May 27, 2009

Time Warner Cable Subscribers Ripped Off by Unannounced HD Changes

Greetings. Truth be told, there are certain technical advantages that cable has over satellite television -- true video on demand and the ability to provide Internet and phone services, for example.

But like the old adage that "everyone hates the phone company" -- cable companies seem to find new ways to shoot themselves in the feet at every turn.

Time Warner Cable (TWC) subscribers paying for the TWC "HD Tier" ($5 to $8.95/mo, depending on location), are in the process of being burned at this very moment, and most of them probably don't even realize it yet.

The HD Tier was never a great value, usually containing only around four channels, compared to the large number of channels in most other tiers. But the presence of the HDNet Movies channel made the tier worthwhile for many subscribers. HDNet Movies is essentially the only "non-premium" movie channel that runs a great mix of high-quality HD movies (in their proper aspect ratios!), without in-movie commercials or distracting full-time ID bugs and banners.

TWC is in the process of pulling HDNet Movies (and its companion channel in the tier, HDNET -- which has quite a fan following of its own) from all TWC systems. They've been doing this without any warning or announcement to subscribers, they're lying about the reason why, and if you're unhappy about the situation, they want you to pay.

I hadn't heard about this fiasco -- not a peep from TWC -- until TiVo flashed a channel lineup change notice this morning. When I called in to find out what was going on, the TWC reps insisted that HDNET had demanded that their channels be removed from all Time Warner systems. Huh, that sounds pretty strange. "Not a contract dispute?" I asked. "Definitely not!" I was told repeatedly.

Lies and double-talk. It's all about contracts and tier placement. What's more, TWC attempting to portray the unannounced removal of HDNET channels (and their replacement with boringly generic HD commercial channels that are utterly inappropriate to an extra cost tier -- Smithsonian and MavTV) as giving subscribers "more choice" is utter hogwash.

So, overnight TWC changed 50% of the channels on the HD Tier. Surprise! It's like subscribing to the L.A. Times and suddenly getting "Football Daily" delivered instead (which, given the state of the newspaper industry, may not be such a far-fetched nightmare scenario).

Anyway, here comes the adding insult to injury part. If you complain about the situation, TWC will happily drop the tier from your package -- if you pay them $3! Hey, as long as we have the wound open, let's pour in some salt and give it a good rub!

Now, if you raise a big enough stink and bump up to a supervisor you can probably get that fee waived. But that's not the point -- you shouldn't have to jump through hoops.

TWC knew that this change was coming. They could have warned subscribers rather than trying to slip in quietly like a burglar in the dead of night. It's not really a matter of the particular channels, the cost of the tier, or the $3 drop fee -- it's the entire awful attitude of these companies in general that drive their subscribers to distraction -- and to the poor house. (Sidebar: TWC now admits that the TiVo tuning adapters required to deal with switched digital video may not be free after the first year, in direct conflict with earlier statements -- but I digress ...)

Bottom line on this one, if you're paying for the HD Tier from TWC, you should probably consider dropping it like a hot potato, and refuse to pay any change fees. And watch your wallets, gang.

By ... the ... way. There's a great series of DirecTV commercials portraying meetings at a generic cable company, where employees plan how best to screw their subscribers. In light of Time Warner Cable's behavior, I'm beginning to wonder if those spots were actually clandestinely filmed at TWC corporate headquarters ...


Posted by Lauren at May 27, 2009 10:31 AM | Permalink
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