Posts Tagged ‘Comcast’

 

In A Pissing Match Everyone Gets Wet

Saturday, January 11th, 2014

cantore-weather-channel

The Weather Channel and DirecTV have gone past the end of their carriage agreement with no new contract in sight. Let the PR games begin!

It’s only been the last few years that cable companies, satellite providers, stations and networks began airing their disputes in public, asking for your help to make sure channels don’t disappear. That makes me uncomfortable.

From my vantage, this dispute seems the most public and potentially ugliest so far. The Weather Channel is both DirecTV’s supplier and competitor–mostly owned by NBC/Universal, which itself is owned by Comcast! Comcast has to be careful they’re not teaching their suppliers how to beat them at their own game!

The Weather Channel of 2014 isn’t the same service that John Coleman began in 1982. Back then it was 100% weather presented without much sizzle. Today’s TWC is much more slickly packaged with lots of non-weather programming. DirecTV says, “more than 40 percent of The Weather Channel’s programming is dedicated to reality television shows.”

Beyond that, its iconic “Local on-the-8s” forecast is no longer uniformly delivered. In Connecticut, Comcast didn’t provide the local forecast on TWC’s HD channel. The forecast on TWC’s standard def channel was for the shoreline and often inapplicable where I lived a few hundred feet up on Mount Carmel. Here in Irvine, AT&T Uverse doesn’t provide it at all.

It’s also a problem for DirecTV subscribers.

Since we are a national service provider, we’re unable to offer local updates through The Weather Channel the way that local-based companies can.

The Weather Channel is facing a financial reality some all news channels are also facing. People watch when the weather’s compelling and don’t when it isn’t. That’s part of the reason for the move into (easily preempted) unscripted non-fiction.

weathernationThe wild card in all this is DirecTV’s ace in-the-hole, WeatherNation. A few weeks ago DirecTV began carrying WeatherNation right next to The Weather Channel. Begun by Paul Douglas, a Minneapolis area meteorologist for years and innovator in computer graphics, WN reminds me of the ‘old’ Weather Channel. It’s all weather with clean graphics, nothing fancy. It looks like a lean operation with the on-camera meteorologists acting as their own director, switching the show live on-air.

The Weather Channel is pushing back on-air and on-line. Jim Cantore, their most recognizable meteorologist/personality, has become the company spokesman.

But now DIRECTV is threatening to remove this critical life-saving community resource from 20 million households.

The problem is TWC probably isn’t where you should go when weather is critical. You’re nearly always better served going to a source which specifically concentrates on your specific area.

In the end this dispute isn’t about competition or technology or even “life-saving.” This is about money and power. When an agreement is reached (it will be) both DirecTV and The Weather Channel will shut up and play on.

Today it’s a pissing match and unfortunately, in a pissing match everyone gets wet!

Good Service From Time Warner Cable. No, Really

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

Time Warner Cable Beverly Connection

When people talk about Time Warner Cable it’s usually not to praise them. Here’s a typical TWC story from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Time Warner Cable had the lowest customer satisfaction score in an industry-wide quarterly cable TV survey released Tuesday.

The quarterly American Customer Satisfaction Index report released Tuesday suggests consumers are generally becoming more satisfied with their cable TV companies, in particular the picture quality.

But Time Warner Cable’s scores declined 5%, the most of any provider. That gave Time Warner a 60 satisfaction rating on a scale of 100 in the first quarter of 2013 compared with a score of 63 in 2012, according to the report.

That’s not always the case. I speak from personal experience in fixing a problem with Stef’s cable.

The story starts a few weeks ago when Stef’s LG TV went from picture to blank! She tried all the things you’d normally do–cables, plugs, buttons, praying. Nothing worked.

What Stef didn’t know at the time was she was suffering one of the most vexing problems in tech–a failure hidden behind a feature.

I didn’t know either when I drove up yesterday to troubleshoot the problem.

No matter what we did, the input button would not change the input! As we’d later learn, that was the feature. I’ll explain in a minute.

I called LG’s support line. The very polite, very non-native English speaking agent said this problem would need to be dealt with by a technician. In other words, the TV was broken.

It was around this time I had my Eureka moment.

We have a TV at home with loads of inputs. To make it easier on the consumer you can’t click an input unless it’s getting a signal. If Stef’s TV wasn’t getting a signal from her cable box the input button would be useless, exactly the symptom we were seeing.

I carried another set in from her bedroom and plugged it into the cable box. No HDMI output. Blank screen!

The problem wasn’t the TV, it was the cable box!

It was the TV’s consumer friendly feature that kept us from seeing the problem wasn’t in the set. Why LG’s rep didn’t know this is a subject for another day.

I called Time Warner Cable. After moving through the voice prompts a human picked up on the second ring. He asked me the standard questions and after around thirty seconds said,

“I think you’re right.”

He told me to go to a TWC store where there would be notes on the account indicating we were good to go.

I am used to the Comcast hovel in New Haven. This was the antithesis. The TWC store at the Beverly Connection was new, warm and well staffed. At Comcast the agents sat behind Plexiglas, making a trip to their office feel like visiting day at prison. Here I was offered a bottle of water and some candy.

Stef signed in on the tablet near the door. Five minutes later we were done!

Our wait was short, their staff was friendly. I can’t fault Time Warner for a box failing after three years. There is nothing I could have wanted in the service I didn’t receive.

After I got back to Irvine, I received a text from Stef.

“Thank you again for fixing my lightbox. You’re a good Greg.¹″

That seems like fair pay for a day’s work. Thanks Time Warner Cable.

¹ – No, my name isn’t Greg. There’s a story behind being call Greg. You can read it here.

Dear Comcast

Friday, April 12th, 2013

New Haven Comcast officeDear Comcast,

I am a subscriber to your New Haven, Connecticut system. I’m going to complain about commercials, but probably not in the way you expect.

The timing of your local commercial breaks is screwed up. I can’t believe no one there has noticed. I do. It’s been happening for months.

Here’s what happens. During a network break, a national commercial will be cut while in-progress as your local break rolls. This doesn’t happen at the very beginning or end of the spot, it’s right in the middle.

Then, when the cluster of local ads ends, you go back and catch the last few seconds of the last national spot.

Are you running 90 seconds of commercials in a 120 second hole? Maybe. I don’t really know.

All I can tell you is it’s jarring and puzzling. It’s as if you go in late and come out early.

Could you take care of it, please?

All the best,
Geoff

A Trip To The Cable Company

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

Oh Comcast. There are so many people who work for you with whom I’ve had contact and who are wonderful. In fact that part of Comcast is nearly universal. Yet all I could think of today when I visited your New Haven office today was they’ve brought that DMV experience to the private sector!

I drove to New Haven to replace my RNG200 HD DVR. I’m now on my third.

You’ve seen TiVo? There will never be any confusion between it and this DVR!

To reach a higher channel when tuning you press up. To reach a higher channel when in the program guide you press down. Need I say more?

I pulled into the Comcast lot. No empty spaces. When a car finally did pull out another Comcast subscriber who’d gotten there after me pulled into the space. He was wearing a New Haven Parking Authority uniform with his name embroidered on the front.

This kind of thing is so irksome because he knows he did the wrong thing and just didn’t give a damn. I would so like to be a putz and find a way to get back, but I will leave it pass.

There were three long lines leading to four windows in the office. One woman asked another how it worked with three feeding four? No one knew. It was a situation that wasn’t poorly thought it. It just wasn’t thought out!

The waiting room itself is one of those drab places that doesn’t seem to be a profit center and is treated as such. Notices and advisories were printed then taped on the wall. Some were curling at the edges the way forgotten paper often does.

I could have had Comcast come to the house to replace my dead DVR. This seemed easier… well it did in the abstract. I waited in line and looked at my watch.

When I finally got to the window the agent was great. Unfortunately her microphone only worked every second or third sentence. I looked through the dirty, thick, plastic window symbolizing customer distrust and tried to read her lips.

I am a Comcast shareholder. I’ve owned a small position in their stock for a very long time. I appreciate the potential for profit in their business. But as a shareholder this experience was not a confidence builder.

They have a monopoly in providing TV and Internet service to my house. They won’t always.

The New Cable Modem And Huge Numbers

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Helaine was in the kitchen going through the mail when she called me in. She was looking at the cable bill, now surpassing the monthly rent for my first apartment!

Our cable cost is up again, though I have an explanation. Recently I added a converter box to my office to allow me to use my HD TV in HD. What a concept!

I began to look through the bill and was surprised to see how much it costs to rent our cable modem–$7 per month! The exclamation point is there because buying the very same model runs between $50 and $60 at retail. Comcast has to get a much better deal.

Years ago we had trouble with a cable modem. This was rental meant as a temporary solution though it somehow became permanent.

I went online and bought a modem of my own. It’s a DOCSIS 3.0 version from Motorola providing a little future proofing! It will pay for itself in less than a year.

Tonight I called Comcast to light it up. I prepared for the call by jotting down the 12 digit MAC number.

Not enough! Comcast also needed the modem’s serial number. It is a 24 digit number! Have you ever tried to copy a tiny 24 digit number down then read it back to someone over the phone. What a pain!

A one and three zeros is a thousand. A one and twenty four zeros is a septillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000).

According to the University of Hawaii:

There are seven quintillion five quadrillion grains of sand on all the beaches of the world. That’s a 75 with 17 zeros following! (7,500,000,000,000,000,000)

In other words the serial number schema from Motorola is large enough to give each grain of sand on Earth its own number with plenty of room to spare! In fact the entire grain-of-sand catalog would make such a small dent in the available bank of numbers it’s tough for me to explain. Let’s just say it hardly makes any dent at all.

Motorola — why do we need numbers this large? What are you trying to prove?

Need Your Advice On Roku/Boxee/Apple TV/Google TV

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

It’s been a while since I had a TV in my office. Without it I’m usually driven to the family room where I play on my laptop, watch TV and snack incessantly.

That snacking’s got to stop!

With that in mind I went out and bought a new TV to bring me back upstairs at night. It’s a 32″ LCD HD model and it was under $300. From a historical perspective that’s a crazy price for what you get. Next year it will probably be less!

I don’t have a DVR or HD service for the set so I went online and checked Comcast’s prices. Then I checked with my friend Peter.

“What about Roku?” he asked.

I tried to sound savvy, but it was obvious I’m not. There’s a whole class of little computers like Roku that bring shows on the Internet directly to a TV. Though they claim to provide access to thousands of programs it’s obvious you’ll need to subscribe to a service to make the box worthwhile.

I don’t know what to do and so, again, I turn to you dear readers for some advice. Do you have one of these Roku, Boxee, AppleTV, GoogleTV kind of devices? Do you like it? Do you recommend it? What else will I need?

I am like a babe in the woods right now. Help set me straight.

How I’ll Watch Two Games At Once Tonight

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

Comcast has upgraded our DVR. Actually that may not be the proper characterization. They’ve changed and prettied it. Upgrade? The jury’s still out.

In order to enable the new stuff Comcast eliminated a few minor never used features like the picture-in-picture I want to use today! The Eagles and Phillies are both playing at 8:00 PM.

It’s the 21st Century. I can ad lib a solution… maybe.

Our Vizio TV has picture-in-picture built in, but one picture will have to be the cable tuner in HD and the other the set’s built-in tuner. It too might be HD. I’m really not sure at this point. This is the techno equivalent of rubbing your stomach while patting your head and hopping on one leg.

In case you’re wondering what I’ll be doing during halftime of the Giants/Texans game you now know.

—–

Conclusion: Wow, it works! The setup to split the screen was reasonably straightforward… if you’re nerdy. Seriously, this is not for the faint of heart.

On top of that there is the ability to actually make the split 50/50 and swap audio from side to side.

As it turns out the picture-in-picture Comcast removed was inferior to what I already had.

Comcast, Allow Me To Kvetch About Your DVR

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

An admission before I start. I fully concede I’m about to kvetch because one of life’s little unnecessary luxuries isn’t luxurious enough. Guilty. Get over it.

We have a very nice HD TV in the family room. It is connected to a Comcast supplied Cisco RNG200 DVR. Notice I used nice for the TV, not the DVR.

Nearly every operation on this DVR makes you think development stopped as soon as a feature worked. No one ever considered whether it worked well.

With football season underway I’ve got two games on the TV at once. The Phils/Mets take up most of the screen with the Giants/Panthers in a small window.

If you were designing this system you’d put the smaller window in a corner. It’s much less likely to intrude if tucked away.

Not on the RNG200! The inset window is where the screen’s corner would be if I was watching old school 4:3 standard def not 16:9 high def. This might be understandable if not for the fact the RNG200 knows I’m watching in HD!

I use an HDMI cable between the TV and DVR. That’s a ‘smart’ system which sends data in both directions. The DVR sees where its signal goes and knows the screen resolution.

With this system the out-of-the-way window ends up being near the middle of the action blocking things I want to see.

This is just one in a long series of almost complete and poorly enabled features.

  • On-Demand is clumsy and excruciatingly slow.
  • Scheduling a recording can take dozens of button presses just to find a show.
  • The on screen program summary is often edited as if it isn’t meant to be read.
  • Standard def duplicates of high def channels clutter things up even though as mentioned earlier the box should know I’m not interested in seeing them in 4:3.

When you see what’s available with a TiVo or even my homebuilt MythTV this seems more-and-more unnecessarily irksome. How Comcast does this in light of the competition from U-verse and the satellite providers is beyond me.

The Frustration Of Style Over Substance

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

We’re going on vacation soon, cruising to the Canadian Maritimes. I thought it would be nice to pack my iPhone with some ‘content’ so I could sit on deck, soak up the sun and be ‘edutained.’

I headed to iTunes last night–specifically the podcast section. There are hundreds of geeky university lectures to listen to or see.

You want me to admit I’m King Geek? Fine. I’m King Geek.

Often these lectures delve into subjects far off the beaten path. Thankfully the iPhone’s beautiful screen makes seeing and reading text easy… except here.

In order to preserve the beauty of the page design the descriptive text has been truncated to the point the subject matter can’t be discerned! Look at the screencap (above left) and see if you can figure out what these lectures are about?

Really Apple? Is this what you really wanted to do?

Apple isn’t alone here. My Comcast DVR often cuts movie and program titles to a single word. What movie or show is “Murder?” Who the hell knows? I surely don’t.

What happened to play testing products? The developers probably never use the product once it’s out of their dev hands.

Isn’t anyone looking to see if what’s been designed actually works?

Blogger’s addendum: Yes I was up at 4:37 AM getting this screencap. Guilty as charged.

Comcast’s Got The Meter Running

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Tonight I stumbled upon an email from Comcast. It was sent ten days ago to an account I never use and seldom check. It said Comcast is now providing me with a tool to check how much Internet I’m using.

I knew this was coming. Comcast announced a 250 Gb monthly data limit a while ago. What wasn’t clear was how close to the cap we get? The simple answer is “not very.” We were well under what I assumed we used. That’s still not reassuring. More on that in a second.

The past few months have averaged in the 20 Gb neighborhood. We probably suck up more than most! Of course baseball season is just around the bend and Helaine and/or I will watch the vast majority of the Phillies games in streaming high def video over the Internet. Our usage will climb.

If you are wondering whether you are at risk of exceeding this 250GB threshold, you should know that the vast majority – around 99% – of Comcast customers use significantly less than 250GB per month. – Comcast website

It wasn’t that long ago we were using dial-up service. My 28.8 kbps modem (which never connected anywhere near that fast) was only good for downloading a few megabytes per hour. Tonight I uploaded at 30+ megabyte file before I could finish typing the description for it.

Comcast’s limit seems reasonable today, but will it be used to rein in their online video competition going forward? That is my worry. The more video and rich content we get online the less we’ll buy from Comcast. They want their Internet side to be successful, but not successful enough to cannibalize their pay TV side.

For now bandwidth is cheap and plentiful. Any artificial limits Comcast (or other ISPs) impose are just that, artificial limits. They’re getting us used to being on a leash.

Blogger’s note: As a very small portion of my retirement plan I own some Comcast stock. Of course what I just wrote doesn’t promote my best financial interest with that stock, but I thought this disclosure was only right.