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DirecTV Doubles Down on Dispute Over The Weather Channel; Embracing WeatherNation Instead

Phillip Dampier February 10, 2014 Consumer News, DirecTV, Video 2 Comments

weathernationEfforts by The Weather Channel — thrown off DirecTV over a fee dispute — to suggest its replacement is inadequate may have taken a hit this morning when WeatherNation announced a significant expansion of its weather network.

WeatherNation is largely unknown outside of the 20 million DirecTV subscribers that found the Colorado-based weather network on their lineup instead of The Weather Channel in mid-January. Now the weather network has announced expanded weather services for DirecTV subscribers:

  • Local Weather Now: Access customized local weather information at the zip code level. DirecTV subscribers can tune to Ch. 362, press the red button on their remote, and access local weather and forecasts. Local weather information will also be inserted into the live WeatherNation broadcast and run every 10 minutes;
  • Severe Weather Mix: In early March, WeatherNation will activate Severe Weather Mix during major weather events showing up to six concurrent feeds of weather information, including coverage from local broadcast stations, where available, live remotes from meteorologists in affected areas, live radar with storm tracking information, NOAA weather alerts, and live coverage from top cable news channels including CNN and Fox News.

weather channel“The Severe Weather Mix and Local Weather Now services will utilize cutting-edge technology, compelling graphics, expert forecasting ability and story-telling skills to quickly and conveniently communicate complex patterns and explain weather phenomena to viewers at home,” said Michael Norton, president of WeatherNation TV, Inc. “We are committed to reliable, consistent, round-the-clock weather information that is meteorologically accurate.”

The Weather Channel was removed by DirecTV after contract renewal negotiations broke down over a requested fee increase from the programmer. DirecTV countered customers were annoyed The Weather Channel was devoting an increasing amount of its primetime programming to reality TV shows that interrupted forecast information. It also claimed the weather network’s ratings were declining.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/The Weather Channel fans speak out from The Weather Channel 2-14.mp4

The Weather Channel is airing viewer comments about the loss of the network from DirecTV’s lineup. (2:06)

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The Weather Channel Is Off DirecTV Over a $0.01 Rate Dispute

Phillip Dampier January 14, 2014 Competition, Consumer News, DirecTV, Video 4 Comments

weather channelThe Weather Channel has been removed from DirecTV’s lineup and replaced with WeatherNation, a much-smaller channel based in St. Paul, Minn., because the popular weather network reportedly sought a $0.01 monthly rate increase.

DirecTV subscribers told Stop the Cap! the channel change happened just after midnight, although WeatherNation was already a part of DirecTV’s lineup.

“This is unprecedented for the Weather Channel,” said David Kenny, CEO of the Weather Channel’s parent company. “In our 32 years, we have never had a significant disruption due to a failure to reach a carriage agreement.”

directvThe Weather Channel has launched a campaign to restore the network that carries the impression DirecTV does not care about the safety of their customers. The Weather Channel executives have stated their severe weather coverage is unparalleled and would leave satellite dish customers in rural areas without important information about dangerous weather.

But Dan York, responsible for DirecTV content, said weather information is available from a variety of sources, especially smartphones, and The Weather Channel has drifted away from its core weather mission, devoting up to 40 percent of its programming to reality TV shows.

bring back weather

The two sides are far apart, even arguing over the amount of the increase The Weather Channel wants for its programming. Executives at The Weather Channel claim their requested increase amounts to $0.01 per month, per subscriber, on top of the $0.13 average cost distributors pay for the weather network. DirecTV says it is substantially more than that and it seeking a 20% rate cut due to declining ratings.

The Weather Channel lacks the clout major corporate conglomerates like NBC Universal, Time Warner Entertainment, or Viacom have when negotiating contract renewals. Instead, it is counting on its loyal audience to bring the fight to the satellite provider.

So far, viewers seem to be responding. An anti-DirecTV website run by The Weather Channel has received more than 700,000 page views and reportedly brought 150,000 complaint calls to DirecTV customer service.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSJ The Weather Channel Off DirecTV 1-14-14.flv

The Wall Street Journal reports the advent of smartphones has taken a significant toll on The Weather Channel’s viewership, leading DirecTV to ask for a 20% rate cut. (4:17)

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Staking the Heart of the Power-Sucking Vampire Cable Box

vampire-power-1-10964134Two years after energy conservation groups revealed many television set-top boxes use almost as much electricity as a typical refrigerator, a voluntary agreement has been reached to cut the energy use of the devices 10-45 percent by 2017.

The Department of Energy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, the Consumer Electronics Association, and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association agreed to new energy efficiency standards for cable boxes expected to save more than $1 billion in electricity annually, once the new equipment is widely deployed in American homes. That represents enough energy to power 700,000 homes and cut five million tons of CO2 emissions each year.

“These energy efficiency standards reflect a collaborative approach among the Energy Department, the pay-TV industry and energy efficiency groups – building on more than three decades of common-sense efficiency standards that are saving American families and businesses hundreds of billions of dollars,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “The set-top box efficiency standards will save families money by saving energy, while delivering high quality appliances for consumers that keep pace with technological innovation.”

DVR boxes are the biggest culprits. American DVRs typically use up to 50W regardless of whether someone is watching the TV or not. Most contain hard drives that are either powered on continuously or are shifted into an idle state that does more to protect the life of the drive than cut a consumer’s energy bill. A combination of a DVR and an extra HD set-top box together consume more electricity than an ENERGY STAR-qualified refrigerator-freezer, even when using the remote control to switch the boxes off.

NRDC Set-Top Boxes  Other Appliances-thumb-500x548-3135

Manufacturers were never pressed to produce more energy-efficient equipment by the cable and satellite television industry. Current generation boxes often require lengthy start-up cycles to configure channel lineups, load channel listings, receive authorization data and update software. As a result, any overnight power-down would inconvenience customers the following morning — waiting up to five or more minutes to begin watching television as equipment was switched back on. As a compromise, many cable operators instruct their DVR boxes to power down internal hard drives when not recording or playing back programming, minimizing subscriber inconvenience, but also the possible power savings.

In Europe, many set-top boxes are configured with three levels of power consumption — 22.5W while in use, 13.2W while in standby, and 0.65W when in “Deep Sleep” mode. More data is stored in non-volatile memory within the box, meaning channel data, program listings, and authorization information need not be re-downloaded each time the box is powered on, resulting in much faster recovery from power-saving modes.

The new agreement, which runs through 2017, covers all types of set-top boxes from pay-TV providers, including cable, satellite and telephone companies. The agreement also requires the pay-TV industry to publicly report model-specific set-top box energy use and requires an annual audit of service providers by an independent auditor to make sure boxes are performing at the efficiency levels specified in the agreement. The Energy Department also retains its authority to test set-top boxes under the ENERGY STAR verification program, which provides another verification tool to measure the efficiency of set-top boxes.

Comcast, DirecTV, DISH Network, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Verizon, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision, Bright House Networks and CenturyLink will begin deploying new energy-efficient equipment during service calls. Some customers may be able to eventually swap equipment earlier, depending on the company.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WCCO Minneapolis Check Your Cable Box 6-27-11.mp4

WCCO in Minneapolis reported in 2011 cable operators like Comcast may make subscribers wait 30 minutes or more for set-top box features to become fully available for use after plugging the box in. (1:50)

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Telecom Providers Abuse Colorado Flood Victims, Ignore Their Own Disaster Policies

floodAs residents across flood-stricken Colorado begin the task of cleaning up damaged homes and in some cases rebuilding them on now-empty lots, many have made calls to various utilities, trash collectors, and service providers to hold off on further bills for services they cannot use. The electric, telephone, and trash hauling companies were all understanding and reassuring. DirecTV and AT&T were not. They want their money — one for the value of satellite equipment that may have since floated into New Mexico or Kansas, the other for fees incurred from excessive texting, talking, or data usage.

DirecTV was willing to settle with Jenny, a resident living outside of Boulder whose first floor was inundated with waves of water which swept her personal property out the rear door, if she was willing to charge $400 on her Visa credit card today for one lost satellite dish and two receivers. Otherwise, “collection activity will begin that could harm your credit.”

Jamestown resident Juliette Leon Bartsch is contending with 10 feet of mud, her husband’s car smashed against the house, and AT&T’s nagging fees for excessive texting.

That will be $400 please. Call your insurance company. We want to get paid.

That will be $400 please. Call your insurance company. We want to get paid.

Bartsch says AT&T has been pounding her phone with text messages telling her she will be paying AT&T’s regular prices of 20 cents per text, 30 cents for any text with attached photos, because she exceeded her allowance sending and receiving updates about the status of her home to worried friends and family. Her idea was to keep the phone lines clear for emergency personnel contending with serious telecom outages. AT&T’s idea was to rake in 20 cents for a short message that costs them virtually nothing to handle. Sending text messages is the preferred method of communicating in a disaster area over a wireless network and it turns out to be mighty profitable for AT&T as well.

Bartsch told the Denver Post AT&T store employees were “completely unhelpful” to her plight. AT&T also never misses an opportunity to upsell a traumatized customer to a more profitable service plan, even when that customer is a disaster victim.

After waiting around for 30 minutes, an AT&T employee rudely grabbed her phone in what Bartsch interpreted as a demand to “prove” her claims of disaster-related texting. After scrolling through the messages, all the employee was willing to offer was a paid upgrade to a more expensive texting plan to cover current and future text messages.

After contacted by the newspaper, AT&T changed its tune.

“As is our routine in an emergency, we began suspending collections calls to impacted customers last Friday, and we will not be billing those customers for flood-related overages to their wireless-minute or text-message plans,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement. “AT&T has reached out to our customers to clear the flood overage charges, and we apologize for the oversight and inconvenience.”

Bartsch has not heard back from AT&T to find out if her bill will be, in fact, credited for the charges.

DirecTV has a less opaque policy for disaster victims published on its website. Getting the company to follow it is another matter.

Does DIRECTV provide aid for customers impacted by natural disasters?

DIRECTV has policies in place to assist customers who are impacted by natural disasters. If you live in a declared disaster area, we’ll work with you to find a solution that best fits your needs. Options available include:

  • Account cancellation – If service cannot be restored at your home due to the damage from a natural disaster, we will cancel your account, and waive any fees associated with the inability to return equipment, along with any remaining agreement on the account.
  • Account suspension – If you are without power for an extended period, we will suspend your account until power and services can be restored.
  • No-cost service calls – If service can be restored at your home, we will send a technician at no cost to ensure the dish is properly aligned and to fix any technical issues.
  • Equipment – If your equipment was damaged by a natural disaster, we will waive equipment replacement costs if you continue your DIRECTV service.

If you are a customer that has been affected, please contact 1-800-531-5000 so we can remedy your situation immediately.

You are over your texting limit.

You are over your texting limit.

Jenny, a Stop the Cap! reader, heard a completely different story from DirecTV.

“They were adamant, they really wanted to get paid either by me or the insurance company,” Jenny writes. “They even wanted to know the name of my carrier and my insurance policy number, which I refused to give them.”

This isn’t the first time DirecTV has ignored its disaster policy in Colorado. During this summer’s wildfires, fire victims were treated to similar demands for compensation.

Jeremy Beach’s Black Forest home burned to the ground and melted his satellite dish and reduced his DirecTV receivers to charred boxes. Then came DirecTV’s demand for cash.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he told the newspaper. “I had lost everything and they acted like they could care less.”

Even more incredible, a DirecTV spokesperson told the newspaper it was ignoring its disaster assistance policy because “most people’s insurance would cover the cost of its equipment.”

That is the same response Beach received. He hung up on the representative making the demand for payment.

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Ask DirecTV for Pricing Information, They Quietly Run a Score-Dinging Credit Check on You

MYOB

MYOB

Asking about the cost of DirecTV could turn out more expensive than you think.

The Los Angeles Times found DirecTV a little more nosy than it should be, opening the door to identity theft and some minor credit damage from unwanted credit inquiries from the satellite provider.

As customers in southern California grow weary over Time Warner Cable’s dispute with CBS, some are shopping around for a better deal with another provider.

57-year old Los Angeles resident Michael Bell got more than he bargained for when he called DirecTV looking for some price quotes. Before the representative would answer, Bell found himself grilled for a lot of personal details that seemed irrelevant in response to a question about the price of HBO.

In addition to name, address, and type of residence, DirecTV wanted to know if Bell owned or rented his home.

“That stopped me,” Bell told the LA Times. “Why should he care? I told him I just wanted a price quote. He said we’d get to that. And then he asked for my Social Security number.”

That was T.M.I. for Bell’s tastes and he quickly hung up.

Requesting a Social Security number these days is a red flag, often giving warning the person asking is about to run a credit check on you.

credit dropSure enough, Robert Mercer, a DirecTV spokesman, explained the satellite provider pulls a credit report on every potential customer to determine their financial viability. DirecTV doesn’t want deadbeat customers, not after spending close to $900 to install satellite television in the average home.

If you don’t like it, you can pay DirecTV a $300 deposit and keep the number to yourself. The money is gradually refunded in the form of $5 monthly service credits each month you maintain service.

Cable companies are also notorious for running credit checks on customers, which can appear to other creditors as a request to extend credit. Too many credit inquiries can temporarily cut your credit score or worse, deny you credit.

AT&T and Verizon are also sticklers for good credit so expect them to run credit checks as well.

Time Warner Cable stands out among others for at least taking an interest in protecting customer privacy and preventing possible identity theft.

Dennis Johnson, a company spokesman, told the newspaper it can run a preliminary credit check with only the last four digits of a Social Security number and your date of birth.

Consumer privacy advocates argue that in the age of identity theft, nobody should be providing a Social Security number to anyone without a clear understanding it is being used to establish credit, open an account, or get earned retirement benefits. Consumers asked for a Social Security number for any other purpose should ask if they can avoid providing it or at least carefully scrutinize the request. If uncomfortable, simply end the conversation.

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DirecTV, Time Warner Cable Moving in On Hulu; Online Video Rights & Internet Cable TV

twc logoTime Warner Cable won’t engage in an expensive bidding war for ownership of Hulu so it is trying to convince the online video venture’s current owners not to sell.

Sources tell Bloomberg News the cable company has offered to buy a minority stake in the online video streaming service alongside its current owners, which include Comcast-NBC, Fox Broadcasting, and Walt Disney-ABC.

If Hulu accepted the offer, the other bidders’ offers may not even be entertained.

Among those filing binding bids/proposals with Hulu as of the July 5 deadline:

  • DirecTV, which reportedly wants to convert Hulu into an online companion to its satellite dish service for the benefit of its satellite subscribers;
  • AT&T and investment firm Chernin Group, which submitted a  joint bid, presumably to beef up online video options for U-verse customers.
http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Plot Thickens in Bidding War for Hulu 7-9-13.flv

Bloomberg News discusses how the various bidders for Hulu would adapt the service for their own purposes. It’s all about bulking up online video offerings.  (4 minutes)

huluTM_355Hulu’s new owners could continue to offer the service much the same way it is provided today, with a free and pay version. But most expect the new owners will throw up a programming “pay wall,” requiring users to authenticate themselves as a pay television customer before they can watch Hulu programming. If Time Warner Cable acquired a minority interest and the current owners stayed in place, Time Warner Cable TV customers could benefit from free access to certain premium Hulu content, now sold to others for $8 a month. That premium content would presumably be available to U-verse customers if AT&T emerges the top bidder, or DirecTV could offer Hulu to satellite subscribers to better compete with cable companies’ on-demand offerings.

Hulu’s influence will be shifted away from broadcast networks and more towards pay television platforms regardless of who wins the bidding. That could end up harming the major television networks that provide Hulu’s most popular content. Many of Hulu’s viewers are cord-cutters who do not subscribe to cable or satellite television. Placing Hulu’s programming off-limits to non-paying customers could force a return to pirating shows from peer-to-peer networks or third-party, unauthorized website viewing.

Online video rights are so important to cable operators and upstarts like Intel, which wants to launch its own online cable-TV like service, providers are willing to pay a premium for streaming rights.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Why Hulu Is Attracting Billion Dollar Bids 7-8-13.flv

Richard Greenfield, analyst at BTIG, and Scott Galloway, chairman and founder of Firebrand Partners, discuss Hulu and the ability to stream on multiple platforms. They speak on Bloomberg Television’s “Bloomberg Surveillance.” (4 minutes)

directvThe Los Angeles Times reports that pay TV distributors are in a rush to make deals, not only to offer more viewing options for customers, but to potentially get rid of expensive and cumbersome set-top boxes.

Interlopers like Intel, Apple, and Google who want to break into the business have not had an easy time dealing with programmers afraid of alienating their biggest customers. Even DirecTV, which has done business with some of the largest cable networks in the country for well over a decade still meets some resistance.

Acquiring Hulu could be an important part of DirecTV’s strategy to develop the types of services satellite TV has yet to manage well. On-demand programming is no easy task for satellite providers. But if DirecTV acquired Hulu, satellite customers could find DirecTV-branded on-demand viewing through the Internet. The Times speculates DirecTV could even build an online subscription service for subscribers who don’t want a satellite dish, receiving the same lineup of programming satellite customers now watch.

Distributors that acquire enough online streaming rights could even launch virtual cable systems in other companies’ territories, potentially pitting Comcast against Time Warner Cable, but few expect cable operators to compete against each other.

The Government Accountability Office warned head-on competition between cable operators was an unlikely prospect, especially because those cable operators also own the broadband delivery pipes used to deliver programming.

“[Cable companies] may have an incentive to charge for bandwidth in such a way as to raise the costs to consumers for using [online video] services.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Hulu Buyers Haggle as Final Deadline Looms 7-5-13.flv

Bloomberg News explains why Hulu is worth a billion dollars in a changing world of television. (3 minutes)

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Sick of Paying Time Warner Cable for More Sports Channels? Sue!

sportsnetTime Warner Cable’s decision to spend $11 billion to broadcast Los Angeles Lakers and Dodgers games at an estimated cost of $50-60 a year per subscriber is the subject of a class action lawsuit from fed up customers.

The plaintiffs are upset cable subscribers across Southern California will have to cover the cost of the 20-year deal with no option to opt-out of the sports channels because they are bundled into the most popular cable package.

The suit, filed this week in Superior Court alleges at least 60 percent of subscribers have no interest in the sports programming, but will collectively cover $6.6 billion of the deal and never watch a single game.

Time Warner Cable is also accused of forcing AT&T U-verse, Charter Cable, Cox Cable, DirecTV and Verizon FiOS to sign restrictive contracts that compel the companies to include the sports channels on the basic lineup.

Ironically, Time Warner Cable itself regularly complains about the increasing cost of programming and contract terms that force it to bundle expensive sports channels inside the basic tier instead of offering customers optional, added-cost sports programming packages.

Both sports teams are also named as defendants in the suit because they were aware that all subscribers would face rate increases as a result of the deal.

“TWC’s bundling results in Defendants making huge profits, much of which is extracted from unwilling consumers who have no opportunity to delete unwanted telecasts,” the complaint states.

The suit claims there is no legitimate reason Time Warner Cable and the sports teams could not have offered the new networks only to customers that wished to pay for them. The suit wants the bundling of the sports networks stopped and customers given refunds for the higher television bills that resulted.

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Earth-Shattering News: You Still Hate Your Cable Company

Despite efforts to improve their reputation, cable companies are hated so much the industry now scores lower than any other according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

The only reason the industry’s average score or 68 out of 100 ticked higher are some new competitors, especially Verizon’s FiOS fiber optic network, which scores higher than any other provider.

acsi tv

The cable companies you grew up with still stink, ACSI reports, with Comcast (63) and Time Warner Cable (60) near the bottom of the barrel.

At fault for the dreadful ratings are constant rate increases and poor customer service. As a whole, consumers reported highest satisfaction with fiber optic providers, closely followed by satellite television services. Cable television scored the worst. Despite the poor ratings, every cable operator measured except Time Warner Cable managed to gain a slight increase in more satisfied customers. Time Warner Cable’s score for television service dropped five percent.

Customers are even less happy with broadband service. Verizon FiOS again scored the highest with a 71% approval rating. Time Warner Cable (63) and Comcast (62) scored the lowest. Customers complained about overpriced service plans, speed and reliability issues. Customers were unhappy with their plan options as well, including the fact many providers now place arbitrary usage limits on their access.

The best word to describe customer feelings about their broadband options: frustration, according to ACSI chair Claes Fornell. “In a market even less competitive than subscription TV, there is little incentive for companies to improve.”

acsi broadband

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FCC Orders Deregulated Rates for Ohio and Calif. Time Warner Cable Customers

timewarner twcThe Federal Communications Commission has opened the door for Time Warner Cable to raise basic cable rates in several parts of Ohio and California after ruling the company faces effective competition from Dish Networks and DirecTV.

Under FCC rules cable rates for the broadcast basic tier, which includes local television stations and a handful of basic cable networks, remain regulated by the government until a cable operator can prove at least 50 percent of their service area is covered by a competing provider and 15 percent of its would-be customers are signed up with a competitor.

Cable companies have requested rate deregulation in countless communities as satellite and television service from phone companies penetrates their markets. Once rates are deregulated, cable operators can raise them to whatever price they believe the marketplace will bear.

In several affected communities, Time Warner Cable’s service is so uncompelling, almost half of the households have signed up for satellite service instead.

The communities affected in Ohio:

  • City of Bellefontaine
  • Howard Township
  • Village of Huntsville
  • Village of Lakeview
  • McArthur Township
  • North Bloomfield Township
  • Village of Russells Point
  • Stokes Township
  • Washington Township
  • Village of Zanesville

In California:

  • Bradford
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DirecTV’s Expensive ViaSat Satellite Broadband: Up to 25GB a Month for $119.99

Rural Americans already depend on their satellite dish to receive hundreds of channels of television entertainment, but broadband over satellite has traditionally been slow, limited and very expensive.

There is little evidence things will change quickly for those without access to traditional cable or phone company DSL. But the launch of new, higher capacity satellites, have at least increased satellite broadband speeds and eased back on extremely low usage caps under a provider’s “fair access policy.”

This week, Viasat’s Exede broadband pricing through DirecTV was formally announced. The “up to 12Mbps” service will cost:

  • $39.99 for 10GB of monthly usage;
  • $69.99 for 15GB;
  • $119.99 for 25GB

These discounted prices are good for the first year of a two year contract. Prices increase $10 a month for the second year. Contract customers will have the $49.99 installation fee credited back on a future invoice.

There is one significant improvement: the satellite service removes the data cap between 12 midnight-5am daily – good for automated downloads, software updates and any other high bandwidth applications.

Customers have until Jan. 31 to sign up for the promotion.

 

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