An Experience in Confusopoly

At home in Santa Barbara we get our TV from Dish Network. We’ve been customers of Dish since it was Echostar, back in the mid-90s. We’ve had dishes on five different houses over those years. Since we tend to do a lot of our living elsewhere, much of our watching (what little we do, actually) is on our iPad over a Slingbox attached to the set top box, which is in a cabinet rather than on a set. (An advantage of Dish over Cox, our local cable company, is that we can hide that box, and control it without pointing a remote directly at it. Cox doesn’t have that option.)

Here in Boston (where we are currently), we can watch the Olympics on the local NBC station, or on the iPad over the Slingbox; but I wanted to try watching live on NBC’s own Live Extra app on the iPad. Says the app page, “204 Nations. 302 Medal Events. 3,500 Live Hours. ONE SOURCE. Get to ready to watch every moment of the 2012 London Olympic Summer Games LIVE for FREE with the NBC Olympics.”

So I downloaded the app, got it rolling, clicked on “Live,” got forwarded to a page where I had to choose my provider, clicked on the Dish logo, entered my login and password, and then got this fail, over and over:

I checked the NBC FAQ. I checked to make sure with Dish that my login and password were good. They were. Then, starting yesterday, the new fail was “We’re sorry. You do not have a subscription to view the requested content. To upgrade your programming go to mydish.com and then log back in to view content.”

So I went to http://mydish.com/programming and got re-directed to my login page at https://my.dish.com/customercare/usermanagement/prepLogon.do?overlayuri=-myprogramming-showMyProgramming.do When I logged in there I get to my programming page, which says I have:

  • America’s Top 120
  • HBO & Sho
  • HD 120
  • DVR Service

America’s Top 120 is the fifth among nine American Core Packages. It’s $44.99/mo. Bottom is Smart Pack at $24.99/mo. Top is America’s Everything Pack at $104.99/mo. The HD 120 costs us $10. Showtime is $1/mo. HBO is $16/mo. DVR Service is $6/mo. The total is $86.99/mo.

Nothing there about the Olympics or NBC. So I called Dish.

The first customer service person told me I would need something called “Blockbuster@Home.” Here’s the link. Nothing there about the Olympics or NBC. When I told her we had a Slingbox, however, she said, “Oh! That’s very helpful information. I’m going to send you over to Broadband Support. They can help you.”

The guy at Broadband Support at first told me he knew nothing about the Olympics app, and that there was no way Dish could pay attention to the zillions of apps that can be downloaded on iPads. I told him there was no way that Dish itself would not be aware of the problem I’m having right now, given the interest in the Olympics at this time. He put me on hold. After coming off hold a couple more times to say he was looking into the situation, he came back and told me that I would need to upgrade to America’s Top 200, which is #7 out of the nine Core Packages. It’s $59.99, or $15 more per month than we’re paying now. So I looked to see if there are better deals available from Dish, and found this page here. It says,

AMERICA’S TOP 200™.

Love sports? Get in the game with channels like NFL Network, CBS Sports Network, MLB Network, NHL Network, NBA TV and your Regional Sports Network(s) (based on ZIP code). All of this on top of all the great programming in America’s Top 120™. Plus, get the local channels available in your area included at no extra charge.

That didn’t look too bad, since — as I recall — we do pay extra for the local channels. But, when I look at our billing details, I see that’s not the case. I’m guessing that’s because they come bundled with America’s Top 12o™. But I see nothing about that when I look at details about the package from within my logged-in state. There’s just a grid or a list of channels (many of which are audio and not video) in a link-proof pop-over window. When I look up Dish America’s Top 120 in a search engine, I get http://www.dish.com/entertainment/packages/americas-top-120/, it says, “Entertainment the family will love at a price that’s right. Get over 120 of America’s most-watched channels including CNN, ESPN, Disney Channel and Discovery Channel at an exceptional price. Plus, get the local channels available in your area included at no extra charge.” I suppose that answers the local channel question, meaning that I’m still paying $15 more per month for the Top 200.

But… for how long? On both the America’s Top 120 and the America’s Top 200 pages they say, in tiny print that can’t be copied and pasted, “…requires 24-month agreement.” In other words, I would need to pay $360 more just to watch the Olympics for the next week on my iPad. Or so it appears. Ergo: no way. Ain’t happening.

Far as I can tell (or am willing to put the labor into telling) I have no way of knowing which of these two Dish people is right, at least not by checking on the Web. And at this point I don’t care. I’ve put way more time into solving the problem than any customer should have to, and my only hedge against diminishing returns at this point is provisional satisfaction in hope that this post might help Dish and NBC debug what’s not working between them.

I would also like them both to probe a deeper problem for the whole cable/satellite TV industry (which now includes NBC, since Comcast owns it). In the perfect word of  Scott Adams, they together operate a confusopoly. He explains it this way:

A confusopoly is any group of companies in a particular industry that intentionally confuses customers about their pricing plans and products. Confusopolies do this so customers don’t know which one of them is offering the best value… The classic examples of confusopolies are phone companies, insurance companies, and banks.

He should have put TV networks and cable companies in there too.

The market — meaning you and I — do not demand a confusopoly. Nor do we demand getting this stuff for free. I’m already paying, and am willing to pay more. So are millions of other people. We just don’t want to lose the confusopoly game to get it. Seems like a fair request.

Oh, one last fail to report. At the beginning of my call to Dish, a robot asked if I’d like to take a survey after the call. I said yes, but they didn’t come on when the call ended, and then never called back, even though they have my number.

[Later...] Wanting to make a positive change here, we just posted Let’s help NBC prep for the 2014 Winter Olympics at Customer Commons. If you have some positive ideas in that direction, head over there.

15 comments

  1. Hal Roberts’s avatar

    Hi Doc,

    FYI, the reason it’s not working is that your package has to have cnbc and msnbc, and the top 120 does not have msnbc. I happen to know this because I’ve been researching how to get the olympics even though I’ve cut the cord at home. It doesn’t change your core point that this sort of confusing, arbitrary requirement abuses customers for the convenience of the provider, ala DRM.

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Hal. I had suspected that the issue might be a “bundle” problem of some kind.

    I wasn’t aware that we lacked MSNBC, I guess because we never went looking for it. I can see the whole guide to the channel lineup on the iPad, but the list is so long that I usually stop looking when I get to the 300s, and start looking forward in time through HBO to see what shows or movies I want to record. Then we almost never watch those. We have many dozens so far.

    Anyway, it would be good of NBC to say, on the page with the selection of providers, that the user’s cable package must have MSNBC and CNBC in it. That might save a lot of trouble.

  3. Hazel Edmunds aka @careersinfo’s avatar

    I feel so sorry for you. I’m watching it all live – or rather I am logged into BBC Sports Live channel whilst working and flip over on the laptop whenever anything interesting (by which I mean a Brit winning something) is happening.
    Incidentally my friends in New Zealand are also watching live with no extra charge being imposed by their provider.

  4. Ian Gertler (@IanGertler)’s avatar

    Doc:

    I think the real issue here is that aside from confusing people, many companies have taken the stance that web-based or phone self-service (which I admit I prefer most of the time) has completely replaced the whole concept of “customer service.” Even if an organization provides excellent self-service channels and guidance, it’s not always appropriate or possible for customers to service themselves. I think this is one of the pros and cons of social media and social business … hopefully this evolution of the Internet helps companies understand the importance of having knowledgeable people responding to both customers and prospects. TBD!

    Best,
    Ian

    Twitter: @IanGertler

  5. Brett Glass’s avatar

    I have had four customers quit my Internet service because they cannot stream the Olympics, but can if they subscribe through the cable company.

    I called up NBCU and told them that I planned to contact the FCC about this, because it violated the terms of the Comcast-NBCU Consent Decree. Their answer: “Maybe we’ll consider selling you the Winter Olympics in 2014.”

    Yeah, right. After I’ve lost thousands of dollars on those customers.

    And where’s Berkman on this matter? Not protesting it a bit, because its sponsor Google is doing the streaming.

  6. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Brett, I was also wondering if this violated the Consent Decree (though I don’t know). When I look up comcast nbcu consent decree +olympics, the only result addressing the question directly is your comment on this post. And this isn’t due to “personalization” by engines. Same thing happens on Bing as on Google and on several different browsers. There just doesn’t seem to be much on it yet. Here is a .pdf copy of the Decree at Pubic Knowledge. And here is a .html one.

    If anybody can offer help on this, please come forward. I think ISPs such as Brett’s have a legitimate gripe here, and actually do present a potential source of revenue for NBC, as well as a good way to reach viewers who might not otherwise pay. Persisting with cable-only subscriptions for Olympics viewing is highly retro, and will only become more so.

  7. Peter Bernacki’s avatar

    Problem #1 Dish network, try Direct TV. that will solve your problems. You can have Direct TV on any mobile device or computer with any level of programing. I have had Direct TV and Prime Star before that I have never regretted staying Direct TV.

  8. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Peter. In fact there is a good chance we’ll go with DirectTV eventually. Dish and Direct have leapfrogged each other in service offerings over the years, and we chose them based on advantages that are no longer exclusive. (Such as the RF remote, which allows us to hide the receiver in a cabinet.) I see here… http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/new_customer/base_packages.jsp?footernavtype=-1&lpos=header … that DirectTV has MSNBC in all of its packages, which Dish does not. If Hal’s right (above), that would solve our problem. But at this point it’s not worth the trouble. The Olympics are one of the rare events that bring us back to watching TV. Otherwise, it’s just a place-holder in our lives, mostly for guests who still need their TV fix.

  9. Jim Pasquale’s avatar

    Wouldn’t it have been so much easier for NBC and we the viewer, if they simply went to every major broadcaster and fed them the live feeds on an event by event to do what they pleased as packing goes. Whether a subscriber then DVR the events they wanted to see or viewed them over VOD or PPV? Oh wait that would muck up ratings, but would have generated a shared revenue model. NBC Olympic coverage = Fail

    Personally afte the first day I gave up.

  10. Brett Glass’s avatar

    We had another customer who tried to Slingbox the Olympics to a friend who didn’t have cable. Now, if you know anything about the Slingbox, you know it’s an obscene bandwidth hog, because it does a very poor job of compressing the video. So, when the Slingbox attempts to push the connection beyond the amount of bandwidth the customer’s paying for, and the network pushes back, he calls to complain. Doesn’t understand why I will not sell him Internet bandwidth at a loss.

  11. fiyat’s avatar

    Problem #1 Dish network, try Direct TV. that will solve your problems. You can have Direct TV on any mobile device or computer with any level of programing. I have had Direct TV and Prime Star before that I have never regretted staying Direct TV.

  12. Doc Searls’s avatar

    flyat, did you not read what I said above?

  13. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Brett,

    Two things. First, I know Slingbox is a bandwidth hog. But I only use it when nobody is home, so I’m the only swine on the line. Second, Dish should be selling the Slingbox as CDN service, rather than as an upstreaming box for customers at end points. But, alas, they don’t. Meanwhile, Cox, our ISP, hasn’t complained.

  14. Brett Glass’s avatar

    That one swine on the line is a pig in the python. It demands more bandwidth than many of our customers buy. We are willing to sell them that bandwidth but not give it to them for free.

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