofty and sincere platitudes, but in fact each party knows otherwise. Yeah, yeah, yeah, got it. So where do I sign?
If it wasn’t so frustrating, the cable company’s practices can offer a little comic relief. For instance, there’s the sheer number of useless channels they give us. I probably watch only a very small fraction of them, yet I have to scroll through so many, searching in vain for that one time I really just want to watch Sports Center. For years consumers groups and Congress have demanded the ability for customers to select only the channels they want. Cable providers, however, have successfully pushed hard against it. There’s just too much money at stake.
But really, for me it’s the automated customer service opportunities that always test my patience the most. Far too many times now I have fallen for that option to refresh the cable box in order to rectify a problem. As Rocky the squirrel would say, “That trick never works!” And indeed it never does. Then there’s the always engaging chat feature on the customer web portal, which for me anyway, gives the most unhelpful boilerplate answers to my very specific questions. By now I’ve learned to just take my chances with the 800 phone line and speak with the woman in the thick Indian accent who tells me her name is “Marsha.”
Seriously, Marsha, I’ll do anything you ask if you can just fix the problem. Yes, I’ll hold. Namaste.
As a matter of full disclosure, I never even bothered to try and find out which channels I’m temporarily getting for free. While film and TV bloggers like JustMeMike regularly entice me with reviews of shows from HBO and other premium cable channels (fyi, his recent review of “Vinyl” is worth reading), I nearly always end up either purchasing used DVD’s or borrowing them from the public library. It’s hard enough for me to find the time to stay current with my favorite sitcoms and dramas on regular network television. Watching premium channels too would make me feel too much like a couch potato. So first I wait to see what all the buzz is about, and then I’ll binge watch at some point during the summer months.
I am fully aware of the cord-cutting trend of millennials and others who eschew the high cost of cable and satellite providers. I have friends, fellow seniors in fact, who have figured out how to get around the system by buying Apple TV and subscribe to Netflix instead (Hi, N.). I’m told the savings are worth it but for a few snags in finding local stations. For now, though, I remain a basic cable subscriber due to a package that is offered to all residents at the retirement community where we currently live. Our cost is further lowered because of a <brace yourself for a marketing term> bundling of a land line we have for Gorgeous’ business and our Internet service. Our accountant has the chore of separating church and state between the business and personal parts of this arrangement.
So between now and April 11th feel free to come over and watch some premium channels with me. Hell, I think that 12 pack of Michelob is still in the fridge. I am nothing if not benevolent.
Until next time…
¹ For those who remember the character Paul Buchman on “Mad About You,” this sentence structure was designed especially for you!