Posts Tagged ‘HBO’

When I moved out for the first time after college and in with a new roommate, he had a premium cable package including HBO (dude was a huge Sopranos fan). I was worried that I’d be asked to pay for half of something I didn’t really want, but soon after I found that HBO had enough quality original programming and movies to warrant the cost of half a subscription. But for the few weeks after I moved in, I didn’t yet have a cable box in my bedroom until the cable guy could come to install the additional box. So when my roommate was home and watching his beloved New Jersey Devils hockey games, which I had no interest in, I was relegated to watching Scrubs DVDs for hours at a time. This was the closest I’d come to “cord cutting,” i.e. canceling one’s cable subscription.

Held Hostage by The Cable Company
As I recently wrote in a blog post called “Time Warner Cable Sucks—But You Already Knew That (And So Do They),” I believe Time Warner Cable, well, sucks. Their service is spotty, with rarely a month going by without some sort of interruption, usually a frozen cable box and an ambiguous “Please Wait…” message when I’m trying to use their on-demand services. Each time I call the response is “try restarting your cable box,” which usually fixes the issue. But when it happens at an important time (important relative to TV, not to, you know, life), such as during one of your favorite shows’ season finales, it’s fairly inconvenient to miss the last fifteen minutes of the episode while you’re waiting for the box to turn back on. (After years and years of calling, only recently did a rep tell me that if I turn my cable box off at night, it gives the box a chance to receive updates from the mother ship, which would reduce the freezing incidents.)

During the eighteen months in which I worked in market research, specializing in customer loyalty, I learned the term “hostage,” which refers to someone who is only loyal to a brand because they don’t have many other options, but are dissatisfied with the brand as a whole. Since my days as a Cablevision subscriber on Long Island and in New Jersey, through my current period as a Time Warner Cable customer, I’ve absolutely felt like a hostage of The Cable Company, whichever one it is.

I’m also regularly teased by the onslaught of Verizon FIOS commercials, which make their service sound like the best cable and internet provider in the world—and for which I’m not geographically eligible. The satellite companies also seem to offer a better package than The Cable Company, but I’m not willing to lay out the non-refundable equipment fees for a service I’m not certain I will want to keep for at least two or three years.

So for years I’ve complained often about The Cable Company, but never actually canceled my cable. But this week I came extremely close.

So You’ve Decided to Cut Cable
I’d been discussing my cable woes with two coworkers who are bonafide cord cutters. They both watch all their favorite TV content without a cable subscription.

Remember these?

Remember these?

For the four major broadcast networks—that’s ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC—I could get those “over the air,” though I might need to purchase a separate piece of equipment, a tuner, for around $50. Ironically, despite all the technological advances of TV, I’d be reverting all the way back to some version of “rabbit ears” and praying for decent reception.

For my favorite cable shows, I could look online for recent episodes; I could try dubious online streaming sites; or I could purchase or rent the episodes from iTunes, Amazon Prime Video or Google Play for about $2 an episode.  If I was less concerned with the timeliness (and selection) of the TV I watch, I could subscribe to Netflix or Hulu Plus for about $8 a month.

But I’d effectively lose most of the Yankees’ games, besides the ones that air on local broadcast TV once a week or so, or a nationally televised Saturday games on Fox. I wouldn’t be able to access any of their games using the MLB package online, as I would be considered an in-market subscriber. (Strangely, I could watch Yankees through the very same service if I moved out of the New York market.)

As for HBO, well, I pretty much lose any (legal) access to their program. Again, I could buy individual digital episodes (or DVDs) of HBO shows, but that’s a costly venture. Amazon Prime Video offers season passes, but at $45 for 12 episodes of a given series, it doesn’t seem to add up. That means that like millions of other Game of Thrones fans, I might be tempted to watch the series through other, slightly less legal methods.

What Can I Do to Put You in a Cable Box Today?
Still uncertain about what I should do, but with my cord-cutting coworkers’ voices still ringing in my head, I called Time Warner Cable this past Monday night. I explained to a rep from the cancellations department that I was seriously considering canceling my cable subscription (which was true), and asked whether there was anything they could do to lower my bill significantly. If they couldn’t, I would start making preparations to cancel by the weekend.

After a few minutes on hold, my rep informed me that she could lower my bill by $25 a month based on a “promotional offer,” and I would still be able to keep all the channels I was already getting. Leading up to the call, I had been thinking about what sort of offer they would need to make to keep my business, and this was pretty close.

I thought it over for a minute, and decided to take the deal.

I’m probably still paying a little more per month for cable than I would pay if I pieced together all my same preferred TV content online as a cord cutter. But the convenience of having my content already sent to my TV screen through my cable box—assuming the cable box is not frozen—is baked into that high monthly bill. To me it’s not worth the leg work just to save $10 or $20 a month by the time I factor in the costs of online content subscription services like Netflix or buying episodes à la carte from iTunes.

But more than the specific programming set aside time for, it’s always nice to be able to flop onto the couch and mindlessly watch a rerun of Duck Dynasty or Seinfeld without having to actively select exactly what I’m in the mood for. For example, I don’t own a DVD of 8 Mile, but I get disproportionately excited when I catch the last fifteen minutes—the rap battle!—on MTV. (“This guy’s real name is CLARENCE!”)

Through this exploration of my TV content options, I can hardly call myself a “hostage” to The Cable Company anymore, since I’ve actively made the choice to keep purchasing their services month after month, year after year. They know this and I know this. For now, or at least until my “promotional offer” expires and my bill goes back up, I guess we’ll call it a stalemate.

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A few weeks ago on this blog I said farewell to Entourage, a show that while in its prime, reached a generation of 20- and 30-something guys who could escape their real life problems for 23 minutes at a time to live vicariously through the boys from Queens.

Meanwhile, I belatedly discovered (courtesy of HBO on Demand) a very Entourage-like show, How to Make It in America, which premiered in February 2010 and made its season 2 debut last night.

In season 1, Ben and Cam, two late 20s underachieving wannabe entrepreneurs, haven’t yet found the financial success they crave. Either for lack of ambition, know-how, or follow through, they seem to stall at every turn. The polar opposite of Vinny Chase and his pals, for whom everything seemed to go right, nothing works out for Ben and Cam.

When Entourage debuted in 2004, the pilot opened with Vince at a premiere for his first starring role in a fictitious feature film, Head On, co-starring Jessica Alba. So when we meet Vince for the first time, he is already a star. The rest of the episode focused on choosing his next multi-million dollar script and whether he should attend his 10-year high school reunion.

But when we meet Ben and Cam, they’re still smarting from a skateboard business venture gone bad which has resulted in some money trouble. Rather than getting the “how to” manual implicit in the show’s title, we’re not really sure if things will work out for Ben and Cam. We have to keep watching.

Eventually, if Ben and Cam do Make It in America, loyal viewers like myself will probably complain that they’ve become too successful and that the show was more entertaining when they were struggling.

But for now, I’m rooting for them.

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