Positive Cynicism – The 21st century turns the simple act of watching television into a baffling nightmare

Aaron Davis

Aaron R. Davis

I’m a fan of television. You can tell that if you’ve been reading this column for long enough. I’ve been watching way too much TV ever since I was a child and my Mom plunked me down in front of Tom and Jerry reruns so I’d shut up for a little while.

As a TV fan, I’ve been a loyal and happy TiVo user for about a decade now. The only problem I have with TiVo is the same problem I have with everything else we use now, which is that they’re not really built for a long lifespan. Eventually the hard drive goes on the TiVo and you can’t watch TV anymore without upgrading to a new one. So a few weeks ago, that’s what I had to do. As a loyal subscriber to TiVo since 2006, I got exactly zero discount on a new unit, but it was mailed to me quite promptly. And then when it got here, the unit was faulty and didn’t work. I sent the machine back and knew I’d have a longer wait for the replacement.

But I wanted to watch television, and that meant going out and getting a new cable box at the local Comcast office. I live in an apartment building where basic cable is included in the rent, and so, apparently, is a DVR cable box … which they didn’t have at the office. (And on a side note, when we had talked to them earlier about getting a DVR, wondering if it would be cheaper than paying for a new TiVo, some guy tried to bully me into a Triple Play deal, trying to give me some jazz about how only Triple Play customers can get a DVR box, even though I don’t need Comcast’s phone service, nor do I want it.) They gave me an HD box that they were going to charge me $9.95 a month just to have, and an extra $9.95 a month just to use. Comcast will leave no iota of service uncharged. I’m amazed they don’t charge you by number of programs used.

In fact, while using Xfinity On Demand to catch up on a couple of shows I’d missed in the week I didn’t have television, I was surprised to see that On Demand programming now has commercials. I haven’t used On Demand in years, and I was both amused and appalled. It’s like watching Hulu, or going to the movies and sitting through 25 minutes of a commercial package… you’d think my ticket purchase or, in this case, my subscription fees would be subsidizing my viewer experience and might entitle me to not have ads foisted upon me, but sorry, there’s a tiny increment of extra profit to be had. And who doesn’t want to watch three or four commercials for the program they’re actually already watching, anyway?

I actually had to call Comcast and spend about an hour on the phone with them, too, just to get the cable to start coming through. And then I needed to spend more time with them to get my HBO, which I already pay for, to come through. Did Karl Marx ever say anything about what happens when those who control the means of production also control the means of consumption? When HBO didn’t come through, the Comcast operator wanted to send a service call to the house, which has become their go-to for everything. Channel not coming in? Let’s send a technician out and charge you $40 to $140 for it, even though in the very next moment we’ll prove that with the touch of a button, the whole thing can be resolved. Sorry, but, well, profit. Can I sell you a pay-per-view event or an extra box today? How about our phone service?

So, after a calm few days of watching television, the new TiVo arrived. I tried to do the guided setup, but that was stymied by a CableCard issue, because CableCards suck and Comcast only begrudgingly supplies them because they got taken to court over it. The TiVo was reading the card was there, but the card wasn’t reading the cable was there. We took it back and got another. This one was operational, and even let programming through (but not their precious HBO), but the TiVo service didn’t load all the way. Basically, I could just watch TV, but couldn’t record it, rewind it, or get any program information.

Time for another hour-long phone call to Comcast. Is it a pairing issue? Is the card not decoding HBO because Comcast hasn’t coded the card and the service together correctly? They don’t know. Hey, let’s send a service tech to your house and they’ll only charge you if it’s a CableCard problem, which it probably isn’t, because Comcast despises TiVo with every fiber of … well, I don’t want to use the word “soul” here, because come on. (By the way, I was sent an updated bill, and they totally charged me for the service call. We had to call them on it before they waived it, giving us some lame excuse about “just in case” or something, like apparently it’s policy, or just easier for them. Always check your bill, folks.)

I decided to give it another day and see if the service came through. It didn’t, so we called again, talked to someone different, and after another hour, she got the coding right and all of our channels came through, including the much-hoarded HBO. We did the TiVo guided setup again, and everything was fine. We called TiVo to make sure the service was switched, and it was, painlessly, and now, two weeks after this all started, I can just watch TV like a normal person.

Oh, yeah. There was one last fuck-you from Comcast. My wife took the HD box back to the Comcast office, and somehow, at that exact moment, all of my cable services went out, including my Internet. Though the cable came back on, the Internet service did not. I had to call Comcast about that and go through this trauma again. I ended up having to do something very technical (switch off the Comcast modem, then switch off my wi-fi network and then turn my wi-fi back on so the computer could catch the network before the unsecured Xfinity wi-fi signal that I don’t use overpowered it).

Behold the media conglomerate that wants to monopolize your lives, yet which can only make sure you get the services you pay for after two weeks and several lost hours on the phone.

I’ve given TiVo some shit here about the whole thing, but the truth is, they’ve been mostly helpful and I like their service. The phone calls were quick and relatively painless, and everyone I’ve ever talked to there is extremely knowledgeable about their products, their service and how their service interacts with cable companies. It was really just the malfunctioning box that burned me, and they rectified that as soon as they possibly could. They’ve been nothing but helpful, and their products are better than anything Comcast can even imagine designing for their customers.

Comcast customer service is a nightmare. They’re too big and spread out, and you’re constantly being transferred to people who just don’t know what you’re talking about, but who also seem capable of pressing a few computer keys and magically resolving the issue you seem to have for no real reason other than Comcast’s laziness and, I would guess, their lack of interest in training their operators to do anything but sell you things.

Please understand, I’m not blaming the Comcast operators. I’m blaming the culture of the corporation they’re probably underpaid to work for, and what it does and doesn’t teach them to deal with.

But hey, at least I can watch TV now. And I will.

I fucking earned it.


Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at samuraifrog@yahoo.com

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