Friday

No Easy Decision: Choosing Between Pay-TV Services

Many consumers in recent years have opted to cut the cord — that is, to

ditch cable or satellite TV and instead rely on over-the-top

(OTT) streaming services for their viewing pleasure. Price has been

one factor, but changing viewing habits has been another.


As a reporter who regularly covers pay-TV services of all varieties, I

actually went the opposite direction and for some time have had both

cable and satellite: Comcast Xfinity and Dish Network, to be specific.


It allowed me to relate to the fictional Michael Scott of TV’s The

Office
, who explained he had satellite TV and cable as a “back up.” As

a matter of full disclosure, this was possible in my situation, as I was

on the review program for Dish while I paid a monthly bill to

Comcast for service that included my home office phone and Internet

access along with TV.


To say that it was the “best of both worlds” wasn’t just my quoting

the proverb — it was literally true in this case. I came to

appreciate everything great about both services while being largely

immune to either’s downsides. However, to cite another proverb, all good

things come to end. My review time with Dish is ending.


After having had two services, going to one is not exactly easy.


The simplest solution would be to revert to my Xfinity for my cable

viewing, but there are simply too many things I’ve come to love about

Dish. The irresponsible part could have taken the lead of the

aforementioned TV doofus and kept both pay-TV services, but that would

mean a bill of nearly US$400 — and that’s not including Netflix,

Amazon and Hulu OTT services, which my wife and I also subscribe to at

the present time.


It probably doesn’t require my full disclosure that we watch a lot of

TV. It is not something we’re ashamed of or try to hide. We have our

favorite shows, and paying for these services is money well spent to

us — but there is still a limit to what we’re willing to and even can

afford to pay.


We had to decide which to keep.



Comcast as the Cable Provider


We’ve been regular subscribers to Comcast triple play, which

includes phone, Internet and cable, since 2010. In that time we’ve

largely accepted the issues with Comcast because there weren’t many

alternative services. For a brief 24-hour period we ditched Comcast

for a Midwestern alternative service, WOW (Way Out West), but we found

that service to be even more lacking and decided to return to Comcast.


It was a case of the lesser of two evils.


At this point it seems pretty apparent that there aren’t many reasons

why we would stick with Comcast. The bill is high and the service has

had its share of problems. However, the Internet is generally reliable

and the phone service is excellent — and even allows for free calls to

Canada.


The biggest problem with Comcast before we “upgraded” to its Xfinity

program was that it was difficult to stream content on the secondary

box in the den. In a three-year period, we had no fewer than a dozen

visits from Comcast to resolve the problem. It never was addressed fully, and in the end we simply opted to ditch the secondary box.


Worse still was that Comcast really allowed us to record only two

programs at once while watching a third on the DVR. That might sound

reasonable, but check out what is on each Sunday night! For us it was

a matter of recording programs at alternative times and juggling what

we watched first. For admitted TV junkies that simply wouldn’t do —

nor should it.



Xfinity Marks the Spot


Then a couple of years ago we made the upgrade to Comcast’s Xfinity

service, hoping it would improve the situation. It actually made

things worse. Recording programs was no easier, and trying to find

anything on demand required going through repeated layers that made

watching a program a frustrating affair.


Xfinity added voice support, but talking to the remote wasn’t much of

an improvement. Whether using the voice functionality or the menus, it was anything

but intuitive!


Fast-forwarding and rewinding during a program was equally annoying. When

trying to skip ahead — say to avoid a commercial break — we either could go at a slightly faster pace than normal viewing or sprint so far ahead we’d end up having to rewind.


In the end, we often found it was easier to watch the commercials. Perhaps

that was the point, as Comcast owns NBC Universal and its various

channels. Making it easy to skip those paid segments isn’t good for

the bottom line now, is it?


Xfinity also never resolved the way the channels are

positioned. Standard-definition and high-definition channels are badly

intermixed, while local channels, basic and premium cable channels seem randomly placed as well. Even after years of having the

service, it was necessary to look up channels or programs.

That isn’t ideal for channel surfing, to say the least.



Dishing on Dish


The case for Dish is much easier to make. The channels are nicely

grouped. Local TV channels are placed on the same “number” as the over-the-air counterpart. Hence Fox2 is on channel 2

and NBC is on channel 4 just as it should be! The major basic

channels — AMC, FX and History, etc. — are grouped together, while the

same goes for the premium paid channels.


Better still, an on-demand channel is positioned with the respective

premium offerings — such as Showtime and Starz — and for some basic

channels, like the aforementioned FX and History. Click on these and

you quickly can pull up their on-demand content! Now that’s

intuitive.


Fast forwarding is much easier with Dish as well. Three of the

major networks, including ABC, Fox and NBC, also offer auto hop

functionality, so you don’t even need to skip the commercials —

the DVR does it for you! My wife and I also fell in love with the

prime time anytime feature with Dish. This automatically recorded the

prime time content on those three networks along with CBS. Sure, it

would be great if CW and PBS were included, but we’re happy enough to

know that the majority of network shows record automatically.


That helped reduce the number of programs we had to remember to record

each week. The only downside was that at certain times a local affiliate

would preempt the network, but those occasions are far and few between, so it

was worth the tradeoff. For power viewers, Dish certainly has its

advantages.



Remote Viewing


Another standout feature with Dish was the ability to stream content

while we traveled — and on a trip to Vienna, we actually were able to

watch the programs recorded in our living rooms! It was literally the

best of both worlds for a vacation — and yes, I’ll admit I’m one of

those people who worry about missing my shows while I travel, even on

vacation. A vacation in my mind should be getting away from work and

stress, not the things in life I enjoy.


So thanks to the Sling technology with Dish, we could take in the

culture of Europe and watch our shows before going to sleep.


Now, in fairness, Xfinity has started to offer similar features for

remote viewing, and while we haven’t tested in Europe we have used it

in the United States. In a head-to-head comparison, Dish performed

better in most situations. There were a few times that Xfinity seemed

to have an edge, but there are numerous factors to consider — most

notably the quality of the WiFi signal in our hotels.


However, in most cases Dish edged out Xfinity when it came to

streaming our content.



Broken Dish


Now Dish isn’t perfect, and honestly no TV service is. Dish

is a satellite-based service, and we live in Michigan and get some bad

snowstorms as well as bad rain squalls in the spring and summer.

Satellite service largely has overcome weather issues — but there is only so

much that can be done. Snow can accumulate on the dish, and that

requires going out to clear it.


Fortunately the literal dish isn’t on the roof but is on a beam in the

garden in the back yard. That means I don’t have to risk life or limb

to see my programs. (It would be worth the risk, btw, but it isn’t a

pleasant way to start a cold morning with an ice storm!)


Another problem with Dish is that it doesn’t offer Internet or

phone. The cost for the level of plan that we’d consider for our

viewing habits is on par with what Comcast offers for a triple play.

By picking Dish, we can expect to add $40 to $80 a month for phone and

Internet. As we work from home, having both phone and fast Internet is simply a requirement.


The biggest issue with Dish, however, is its feud with HBO, which has

been ongoing since the beginning of November and shows no sign of

being resolved. We understand why Dish’s leadership is holding

its ground, and we stand with them — but Game of Thrones is on, and

that’s a huge favorite of ours!


The solution with Dish would be to get HBO Go and MAX Go, but that will

only add to our bottom line, and it means those are now streaming

services, not really cable channels. This means the cost of keeping

Dish could increase our bill for pay TV by nearly $100. That’s not an

insignificant amount of money. For a couple of freelance writers, it

adds up.



And We Chose…


In the end, it will be hard to stomach that extra $100. It is money

that could be spent to go out to dinner, to splurge on something else

or just to save for a rainy day.


However, dealing with Comcast Xfinity and its frustrations really

isn’t worth the money we’d save. We could live with Comcast if it were

the only option in town. Maybe we’d be happy with it… if we hadn’t

experienced Dish. The simple truth is we have, and we love Dish.


So if this means I need to write another story or two each month, to

work a little harder, then it is a fair tradeoff. Dish has become

something we truly enjoy. In fairness, it would be easier for me to

ditch Netflix or Hulu instead. With those services, we have to binge shows —

and truth be told, sometimes weeks go by without our engaging with

either.


As someone who grew up with cable — I even know the day of the year

when I was a child and we first became connected — I’ve come to

appreciate what it offers. While I’m cutting the literal cable from

Comcast, I’ll be keeping the cable that delivers Dish from the

satellite dish.


I’ll have to sign up for HBO Go as well, at least until Dish and

HBO resolve their differences, which I do hope happens soon. However,

I think we should all expect more fighting between content providers

and pay-TV services… but that’s another issue.


Now the next decision is whether I bother keeping Comcast’s phone and

Internet or opt to try out another service. In the end, I know this

isn’t the best decision to make… but it is really the only one I can make.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.



Peter Suciu has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2012. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile phones, displays, streaming media, pay TV and autonomous vehicles. He has written and edited for numerous publications and websites, including Newsweek, Wired and FoxNews.com.

Email Peter.

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