Cablevision speaks…sort of

Long time readers here know I have a beef with Cablevision. Back in the spring, I filled you in on my unsatisfactory discussion with a representative from Customer Service. I had in fact written to the company president and the letter was immediately bucked down the ladder.

Effectively, I was complaining about the lack of choice, arguing that two packages of digital offerings were not at all sufficient. I went so far as to suggest they offer tiers similar to a Sports Tier they had introduced a month earlier.

The rep basically said they won’t do anything until the Town they have the franchise arrangement with forces the issue. OK, so I copied my blog post and sent it to my local rep on the Cable Advisory Council. Turns out they just broke for the summer and it would come up for discussion in the fall.

The meeting was held last night and today I received the following note from one of the members (who, I should point out, has been unfailingly kind and sympathetic to the cause):


Bob,

Your concern was brought up last evening and you may have heard from Howard Jacobson about it already. But in case not, I will impart my take on the conversation that took place.

As it happened, at last night’ meeting, the Council was given an overview by Cablevision Management on “Customer Service”. How it is routed…how they train and their desire to give the customer not only a friendly but responsive experience. Many levels, formats and procedures were presented and I have to say it was
informative and did show an attempt by Cablevision to provide a service.

The problem we illustrated to them and as you may well know was that the question you asked was well beyond the purview of your standard “CRC” or customer rep.

You should have heard back from somebody in the President of the company’s office. You should have gotten a more honest answer and but in fact you did. A person on the level you spoke with…doesn’t know.

The tiering of programming is not a run of the mill bit of dialogue and as you may well know involves programmers and program purchasers and demographics and Ad Dollars and a whole host of market elements that quite frankly are not ready, at least from the bean counter side, to be ignored. Tiering…from the corporate side…doesn’t make money, or disrupts the natural world of networks and per customer costs and sale points. And not to take Cablevision’s side but simply, at this time…would cost you way too much as they would throw the cost of ignoring the relevance of advertising income based on viewer numbers onto the customers.

I don’t know if the technology exists to generate what you are looking for…more than likely through the wonders of Broadband it could be. In conclusion, somebody else should have called you and given you the answer that you deserve and the simple fact of the matter is they don’t have a “CRC” department or grade that covers this answer. All Cable Advisory Council members present felt and told the management representatives on hand that perhaps they should. That there are some customers who can appreciate a particular level sophistication and in fact perceive the applications of a technology… I am sorry to say however that the market and the interests of Cablevision at this time supercede your desires.

One other point.

You were misinformed as to the power of the towns on this matter. Connecticut is one of only two sates that the towns do not control or hold the cable franchise contract. In our state it is the DPUC who lords over this domain. The Cable Advisory Council acts only as your voice to them. The idea of Town Specific control over such issues has long been a desire of ours and many other towns. This does not give us control over commercial
programming but it has been stated by the DPUC that greater tier type programming is a viable goal as an offering to the customer.

OK, back to me for comment.

If I understand this right, they have CSRs to talk to the common man. They do not have CSRs trained to talk to those of us with an understanding of the media business or technology or anything above an eighth grade (I’m guessing) education.

They can offer a Sports Tier but no other kind of programming tier. They can offer VOD, digital music channels, their Magazine Rack of edu-tainment, but they can’t subdivide their programming beyond the Gold and Silver packages.

They say Tiering doesn’t make money. But as far as I can tell, they haven’t done any customer focus groups, haven’t sent out surveys or made any attempt whatsoever to find out what the general consumer wants. Studies have shown, as I pointed out in my spring letter, that the average cable subscriber uses seventeen channels. Which means all those advertisers on the three or four dozen other channels are wasting their money. And yes, that means one average consumer watches The Golf Channel and another watches QVC and I’d drop kick both of them given a choice. And that’s what I’m asking for, a choice.

I’ll accept for the moment that the media and cable industries have seen to it that a full ala carte option is not possible. But, I am willing to bet they can still make money, and possibly even more money, by offering people packages/bundles of programming options that would actually get used. And by creating greater options, it would also cut down on their churn rate which in turn would relax pressure on their advertising budget.

And finally, since I’m feeling bitchy and unhappy about this, my cable-specific edition of TV Guide just got replaced with the generic new magazine-sized version, Gemstar’s last gasp attempt at survival. Well, I flipped through it and found the listings far too minimal to be relevant, the lack of a month-at-glace premium channel by premium channel listing annoying and the articles that replaced the above far too thin to be engaging. It’s crap.

4 comments

  • I have DirecTV, and there’s six or seven different tiers I can purchase. I remember when I set up my package I said to the woman on the phone, “I want that, and that, and that, but not that, or that, or that,” though they’ll call me every few months and ask if I want to add a sports package or the HBO package. I don’t know how the functionality works on the user’s end–I suspect there’s something in the decoder box, probably not too dissimilar to the way a spam filter or a firewall works for a computer, keeping some signals out, letting others in.

    I doubt that any television provider–cable or satellite–could ever go to an a-la-carte model where the consumer pays for only the channels he watches because the economics wouldn’t work out–cable companies carry certain channels because the costs for those channels is distributed across the user base, and some channels may not have enough appeal to justify the cost to the cable company. I don’t know what the solution is–five or six packages seems far more reasonable than one or two, I do know that.

    Keep us informed, Bob.

  • Here in San Diego, Cox Cable offers basic cable (14 channels, mostly local), expanded basic (takes the choices to 98 channels), expanded digital (something like 150 channels, plus the digital music channels), and the movie-tier selections (5 HBOs, 6 Cinemaxes, and I don’t remember how many TMC and Showtime choices). Additionally, for the digital subscribers, you can take up to three of the five specialty tiers (we have Entertainment, Children’s, and Sports, eschewing Religious and Espanol). What this means is that I have a shitload of channels I never watch, but I also have access to Noggin (for my daughter) and G4 (mostly for X-Play – I love the way they edit clips from the games…). I don’t have the seventeen all-evangelical, all-the-time channels, and I’m not saddled with channels that broadcast exclusively in a language I can’t speak.

    On the down side, when a new selection such as Boomerang comes up, it’s shunted onto another tier, to which I do not subscribe (costs extra, don’tcha know).

  • Paul1963

    My cable provider did away with the cable-specific TV Guide something over two years ago. I just got my New! Bigger! Brighter! Please God Let Them Buy It! magazine-sized TV Guide and I’m less than impressed. They did add the Speed Channel to the grids, which I appreciate since I watch it a lot during Nextel Cup season. But someone who has neither cable nor Internet access and watches local channels (like the two different PBS affiliates within broadcast range of Glen Burnie), like my 67-year-old mother does, is probably going to let their sub lapse. I think telling your shrinking subscriber base that they should watch the crawl on the TV Guide channel or go online to find out what movie is on channel 45 next Sunday afternoon is a bad idea.

  • Skipping the cable controversy and jumping to TV Guide:

    I devoted five years of my life to The Cable Guide, a monthly, cable-provider-specific TV listings magazine, which was a fabulous alternative to TV Guide’s general region guides.

    The Cable Guide was so fabulous, in fact, that TV Guide eventually bought the company and incorporated our innovative technology into their own dinosaur system. I got downsized, but it was the best thing to happen to me, which is a long story.

    I’m sorry to see the magazine go to pot like that, but on the upside my Comcast digital cable uses an on-screen guide from TV Guide that’s fantastic. I’m sure paper guides will never disappear completely from the face of the Earth, but I assume they’ll be mostly ineffectual in a few years.