Squeezing True Blood from a Stone

hbo you ignorant slut
With BitTorrent you can download episodes of True Blood faster and more conveniently than you can set up or cancel a cable or satellite TV subscription. Hypothetically, of course.

I just ordered DirectTV (“$34.95 per month(1) with two upgrades(2), including HBO (3), Starz…, and covering up to 4 TVs(4)”) and then — after some mental arithmetic and a quick conversation with Rosanna — almost immediately canceled it. Indeed, the person whose unenviable job it was to close the sale had to read me what sounded like two pages of fine print legalese. I’m amazed that anyone agrees to the service at that point (part of the legalese required me to say “yes” but I never actually was asked to, which I found puzzling). From the cancelation process (during which I was offered a lower rate and a DSL bundle — even if you plan to keep the service, I strongly suggest you try canceling it — remember: telephone operators are standing by) it’s quite clear that cancelation of such orders is very common. The person handling my cancelation seemed demoralized and fatalistic. Why? Because:

  1. the $34.95 per month is only (a) after a rebate (seriously, why? how many bait-and-switches do you think it takes before your customer gets pissed off?) and (b) only for the first 12 months of a (c) 24 month commitment which (d) costs $20/month for early termination.
  2. the upgrades are not free and increase your $34.95 (or whatever) per month to a lot more. (And remember, the $34.95 goes up after the first twelve months.)
  3. for the first three months after which it’s $15.99/month for HBO and goodness knows how much for the rest.
  4. up to 4 TVs are covered for installation, but you pay extra per month per TV beyond the first, and extra again for HD per TV beyond the first, and extra again for any DVRs. This can easily add up to more than the plan itself.

As an aside: the “foot-in-the-door” technique (a.k.a. “bait-and-switch”) is a well-known sales technique, but there has to be some point at which it ceases being effective. I would like to think that these guys have gone well beyond this point but since they’re clearly not stupid I suspect that tacking on a half-dozen extra charges that more than double the up-front cost of the alleged deal actually works. (And I never did get to find out what taxes get slathered all over the bill at the end.)

After paring down the deal to its minimum (one TV with HD reception, no DVR) it was going to cost $34.95 per month (after rebate) for twelve months and then either $65.99 or $70.99 per month for the next 12 months. HBO (et al) would be free for the first three months and then $15.99 per month thereafter. The deal includes some kind of premium access to NFL coverage for this season which we need to cancel after the season ends but before the next season begins to avoid being billed for that. And to get the rebate in a timely manner we need to process the rebate before the installation takes place.

In other words, $1200 if I don’t make any mistakes. And people think Apple’s products are overpriced.

All of this to watch True Blood via HBO Go.

This is our second attempt to get access to True Blood Season 4. Our first attempt involved trying to change our Comcast Subscription by the absolute minimum amount necessary to get access to HBO on Xfinity. (“Xfinity” is a made-up word that you get by crossing out the word “infinity”. This is because “zero” is a common word and can’t be trademarked.) This first attempt spanned almost four weeks, including several waits on hold each over 30 minutes, and two identical “escalated” “engineering” tickets that were each supposed to be resolved within 72h but were in fact never resolved. (I did receive one call about one of the tickets shortly after having thrown in the towel and canceled the whole fiasco — I believe the person called to tell me the ticket was being closed because I had canceled the subscription.)

Here’s the thing. I only did all this crap because I am, basically, an honest person. Stupidly honest, in fact. It’s not, for example, that I don’t know how Bittorrent works. If True Blood were available via Season Pass in iTunes at a ridiculously inflated price, I would cheerfully have paid for it. But nooooo. HBO wants to protect its ability to attract fools to satellite and cable TV subscriptions rather than simply giving people what they want at a reasonable, or in fact any, price.

In the time I wasted making one call to Comcast, I could have torrented the first episode and had the others drop automagically onto my hard disk overnight. Incidentally, for the three weeks we were subscribed to HBO via Comcast and yet unable to actually watch any HBO content, this would have meant illegally downloading content we were legally entitled to watch but couldn’t. That would be a fun lawsuit.