I Cut the Cord: I’m a Cord-Cutter (So Long, DirecTV)
As I wrote about a while back, the prices of cable and satellite TV services are out of control. Almost literally. And our monthly budget, already stretched to the snapping point, couldn’t realistically justify the cost anymore.
We (meaning all of us) have become sort of dependent on our TV services; like the power and water, we just kind of think of TV as a necessary utility. I know I certainly did. I spent my teenage years without cable TV in the 80’s. We lived just far enough off the main road to make cable TV an impossibility. Not enough houses on our street to justify the cost of running line down our street, we were told. Crap. I begged my father to please, please, please buy a satellite dish (the old kind, the huge dishes that used to dot the countryside, before the days of digital satellite technology and their much smaller dishes.) But it never happened; we got the over-the-air channels only (and only a couple of them came in very clearly. It was a dark time.)
Now, thirty years on, and we’re awash on television technology. Digital Cable! Satellite TV! Streaming TV! Not wanting anything to do with our monopolistic cable company, over the years we’ve had satellite service from all the big companies, starting with Primestar. (remember them?) Then we went to DirecTV. Then we switched to DISH. A few years ago, I switched back to DirecTV to take advantage of a low promotional monthly price.
Which was really cool for a year or so, then the promotional rate expires, and well, you know what happens next. That monthly bill skyrockets to two, three, four times its low promotional rate.
As I mentioned in the earlier column, the dirty little not-so-secret is that these TV companies really don’t want their customers cancelling and switching back and forth. It’s much cheaper to keep them as customers, even if that means offering them a lower price to stick around. Which is what I’ve done for well over a year.
What I’ve noticed is that, especially since DirecTV merged with AT&T, those monthly discounts to not cancel service started getting a little smaller each month. What, are they daring me to actually pull the trigger and cancel? Two weeks ago, I found out.
As I’ve done every so often, I called up DirecTV’s customer service and asked to cancel my service. That ‘C’ word instantly gets customers transferred to the retention department, staffed with the best customer service reps in the biz, those with the smarts, the charms, to pull customers wanting to cancel back into the DirecTV fold, to remain one big happy family. This is where the monthly discounts typically come into play.
This time around, though, I put my foot down. Told them I had to cancel, no other choice. We absolutely couldn’t afford it anymore (which was basically true.)
Oh, they tried their best to keep me around. They offered a discounted monthly TV rate (only $5/mo.) if I bundled the DirecTV with AT&T high-speed internet (which I’ve also had in the past and hated.) Nope. They offered me the super-cheap unadvertised ‘Family Package’ which is only like $29 a month, and gives you the most basic of basic channels, meaning the locals, some kids’ channels, every home shopping channel, and a shitload of religious channels. I passed. I basically told them that unless they offered me service for $0 a month, I needed to cancel. I played it up, told them I really didn’t want to, and that I’ve loved the service, and that they’ve always been very helpful with me (all of which is true) but I just really really need to cancel.
At this point, knowing that I was a lost cause, they offered me the very last-ditch option, one I’ve never heard of before: the Suspended Account. As explained to me, suspending an account turns it off, stops the billing, but keeps all the customers’ information in place. This means that a customers’ history remains intact, the billing, programming and equipment information remains intact, there’s no returning of anything to DirecTV, etc. etc. According to my rep, DirecTV accounts can be suspended for up to 185 days without any problem. At any point during this time, the customer can call them up and reactivate the service instantly and return to billing. At the end of the time period, the account will automatically reactivate and resume billing unless the customer calls back to cancel.
This is a nice option if a customer really does need to just not be paying for DirecTV for awhile, but plans on keeping the service in the future. If a customer is under a contract with the company (like the two-year contract most customers agree to when signing up), the contract period is extended for a period of time equal to the time the account was in suspension. Early cancellation requires a $20 charge for each month remaining in the customers’ contract.
Whew! Cancelling DirecTV (like Dish or cable) is a huge pain in the ass. They do that on purpose. They’ve probably conducted studies showing them how many customers just say ‘F it’ and keep paying for the service each month because it’s just too big a pain to go through the cancellation rigamarole. And just in case any of you were wondering…
NO, YOU ABSOLUTELY CANNOT CANCEL YOUR SERVICE ONLINE. YOU HAVE TO CALL THEM AND GO THROUGH THE ENTIRE CANCELLATION PROCESS. DON’T EXPECT THIS TO CHANGE ANYTIME SOON.
No DirecTV. What the Hell Do We Do Now???
So, our DirecTV is gone. What now? I can happily say that just a couple weeks in, we’re doing fine. We still have our Netflix, our HBO Now, and our Amazon Prime. Most of what we’ve been watching in the past year or so was on these streaming channels anyway, so we’re not out of luck. There’s so much good TV to watch, even on the streaming-only services, we’ll never run out.
We are adjusting to the lack of live TV. We don’t have an antenna yet (I’m doing research on them) so we don’t get any of our local channels. Adding an antenna will give us the big three networks and a bunch of sub-channels.
There are also other streaming services that could give us more options at a lower cost. Hulu would give us lots of network shows (the day after they air) and tons of other programming. It’s $8 a month, $12 or $13 for an ad-free version. We’re considering it. CBS offers ‘All Access’ which gives you on-demand access to all CBS shows, plus live local streaming of CBS affiliates in many areas. That’s $6 a month. In addition, streaming devices like Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV offer tons, TONS, of free and paid channels. Google’s Chromecast lets you stream all of the big streaming apps directly to your TV from a phone, pad, or computer.
And then there’s the new kid in town, Sling TV. Owned by Dish Network, it’s a new streaming service that focuses on live television programming. For $20 a month. That’s not bad. They’ve got two packages, both offering 25 to 40 cable tv channels. Stuff like TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network, etc. etc. The first package offers ESPN and ESPN2 feeds, which is great for sports fans. The newer package they offer drops the ESPN but adds Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2, plus the customers’ local Fox Sports afilliate. It also offers FXX.
Additional programming add-on packages are available for $5 extra a month. A movie package featuring TCM, EPIX, and other channels. A kids programming package, news programming, spanish programming, HBO, Cinemax and sports programming are other add-on packages.
In addition to live feeds, Sling TV offers substantial DVR-like features and on-demand viewing. The best part of this to me? You can sign up, change programming, and CANCEL SERVICE all online. You never have to talk to a customer service rep. Ever. There’s no contracts, either. Cancel at any time. Is this the future of TV? I’m thinking it’s a definite step in that direction.
So the bottom line…we don’t have cable TV. We don’t have satellite TV. We’re paying about a hundred bucks less a month. But we’re never ever going to run out of great stuff to watch on TV. Or on the laptop; or the phone; or the iPad…