There were a few posts that dominated the comments this week, with the attempts by Charter’s CEO to blame Netflix for all its problems delivering all our comments on the insightful side. In first place, it’s an extremely long and thorough anonymous comment discussing many things more deserving of the cable industry’s focus:
“Cable providers could easily combat streaming video competition by lowering rates and offering more flexible channel bundles”
Agreed, and to add other things that they ought to do (but almost certainly won’t):
- Modernize the set-top-box mess. Currently, they fight very hard to ensure that your set-top-box is just barely adequate. Some of these are problems with the hardware they choose to use. Some are problems with the software they run. Some are problems with how the provider serves the cable box. All are irritating to the user, regardless of cause.
- It’s expensive for what you get.
- It’s power-hungry / runs hot for what you get.
- It reboots very slowly. I’ve seen 10+ minutes from connecting wall power to when the box is ready to serve. Doubtless some of this is waiting to download something from the provider, rather than pure internal problems.
- It hangs (requiring a reboot) in reaction to external events (rare, but still disruptive when they happen) such as provider maintenance temporarily interrupting service.
- It hangs in a way that isn’t obvious until you try to watch content through it. Glancing at the front-panel clock LED isn’t enough to be sure it’s in good order. Combine this with the pathetically slow reboots, and you need to pre-check its viability well before the start of anything you want to access with it.
- Major functionality can only be driven through using the remote to navigate the on-screen overlay (so you can’t configure a PVR to autonomously record a show through the “On Demand” offering).
- The on-screen overlay is itself slow and cumbersome to use, even by hand.
- Minor functionality, such as anti-idle, is also driven purely through on-screen overlays. It’s unnecessarily complicated to have a PVR perform unattended recording of a long piece of content (usually movies, but sometimes a block of several back-to-back shows on the same channel). Partway through the content, the PVR will begin inserting an on-screen “Are you there? We want to shutdown now.” prompt. The PVR faithfully records this prompt, but has no idea it’s there, and doesn’t answer yes. You lose the latter part of the recording. I understand the reason they want not to stream to an unattended device. I disagree with the implementation that makes it so inconvenient for a PVR to keep the set-top-box going.
- For a really radical approach, revert to practice of a few years ago when set-top-boxes were not required to view live streams, but live streams could instead be tuned and viewed directly on a television or PVR.
- Clean up the “On Demand” offering. Clearly document in an easy-to-find place, for every channel in your subscription package:
- Whether content from the channel is ever published through On Demand
- If it is published, what are its terms (some of these may vary per-show, depending on licensing; each show with unique terms would need its own block):
- How many days delay between live airing and appearance in On Demand?
- How many days is it available through On Demand before it is removed?
- On what date the contract providing access to this content will expire, since the cable provider might be forced by contractual issues to change the above terms after that date.
- Provide machine-readable scheduling data direct to the customer, updated on a best effort basis when special events interfere (breaking news, sports programs running long, etc.). This would require some collaboration with the networks, but the networks already sell this data to third-parties, so making it available to customers is just a distribution problem. Currently, this data has to be fetched through third-party Internet sites that, while surprisingly effective, usually don’t handle well when the provider changes the schedule within a day of the program in question. Worse, this data is often only approximately accurate. Some channels are very bad about moving the first or last 30-90 seconds of a program across the half-hour/whole-hour boundary, so if you don’t start recording early and end recording late, you lose part of the program you tried to record. Combine a network that runs late with another network that starts early and you get a scheduling conflict (assuming you know to adjust your times, rather than recording for the published times and discovering later that you lost the ending). Some of this is on the networks, not on the cable providers (in those increasingly rare cases where the cable provider doesn’t own the network), but decisions by the cable providers make it unnecessarily difficult for customers to compensate for networks getting this wrong.
This list deliberately avoids anything that involves them actually investing in infrastructure that they should have upgraded a decade (or more) ago, because shots there are just too easy.
Charter has 30 million customers. Dude made $98.6 million in a year… That is quite literally $3 dollars PER CUSTOMER just for this dude’s salary! This is not the entire support staff keeping the internet working, the customer support staff, the salesmen… That is $3 for one guy… Charter, your next below-the-line-fee can be a $0.25 CEO tax… now THAT is transparecy!
For editor’s choice on the insightful side, we’ve got another response from Jason, offering a key takeaway:
Leaving aside the argument about whether the reason you’re losing customers matters, the part I found most interesting was this:
And because of password sharing and multiple-stream products … You have 35 million one-person households in the U.S. The multiscreen products sold to those households also [allows?] them to purchase one product and share it with multiple users.
Is the problem he’s lamenting here that every single pair of eyes (adult, child, visiting friend, pet cat, etc.) watching video “products” isn’t paying for their own subscription, and should have to be in order to watch? Because it sure sounds like it.
I’m sure the cable TV industry, along with many others, would love to boil things down to a permanent pay-per-view model. (Everyone pays each time they open a book, everyone pays each time they watch an old rerun, everyone pays each time they crank up a song…) But aside from a few specific situations (e.g., theater tickets) that kind of wishful thinking just doesn’t reflect reality.
The providers’ content is perfectly controlled, just the way they want it… 3, 4 or 5 streams per account. And it’s working really well. Stop whining, and start innovating.
The obvious explanation for issuing that Twitter user data subpoena is that someone at the DOJ thinks that tweeting a smiley emoji at others indicates conspiracy or collaboration. I expect they’ll invoke RICO.
That one of those users is Ken White is required by narrative convention.
In second place, it’s an anonymous commenter with some thoughts on the situation:
It’s a good thing it was only a smiling emoji, a winking face may have had him killed.
For editor’s choice on the funny side, we start out with another nod to Roger Strong for his other comment on the same post, responding to Faircom’s rebranding of its ‘Standard Encryption’ as ‘Data Camouflage’:
Denuvo should rebrand its DRM as “Data Speedbump.”
And since Roger was all over the funny leaderboards this week, he gets one final editor’s choice for his comment on our post about Dennis Prager’s lawsuit against YouTube, simply for coining (I think?) an excellent term for people with a particular unimpressive approach to their faith:
Prager’s followers are EULA Christians. Folks for whom the Bible is like a software license. Not to be read or understood. Just assume that you know what it means, scroll down to the bottom, and click “I Agree.”
That’s all for this week, folks!