Making cents of my media & entertainment bills Pt 3

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Well, well. It pays to ask. So, my cable bill is about to increase from $133.18 to $134.46 because of the munificent infrastructure improvements touted by the cable provider. Can’t wait. We have the basic cable package of 75 channels of whatever you’re not in the mood for watching or maybe you haven’t seen all of the terrific Andy Griffith re-runs these 50 years since initial broadcast. Shouldn’t there be a show combining CSI and Home Shopping? This would save broadcast bandwidth, in my opinion, by combining the these insatiable channel hoarders. Something entitled QVC: WhoBuysThisStuff!? where a team of sweet and exhausting bon-bon queens research each week what actually happens to the delivery of the packages that are purchased in a fury (inside scoop: nearly half are never opened. You can look it up). They grill the recipients about their genuine intentions (“you just like to hear your voice on air, don’t you”) and what they are plotting in case that Suzanne Somers really does come over for a pink, stirrup track pants and squirrel skin purse make-over day. We also have the 10 mega-bit of Turbo Road Runner with Power Boost (10mbRRTw/PB). Of course, any service that requires such a lengthy description means that you’re receiving just the opposite. Probably the Wile Coyote Plan is what I’m looking for.

I registered on-line to research my cable options figuring that I could do as well as the call center rep. with a keyboard and internet access. After this tribulation, I learned from the Call Me Know rep. who is required to complete my transaction is authorized to help only new subscribers and not Shelf-Life such as me. Oh well, just another useless log-in and password to forget.

I was transferred to Kevin in the local, aka Durham, NC, office who reviewed my bill. ‘What else does he know about my viewing habits and can I pin the blame on our fifteen year old?’ I wondered (I’ve never watched the Kardashians, sir). I explained my desire to reduce my info-tainment expenses.

First Offer: High Definition Cable + 10mbRRTw/PB + Internet Phone Service Anywhere for the same new price of $134.36. Not so interesting as we have too many mobile phones and a Verizon land-line required by my day job. Murmur. Negotiations not going anywhere. “While you’re looking, Kevin, I just got Apple TV,” I offered to fill the void of our conversation. “How’s that? he asked.” “Really good,” I replied, “can stream movies from iTunes or my iPhone or my iPad or Netflix.” “Netflix only costs $8 per month for unlimited streaming movies.”

Offer Two “Check this out. For an additional $1.50 per month, you can have the complete Premium Package of 500 channels and 50 HD channels plus music,” he replied. “I can program that to your cable box right now. Amazing what you can have for just $1.50 more!” “YEEES!” I shouted silently as though I had scored an Issac Mizrahi handbag just before time ran out.

OK. So, I called to reduce my cable bill and fell for the upsell to another service. What I have now, aka Offer Two, is about what I had two years ago (I downsized then and miss the Tennis Channel) and for $20 per month less. Now I can watch the Tennis Channel through the winter and observe how shopping is done in other galaxies amidst my 500 channels. This experience, of course, confirms that competition is good for the consumer. A tip of the cap to our device in the bedroom, the tiny Apple TV box, that scared the big cable monopolist.

Tomorrow, I will wean myself of the $20 per month Netflix fee and register for the streaming only service.

12/23 update: we decided not to drop the 3 NF disks per month at $19 as their Streaming Service does not have a full range of films yet, meaning the complicated and usually interesting shows that Tessa uncovers such as In Treatment and all things British.

The Time Warner Cable up-sell turned out to be a $12 reduction in my monthly bill, a result of three trips to the TWC office for the correct cable box and cables. I admit that the phone support of TWC is vastly improved over two to three years. The across-the-counter experience resembles too much the DMV & TSA dispiriting transactions. Even though TWC is a local monopoly, their revenues are constrained resulting in employees from the lower end of the pay scale. The line in the store was 20 deep at 3:15 yesterday as a foreign family tried to interpret their media options in one window (finally the gent for whom the translations were being done, spoke directly to the cable agent in English. That was a hallmark of frustration!). In the other window, a young woman negotiated with the young man across the counter about what could she afford since she cannot afford what she has. He was quite helpful amidst his inquiries of her Christmas season and related plans. The rest of us waited in resigned amusement at the absurdity of the occasion. One is so happy to get away that one does nothing to improve the matter – just like exiting the airport. Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty…… Might have even tried MLK’s patience.

Somehow, when I traded my hdmi cable for the needed five prong cable, I was informed that I was only set for 4 HD channels and not the 50 promised and when she upgraded my service to 50, I had to be put on a 12 month special- which was not mentioned to me on the phone last week. And the 12 month special reduced my bill to $122.00 per month.

Re-cap: 5 days, 3 calls to customer service, 3 trips to customer service at the mall (one due to my error) later, I increased my channels including HD service while reducing my annual cable bill by $144.00.

Conclusion: monopolies are unsatisfying for all, including the employees of the monopolist. Health care fixers beware. Health care recipients be more aware. I’d go with Apple TV and drop cable completely if I could find an alternate Internet provider. Kind of the way that I feel about my land line. If I were more confident in my cell signal, I’d drop the line-line for sure.

Dept of All’s well that ends well: first program on my new cable box was watching Federer play Nadal in an exhibition match in Switzerland.