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Comcast’s Missing $100 Gift Card Rebate to Switch to Verizon Wireless

rebateAre you still waiting for that $100 gift card Comcast promised to customers who signed up or upgraded service with their marketing partner Verizon Wireless?

You are not alone. Multiple complaints about missing gift cards point to a rebate form promising a gift card six to eight weeks after submission, but the rebate processor has extended that time repeatedly — first to 8-10 weeks, then 10-12 weeks, and now 16-17 weeks… and counting.

If you forgot about the rebate, you may never receive it without contacting Comcast to follow-up. Others found their rebate request rejected by the rebate processor for a variety of reasons.

Customers should have made a copy of their rebate submission to keep for their records. If your rebate still has not arrived, call Comcast at 1-866-347-2229 to escalate the matter and speed up the arrival of your missing gift card.

Although high dollar rebates for cell phones are not uncommon, a large percentage of customers eligible for the rebate never follow through with a properly completed, timely rebate submission.

In many cases, a rejection notice can be overcome by contacting the cable company’s customer service department directly. Many cable companies will credit your account for the amount of the missing rebate.

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Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable End Innovation Joint Venture; ‘No Longer Necessary’

comcast verizonA joint venture between Verizon, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable to explore the development of innovative new services delivered across cable and wireless networks has been terminated, according to Fran Shammo, Verizon’s chief financial officer.

Speaking on a quarterly results conference call, Shammo acknowledged the companies still have a cross-marketing agreement selling Verizon Wireless service to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers and pitching cable service inside Verizon Wireless stores. A Verizon spokesperson admitted the parties abandoned the effort to co-develop new products and services at the end of August.

Shammo pointed to Verizon’s recent buyout of Vodafone’s share in Verizon Wireless as one of the market changes that led to dissolving the partnership with the two cable companies. Shammo indicated bringing Verizon Wireless under the full control of Verizon Communications allows the company to develop, market, and distribute its own products and services across both Verizon Wireless and fiber optic FiOS platforms.

Had the joint venture continued, Verizon’s FiOS network might have suffered a competitive disadvantage, being unable to capitalize on the exclusivity of new services developed by Verizon to better compete against the two cable companies that share many Verizon service areas.

Verizon FiOS has already garnered a 39% market share with room to grow in major cities like New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington where Verizon has not yet completed its fiber optic buildout.

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Time Warner Cable/Bright House: ¡Se Habla Español!; New Univision Contract Loads Up Cable TV Dial

UnivisionA new agreement between Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, and Univision Communications will add at least three new Latino-oriented cable networks to the television lineup beginning as early as next month.

The two cable companies have agreed to extend a carriage agreement with Univision TV as well as bring several new Univision networks to Time Warner Cable viewers. The complete lineup:

  • UnivisionHD: The Univision broadcast network (Spanish)
  • UniMás: The “second program” of Univision’s broadcast network (Spanish)
  • Galavisión: A cable entertainment channel (Spanish)
  • Univision tlNovelas: All telenovelas (soap operas), all the time (Spanish)
  • FOROtv: The Mexico City-based 24 hour news channel (Spanish)
  • El Rey Channel: A joint project of filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and FactoryMade Ventures, launching to cater to second/third-generation young adult Latinos (English)

Many Univision shows are now subtitled in English, especially during prime time hours, to expand the potential viewing audience.

“Time Warner Cable is delighted to be able to work out our early renewal and expand our business relationship with Univision,” said Melinda Witmer, chief video and content officer for TWC. “Our comprehensive agreement expands the number of ways our Hispanic subscribers can enjoy their favorite entertainment, news, sports and telenovelas.”

The deal also allows Time Warner Cable to carry Univision content on streaming video and on-demand platforms.

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Editoral Decries Time Warner Cable’s Attempt to Deregulate Phone Service in New York

timewarner twcEfforts by New York’s largest cable operator to deregulate telephone service in New York, potentially cutting off delinquent ratepayers’ phone service at inconvenient times, has run into opposition from an Albany newspaper.

The Times Union published an editorial last week opposing the measure, fearing it could leave some of the millions of Time Warner Cable phone customers without service on nights and weekends without any way to make a payment to prevent the disconnection.

Unlike other services that companies like Time Warner offer — such as TV, Internet, security and remote lighting and heating control — the home telephone holds special status. It has long been regarded as an essential utility, much like residential gas, water and electricity. The PSC regulates how and when a utility can cut a customer off such a critical service for failure to pay a bill on time.

For years, Time Warner maintained it was not a phone company and should not be bound by these rules. That changed earlier this year when it accepted the responsibilities and regulations that come with being a residential phone provider.

Now, though, Time Warner is petitioning the PSC to change the rules governing home phone bills.

Some of the requests appear reasonable, such as updating language about local and long-distance calling charges. But that’s not the case with Time Warner’s request to expand the hours and days when it can disconnect services for customers who have fallen behind in their bills, including their phone service.

Specifically, Time Warner wants to deal with delinquent customers on nights and weekends.

Most other utility providers can cut service for non-payment only during weekdays, when the PSC’s staff is working and available to help broker solutions and protect consumers. The PSC has the authority to make decisions on disputed bills, revise payment plan arrangements and remedy situations where continued service is medically necessary.

Late and unpaid bills are admittedly a chronic problem for cable companies. In the past year, Time Warner sent more than 1.7 million past-due notices to residential customers in the state and shut off or suspended service to nearly 600,000 households for failing to pay bills.

Time Warner calls its proposed change a convenience to its customers. It’s really a convenience for Time Warner, which wants to handle phone bills the same as other services. But this would bypass the special safeguards for phone consumers.

The Public Service Commission is still reviewing the proposal from Time Warner Cable, which is the dominant cable provider in upstate New York and parts of New York City.

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WOW! Cable Expands in Ohio, Michigan; Local Officials Appealed for More Competition

Better

Efforts by local officials to attract more cable competition are paying off in suburban Cleveland, Ohio and Detroit, Mich. where customers will soon be able to choose between two cable companies or AT&T for cable service.

WOW!, a Denver-based cable overbuilder, has announced it will expand service to Lathrup Village, Mich. and Sheffield Lake, Brunswick, and North Ridgeville, Ohio between now and the middle of next year.

North Ridgeville City Council president Kevin Corcoran last week announced WOW! would begin head-to-head competition with Time Warner Cable starting in 2014. Corcoran told The Chronicle Telegram the city began looking for a competing cable provider after hearing complaints from residents about Time Warner Cable’s poor customer service and reliability. He approached WOW!, which has provided competitive service in parts of the greater Cleveland area, about expanding in North Ridgeville.

north ridgeville“My only pitch was that people are dying for some competition,” Corcoran told the newspaper.

Corcoran met informally with WOW! officials to discuss the prospects of expanding into North Ridgeville before more formal meetings were held with city officials including the mayor and the safety-service director.

Making life easier for WOW!’s entry is the presence of existing utility easements, which means WOW! can run cable on existing utility poles without formal approval by the city council. But WOW! will still need certain permits from the Building Department to move forward with wiring. The company will use Ohio’s statewide video franchising law, originally pushed by AT&T for U-verse, to obtain video service permits and a franchise agreement with the Ohio Department of Commerce.

WOW!’s regular prices are much lower than Time Warner Cable’s promotional prices for new customers:

  • Standard triple play (15/1Mbps Internet, Cable TV, phone) costs $105.98/month from Time Warner ($118.97 with DVR), $85/month from WOW! ($92 with DVR);
  • Standard double play (15/1Mbps Internet, Cable TV) still costs $105.98/month from Time Warner ($118.98 with DCR), $75/month from WOW! ($82 with DVR);
  • Internet-only service (15/1Mbps) costs $40.98/month from Time Warner Cable, $30/month from WOW! (promotional pricing expires after 12 months).

Time Warner Cable said it welcomes the competition.

NORTH RIDGEVILLE – Residents who have long griped about poor cable television service can look forward to some competition next year.

City Council President Kevin Corcoran on Friday that

WOW! Cable TV is planning to begin giving Time Warner Cable, the city’s current cable TV provider, some competition starting in 2014.Talks between the city and WOW! Cable began in late summer and continued into September where the company announced it would go ahead with plans to begin offering digital and HDTV cable service to residents next year.

WOW! Cable’s Matthew Harper, who serves as the company’s systems manager for the Cleveland market, confirmed the Denver-based firm’s plans to begin serving a portion of the city by the end of 2014.

“We’re in the process of doing a walk-out, which involves gathering information about the number of (utility) poles and distances between them, and the number of homes we are able to get built out for next year,” Harper said. “Our goal is to build out the entire city over the next few years.”

Because the company will use existing utility easements to run wiring over utility poles, its plans do not require formal approval by City Council, according to both Corcoran and Harper.

Permits for construction of equipment and attaching wiring to power poles will need to be obtained from the city Building Department.

WOW! Cable will obtain required video service and state franchise agreements through the Ohio Department of Commerce, Harper said.

Under the firm’s universal pricing structure, North Ridgeville customers can expect to pay $60 a month for any two services such as cable TV and phone service, or $70 a month for three services including cable TV, phone, and high-speed Internet service, according to Harper.

More specific details and pricing for the company’s numerous packages of services can be found at www.wowway.com, Harper said.

Wow! Cable currently serves about 4,300 customers in AvonLake, and just completed work on a system to serve SheffieldLake, Harper said.

Cost figures for the North Ridgeville project were not disclosed.

Corcoran said he began to investigate prospects for bringing another cable TV provider to town after he and others heard periodic complaints from residents about the cable TV service they had from Time Warner.

“We’d heard that Time Warner doesn’t always have the greatest reputation for customer service and reliability, and that people were going off to Dish and DirecTV,” Corcoran said. “My only pitch was that people are dying for some competition.”

Realizing that “a lot of people like to stick with cable for various reasons,” Corcoran met informally with WOW! officials before more formal meetings were held with city officials including Mayor David Gillock and Safety-Service Director Jeffry Armbruster.

Time Warner spokesman Mike Pedelty said the company has been aware of WOW! Cable’s plans to enter North Ridgeville.

“We are well aware of them coming in and compete with them in other locations,” Pedelty said.

When asked about Corcoran’s comments concerning Time Warner’s poor service, Pedelty said “it’s hard to respond to that comment.”

“We respect all competitors, but are really driven by making sure we provide the type of services our customers expect at a good value,” he said.

- See more at: http://chronicle.northcoastnow.com/2013/10/11/new-cable-company-offering-service-in-north-ridgeville-in-2014/#sthash.L6ciWB1H.dpuf

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Inside Time Warner Cable’s Free Cable/Reward Programs for Realtors, Property Owners, and Landlords

courtesy accountsWhen you bought a home or moved into an apartment, were you offered a special discount deal to sign up with Time Warner Cable? Or is cable television already provided as part of your lease?

While everyone enjoys saving on cable television, telephone and broadband service, chances are your landlord or the person who lets the cable installer into the building is getting a better deal than you ever will.

Cable companies often (quietly) offer realtors, builders, condo association leaders, landlords, superintendents and even their assistants free or deeply discounted cable service for a variety of reasons:

  • Building owners and builders are given special consideration to help encourage contract agreements that offer bulk cable service to every resident in the complex. The cable operator usually also gets exclusive use of inside wiring, discouraging the competition;
  • Realtors and property developers are often paid in cash for new subscriber leads, usually resulting from “welcome to your new home” move-in kits, “concierge” services offered by your realtor, or special flyers left at your door that pay rewards every time a customer signs up;
  • Superintendents, landlords, and maintenance staff get free service in return for making life easier for Time Warner Cable technicians trying to get into a large multiple dwelling building on service calls. Free cable, including complimentary HBO and Showtime is almost always an effective incentive for those that can otherwise make life very difficult for service providers.

realtor_topTime Warner Cable has provided free or deeply discounted “courtesy accounts” for more than a decade. For much of that time, the informal agreement required the recipient to provide little more than convenient building access for Time Warner Cable technicians. Participants in the program were also asked to pass along any service issues or complaints.

Sometimes, even customers act as informal salespeople for cable service. Time Warner’s “Shared Savings” Bulk Discount program is available in buildings where 40 residents or 50% of the building, whichever is greater, can be convinced to commit to a service contract with Time Warner Cable lasting up to three years. In return, customers are promised free standard installation, bulk-rate Digital TV service, discounted broadband and phone service, and flexible billing options that can either bill residents directly or dispatch a single monthly invoice to building management where service is bundled with a renter’s lease agreement.

This week, the New York Times reported Time Warner Cable was reviewing its courtesy accounts program and asking participants to recommit themselves (and include their Social Security number on an included IRS tax form).

shared savingsDetails about Time Warner’s Apartment Managers’ Program are hard to find. No cable company wants to openly advertise that select customers are getting cable service for free while others watch their bills continue to grow and grow. The Times outlines the new agreement the cable company is requiring New York City program participants to sign.

Real estate workers are now asked to send employment verification along with a signed, formal contract that includes commitments to act as a goodwill ambassador for Time Warner Cable, help the company sell products, and snoop on tenants suspected of stealing cable.

“It is the intention of Time Warner Cable to provide the Promotional Services contemplated in this Agreement to further solidify and enhance the mutually beneficial business relationship between your property and Time Warner Cable,” one California Time Warner Cable contract states. “In keeping with the spirit of this relationship, we expect the Recipient to be our goodwill ambassador to all employees and residents by positively promoting our products and services. [...] Time Warner Cable employees will be allowed access to the property to install, maintain and market services door to door between the hours of 8AM and 9PM.”

min requirements

The Times reports few real estate professionals have any ethical problems making sure the cable company has a reliable point of contact in the building to let workers in without delay and there isn’t much controversy over requests to report service problems either.

But there are concerns about language that informally appoints building workers as deputy ambassadors and marketers of Time Warner Cable products. One offer rewards a free month of Internet to a program participant for every three leads that turn into sales.

timewarner twc“We would consider that a borderline kickback,” Michael Jay Wolfe, president of Midboro Management, a large building management company told the newspaper. “I mean, what are they going to be selling next, Tupperware? They work for the building. They’re not an agent for anybody else.”

Others object to a clause requiring them to “identify, discourage and report” signal theft or equipment tampering, effectively spying on tenants.

Another reason some are balking is Time Warner’s insistence on a signed W-9 tax form, which includes the recipients’ Social Security number. In return, to comply with federal law, the cable company must issue an IRS Form 1099-MISC to all individuals that receive courtesy services worth $600 or more in a calendar year. In other words, the IRS is going to know the identities of those getting compensated with free cable service, which may have tax implications, making the service no longer free in the eyes of the tax man.

Ziggy Chau, a spokeswoman for Time Warner Cable defended the program saying it was intended to help customers.

“If there are service issues, customers want those issues fixed yesterday,” said Chau. “The people in these programs, they’re not going to do it for free. We’re building a good relationship.”

Some real estate workers are refusing to sign the new agreements and losing free cable as a result.

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Post TWC-CBS Dispute, Other Networks Preparing to Demand Their Own Increases

cbs twcJust weeks after Time Warner Cable and CBS settled a dispute over retransmission fees, other broadcasters and networks are preparing to make new demands for increased compensation from their cable, satellite, and telco IPTV partners at prices likely to provoke more blackouts.

Despite repeated protestations from Time Warner that over-the-air stations and networks deserve lower fees than cable-only networks, once the two parties went behind closed doors, the cable company quickly agreed to pay considerably more for CBS programming. Sources say CBS made a deal that will run up to five years and includes more than $1.50 in fees per subscriber, up from between 50-85 cents per month, depending on the city served, under the old contract. CBS had asked for about $2 a month. Effectively, the company will earn more than that because Time Warner also agreed to renew both the CBS Sports Network and Smithsonian Channel, which cost extra.

“There is a new template here. Two dollars is the new holy grail,” Wunderlich Securities analyst Matthew Harrigan told Reuters.

Fox was the highest paid network before the CBS deal, collecting close to $1.25 per month per subscriber. ABC receives 50-65 cents and NBC less than that.

Harrigan predicts the other networks will race to raise their own prices, with Time Warner Cable (and others) likely forced to raise rates early next year to cover increased costs.

In the war for compensation, programmers hold most of the leverage.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSJ Lessons Learned CBS 9-2-13.flv

The Wall Street Journal reports the dispute between Time Warner Cable and CBS set new industry precedents on the value of broadcast stations and networks and how their programming is distributed on digital platforms. (2 minutes)

There have already been local station blackouts in 80 cities so far this year, with the likelihood last year’s record of 91 markets will be broken before Thanksgiving. In almost every instance where a popular network is involved, the pay television provider eventually capitulates because of subscriber complaints or cancellations.

Moonves

Moonves

Time Warner Cable admits its dispute with CBS cost the company business, both from prospective new customers going elsewhere and customer disconnects. Time Warner also spent money advertising its side of the dispute and paid to distribute free antennas to affected subscribers.

CBS’ Les Moonves had predicted Time Warner would eventually meet most of the network’s compensation demands before football season arrived. He was right.

“CBS is the winner. Content owners always win these negotiations, it’s just a matter of how much they won,” said Craig Moffett of Moffett Research. “They have all the leverage. Consumers don’t get mad and trade in their channel when these fights drag on. They go looking for a different satellite or telephone company.”

Almost 200,000 Time Warner Cable television customers left during the second quarter, and company officials admit that trend continued during the third quarter as the dispute dragged on. Time Warner Cable is likely to end the year with fewer than 11.5 million video subscribers, a loss of several hundred thousand this year.

Sources say one major sticking point that kept CBS off Time Warner Cable systems for nearly a month wasn’t about money. Instead, it was about digital distribution rights.

Time Warner Cable wanted CBS on its TV Everywhere app TWCTV and was also concerned about CBS selling content to online video streaming competitors that could accelerate cord-cutting.

Time Warner Cable did win permission to offer Showtime on its digital streaming platform and on apps for portable devices. But Time Warner will not get to carry local CBS-owned stations on streaming platforms, a significant blow. The cable company will also have to pay more for streamed and on-demand content.

In the end, CBS got almost everything it wanted and Time Warner Cable was handed back its largely unfulfilled wish list and a bigger, retroactive bill subscribers will eventually have to pay.

“We wanted to hold down costs and retain our ability to deliver a great video experience to our customers,” Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt said in defense of the agreement. “While we certainly didn’t get everything we wanted, ultimately we ended up in a much better place than when we started.”

Moonves gloated to various trade publications and investors that CBS went unscathed after the month-long dispute.

“Our national ad dollars did not go down,” Moonves told attendees at the recent Bank of America/Merrill Lynch Media Communications & Entertainment Conference. “There were no such things as make-goods and there was no harm done financially to CBS Corporation.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Moonves CBS Got Fair Value for Our Content 9-7-13.flv

CBS’ Les Moonves has won his dispute with Time Warner Cable, says Les Moonves in this interview with Bloomberg TV. (10 minutes)

Comcast owns both NBC and the cable companies that carry its local affiliates.

Comcast owns both NBC and the cable companies that carry its local affiliates.

Cable rate increases are not likely to stop with the agreement with CBS. Analysts predict NBC, ABC, and FOX will be seeking similar rates when their contracts come up for renewal. Altogether, every cable, telco IPTV, and satellite subscriber could see rates increase up to $6 a month for the four major American networks.

“Any time one of these larger networks sets the new standard in terms of pricing for their programming, the rest follow,” Justin Nielson, an analyst for SNL Kagan, told Hollywood Reporter. “In most cases it’s been CBS and FOX trailblazing what the rates should be and then ABC and NBC following.”

Comcast-NBC’s Steve Burke is already there. Burke told investors affiliates should be paying 20 to 25 percent more for cable networks such as USA, Bravo, SyFy, CNBC and MSNBC .

“We’re not paid as much as we should be given our rating and positioning by cable and satellite companies,” Burke said. “I see no reason why we won’t sort of draft behind the other broadcast networks and get paid in a similar way.”

Burke predicts NBC will earn between $500 million to $1 billion annually from increased retransmission consent fees comparable to what CBS and FOX receive.

Next week, DISH Networks faces the expiration of their contract with ABC/Disney-owned channels, including the Cadillac-priced ESPN. The outcome of renewal negotiations may serve as an indicator for where rates are headed in the world of retransmission economics.

A growing number of elected officials in Washington are paying attention as they and their constituents live through one programmer blackout after another. At least four pieces of legislation have been introduced to deal with the problem in very different ways, according to Bloomberg News:

The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act

This law, known as STELA, dates to 2004 and gives satellite companies a license to provide local TV stations, just as cable operators do. The current law is set to expire at the end of 2014, with most observers calling its reauthorization a near certainty. The debate is mainly over how “clean” the STELA reauthorization bill will be as it emerges from the legislative process, with the pay TV companies urging lawmakers to address the issue of retransmission disputes. Broadcasters are working for a “clean” bill, written narrowly to address the satellite companies’ immediate needs. “There’s nothing clean about the current retransmission system,” says Brian Frederick, a spokesman for the American Television Alliance, a coalition of pay-TV companies. Two House committees held hearings on the law this week. A final bill and vote are expected next year.

Video CHOICE (Consumers Have Options in Choosing Entertainment)

Representative Anna Eshoo, a Democrat who represents much of Silicon Valley, introduced this bill Sept. 9 aimed at ending blackouts. “Recurring TV blackouts, including the 91 U.S. markets impacted in 2012, have made it abundantly clear that the FCC needs explicit statutory authority to intervene when retransmission disputes break down,” Eshoo said in a press release. (The FCC gets involved now only if one party accuses the other of negotiating in bad faith.) The bill would unbundle broadcast stations from a cable package and prohibit a broadcaster from requiring a pay TV operator to take affiliated cable channels to obtain more popular channels. That issue is at the heart of why Cablevision sued Viacom in February, following a contentious negotiation.

Eshoo’s bill would also require the FCC to study programming costs for sports networks in the top 20 regional sports markets. The rising fees for sports programming—led by ESPN—is considered one of the major influences behind rising cable bills and the power that content creators such as Disney hold in negotiations. Cable companies have praised Eshoo’s bill, while broadcasters are not fans. Don’t expect to see it get far in a Republican-led House.

Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013

This bill, introduced in May by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), would end the long era of the cable television bundle, that phenomenon by which you pay for hundreds of channels and find yourself watching only about two dozen, or fewer. This summer, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal signed on as a Democratic co-sponsor, but there’s been no similar sponsors on the House side. Blumenthal explained his support of the bill in an August interview with the Hollywood Reporter:

“What I hear from cable consumers overwhelmingly is, ‘give us freedom of choice. Don’t make us pay for something we don’t want and won’t watch. Why am I paying for—you name a channel you don’t like or five or ten or them—just so I can watch the one I do want.’ That’s overwhelmingly the sentiment of people who buy this product. So this bill just gives voice and force to that sentiment.”

Next Generation Television Marketplace Act

This bill from Representative Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, and former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, also a Republican, dates to December 2011 and would deregulate the entire television market, top to bottom. It would repeal compulsory copyright licenses, the legal mechanism by which content owners are required to let pay TV companies carry their programs, if they are paid a fee for the content. The bill, which would also dismantle the system of retransmission fees, is essentially an exercise in carrying free-market ideology to its logical conclusion. The problem? It would require a countless number of individual deal negotiations—any radio or television station that wanted to carry programming (i.e., all of them)—would need to strike deals with every programmer, yielding an inefficient system that would likely prove unworkable. Lawyers would love the bill, but don’t expect it ever to pass Congress.

In fact, none of these bills are expected to pass through both the gridlocked House and Senate this year.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Les Moonves Says It Would Be Dumb For Lawmakers To Change Retransmission Rules 9-4-13.flv

CNBC also talked with CBS’ Les Moonves about CBS’ views towards compensation and distributing content online. (13 minutes)

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Cable Company Hassles Make Life Difficult for Newest DVR Competitor: TiVo’s Roamio

TiVo Roamio DVR

TiVo Roamio DVR

The newest entry in the should-be-more-competitive world of Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) might have gotten five stars from reviewers willing to play down the device’s asking price, but the biggest hurdle of all isn’t its cost, it is the complexity of getting it to work properly with your cable provider.

TiVo’s new Roamio was designed to declutter your viewing experience. It’s a DVR that can record shows you missed, an online video device that can stream content from Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Spotify, Pandora and YouTube right on your television, and perhaps most powerful of all — it will soon stream it all to you on any mobile device located anywhere there is an Internet connection.

That puts TiVo’s Roamio well ahead of the behind-the-times set-top boxes and DVRs rented out by the cable company. Customers have clamored for a device that can properly record scheduled programs and allow those recordings to be viewed anywhere the customer wants to watch. Comcast’s box doesn’t work that way. Neither do boxes from Time Warner Cable, Cox, Bright House, and the rest.

Comcast-LogoCue the lawyers.

The reason these common sense portability features are not available on the box you rent in perpetuity from the cable company is that programmers won’t allow it and many pay television providers don’t consider it a priority. Time Warner Cable only recently filed a patent to deliver customer-recorded content to portable devices. The patent application is an exercise to placate litigious programmers that cannot sleep nights knowing someone is offering a service they failed to monetize for themselves through licensing agreements. Feel the legal fees piling up:

“Because of the increasing popularity of home networking, there is a growing need for a strategy that enables a user to perform authorized transfer of protected content, e.g., transferring content from an STT [set-top terminal] to a second device in a home network, and at the same time prevents unauthorized distribution of the protected content,” Time Warner writes in its patent application.

While TiVo is selling a device that allows consumers to record programming for private viewing purposes, a cable operator with deep pockets that only rents DVRs cannot do likewise.

The Roamio comes in three versions, none of which are compatible with satellite television services:

      • Roamio Pro ($600): Six tuners allow customers to record up to six shows at one time and has storage capacity for 450 hours of HD programming. Includes built-in Wi-Fi. Stream TV to mobile iOS devices coming soon (as is Android support);
      • Roamio Plus ($400): Same as above except storage capacity is 150 hours of HD programming;
        Roamio ($200): Four tuner basic version omits built-in streaming to mobile devices but can record four shows at once and store 75 hours of HD programming. A good choice for cord-cutters as it includes an over-the-air broadcast television antenna input.
      • All Roamio devices require TiVo service, which costs $15 a month or $500 for a lifetime subscription. All boxes support external hard drives with an eSATA interface to backup or store more recordings. All Roamio devices support 1080p and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.
This Comcast DVR is only available for rent.

This Comcast DVR is only available for rent.

In contrast, cable operator-provided DVR service can often add $20 a month to your cable bill… forever. But is there real value for money paying TiVo $15 a month (or a $500 payment for the life of the device) for “service” on top of hardware that can cost up to $600?

TiVo thinks so: “Once you bring together all your favorite shows, movies and music into one place, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.”

Unfortunately, getting there is one heck of a battle according to Bloomberg’s Rich Jaroslovsky, who got his hands on a test unit that simply refused to get along well with Comcast.

“The cable industry is standing in the way,” Jaroslovsky writes.

That may not be surprising, considering the lucrative business of renting DVR equipment to customers eager for time-shifting and commercial-skipping. The cable company’s concept of DVR service includes a set-top box, decoder, and recording unit into one, relatively simple integrated device.

TiVo’s persistent monthly “service fee” as well as a steep purchase price made marketing the cable company’s “no-purchase-required” DVR easy, and the cable industry quickly won the lion’s share of the DVR business. Another strong argument in favor of the cable company’s DVR is the lack of a complicated set up procedure to get competing devices to reliably work with the cable company’s set-top box.

Motorola's M CableCARD

Motorola’s M CableCARD

Thanks to Comcast and other cable companies, setting up Roamio managed to confound even a tech reporter like Jaroslovsky, and Comcast was not much help.

The Roamio requires a CableCARD, a plug-in card-sized version of the cable company’s set-top box, to unlock digital cable channels.

The CableCARD was Congress’ attempt in the 1996 Telecom Act to give consumers an option to avoid costly and unsightly set-top boxes. Originally envisioned as a plug-in device that would offer “cable-ready” service without a set-top box in future generations of televisions, the CableCARD never really took off. The cable industry opposed the devices and dragged its feet, preferring to support its own set-top boxes. The CableCARD that eventually did emerge was initially often difficult to obtain and had huge limitations, such as one-way-only access which meant no electronic program guide, no video-on-demand, and no access to anything that required two-way communications between the card and the cable company. Newer CableCARDs do offer two-way communications and support today’s advanced cable services.

The only place most cable operators mention the availability of the CableCARD in detail is in a federally mandated disclosure of pricing, services, and a consumer’s rights and responsibilities — usually provided in a rice-paper-thin, tiny-print leaflet included with your bill once a year, if you still get one in the mail.

Roamio is likely to frighten technophobes right from the start with this important notification:

CableCARDs are made by one of four manufacturers: Motorola, Scientific Atlanta/Cisco, NDS, or Conax. You need one multi-stream CableCARD (M-card). Single-stream CableCARDs (S-cards) are not compatible.

“That costs an extra $1.50 a month from Comcast, and in my case, required three trips to its nearest office because the first card didn’t work,” Jaroslovsky writes.

On the second trip, Comcast handed him two cards in the hope at least one would work, requiring one last trip to return the card that didn’t.

Time Warner Cable and certain other cable operators use Switched Digital Video, incompatible with the Roamio.

Time Warner Cable and certain other cable operators use Switched Digital Video, incompatible with the Roamio without a Digital Tuning Adapter, available from the cable company.

The second hurdle was to get Comcast to recognize and authorize that CableCARD. Comcast’s technical customer support staff was lacking. Jaroslovsky found his call bounced from department to department attempting to authorize the card and diagnose why it simply refused to work at first.

After finally overcoming those problems, Jaroslovsky discovered he was out of luck getting Roamio to stream premium movie channels like HBO and Cinemax. The encryption system Comcast supports prohibits streaming the movie networks outside of the home. The Slingbox works around the issue by bypassing the encryption system’s permission settings with extra cables between it and your cable box.

Time Warner Cable subscribers will need still another piece of equipment — a Tuning Adapter compatible with Switched Digital Video (SDV). To conserve bandwidth, cable companies like Time Warner limit certain digital channels being sent to each neighborhood unless someone is actively watching.

Before you can view or record a program on an SDV channel, your box must be able to send channel requests back to the cable headend. Roamio is a one-way device and cannot send the required channel requests. Cable providers who have deployed SDV technology will provide a Tuning Adapter to customers who have HD TiVo boxes. A Tuning Adapter is a set top box that provides two-way capabilities, so your box can request SDV channels. There are two Tuning Adapter brands: Motorola and Cisco. Motorola CableCARDs work with Motorola Tuning Adapters. Scientific Atlanta and NDS CableCARD work with Cisco Tuning Adapters. Without the Tuning Adapter, a Roamio user will find error messages on several digital channels indicating they are “temporarily unavailable.”

Other cable operators offer varying support for Roamio. Cablevision has been learning how to support the device along with customers. Prior customer experiences make it clear front-line service representatives are not going to be very helpful managing the technical process to properly configure, update, and authorize CableCARD technology for the new TiVo device, so prepare to have your call transferred to one or more representatives.

After all this, Jaroslovsky was finally watching his Comcast cable channels, able to access on-demand services, and found TiVo’s interface and program guide more satisfying than the one offered on Comcast’s DVR.

Roamio Plus and Pro have built-in support for video streaming away from home that will be fully enabled this fall.

Jaroslovsky found in-home streaming smooth and satisfying. Programs launched quickly and looked terrific on an iPad with Apple’s high-resolution Retina display, with none of the blockiness or stuttering sometimes associated with streaming video.

His review unit allowed him to test streamed programming outside of the home and video quality on the go was much more variable. The current software prohibits video streaming on AT&T’s 4G LTE network, a problem with a resolution now in the works. Public Wi-Fi hotspots often delivered poor performance, even when they could supply up to 2Mbps. Blurred pictures and pixel blocks often broke up the video on slow Internet connections. A faster connection supporting more than 10Mbps is capable of delivering a better viewing experience, especially if that connection comes without usage caps.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/TiVo Roamio DVR Demo Video 8-19-13.flv

An introduction and demo of the TiVo Roamio DVR, produced by TiVo. (3 minutes)

This article was updated with a clarification about Tuning Adapters, required by some cable operators using Switched Digital Video. Thanks to reader Dave Hancock for helping clear things up.

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A $200 Million Money Party: Comcast-Owned NBC Stations Demand Growing Fees from Comcast Cable

Phillip Dampier September 12, 2013 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News No Comments
comcast negotiations

Steve Burke is CEO of NBCUniversal and an executive vice president at Comcast.

Comcast is in the enviable position of negotiating with itself for permission to carry Comcast-owned NBC stations over Comcast Cable, earning the company hundreds of millions in retransmission consent fees paid by cable subscribers.

Comcast executive vice president Steve Burke, who also oversees the Comcast-owned NBCUniversal, said retransmission fees are changing the broadcast business, and makes Comcast a ton of money along the way.

“NBC made virtually nothing on retransmission consent two years ago,” Burke told investors at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2013 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference. “This year we’ll make about $200 million.”

Since acquiring NBCUniversal, cable subscribers cannot help but find themselves watching at least one channel owned by the entertainment and cable conglomerate. Burke said in addition to owning NBC local stations in the largest U.S. cities, Comcast also owns or controls an impressive number of popular cable channels including USA, Syfy, Bravo, E!, MSNBC, CNBC, The Weather Channel, and a variety of sports networks. Seven Comcast-owned cable networks earn the company more than $200 million annually, providing almost two-thirds of the programming division’s operating cash flow.

But Burke isn’t satisfied with those earnings, claiming cable companies undervalue the networks’ true worth by 20-25 percent.

comcast cable rates“There is a monetization gap between how those channels are doing and how they should be doing measured by how peer cable channels are doing,” Burke explained. “In other words we are not paid as much as we think we should be given our ratings and our positioning by cable and satellite companies.”

Burke told investors the company is positioning to capitalize on the growth of retransmission consent fees that will deliver more revenue to the broadcast and cable programming divisions of Comcast that will be eventually reflected on subscribers’ bills.

“The key to retransmission consent is to have contracts expire with the big distributors that allow you to reopen the existing retransmission consent contracts,” Burke said. “One thing that we really hadn’t figured on when we did the deal was how rapidly retransmission consent was going to establish itself. We underestimated that frankly. That’s a very good thing for NBCUniversal, but not so good I think for Comcast Cable.”

Although Comcast has been very vocal about unreasonable price increases for broadcast and cable television programming owned by other companies, it expects comparable compensation for its own stations and networks.

“As our contracts come up, we will get those revenues the same way CBS, ABC and FOX have,” Burke argues. “I see no reason why we won’t [...] get paid in a similar fashion to the way that they get paid in the future.”

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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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