Info & Answers
Cable Giants Capitalizing on DTV Confusion
Are Time Warner & Cablevision manipulating consumers into paying for new set top boxes?
September 18, 2008 by Richard M. Sherwin

Swift boating, alarmist advertising, shock and awe and fear mongering! No this isn’t politics; it’s the cable industry’s latest attempt to add customers through savvy advertising and marketing.

Through perfectly legal come-ons, slightly misleading TV counter-advertising, and some technological hocus pocus, some cable companies are trying to lure customers who don’t need cable TV to reach their favorite local over-the-air stations….and/or have changed some of their marketing and technological processes on a fly to require customers to upgrade to a cable box where they previously didn’t require any set top box.

In addition, an unscheduled upgrade of several cable systems from N.Y. to L.A. has resulted in around-the-block lines at certain cable company locations of customers trying to get new set top boxes that will let them view many of the analog stations that have been moved to a new digital tier.

The movement of these lower band stations (usually local affiliates and local independent TV stations) is not directly related to the digital changeover next February 17. But industry watchdogs claim that cable companies are, in essence, using the government mandated movement of over the air stations to digital bands to pressure unsuspecting and uneducated consumers to get a second cable box for another room or to add a cable box where they only require through the wall coax to receive basic cable stations.

The upgrade (which sources at Time Warner claim was necessary to avoid more technical problems as they changeover to the new Samsung HDTV-HDMI set top boxes now, and allowed Cablevision to centralize some of its northeast and southeast U.S hubs) has resulted in long lines at many urban or heavy-use customer service centers where consumers regularly exchanges set top boxes or go for repairs and or paying bills.

While Time Warner and Cablevision spokespeople deny any shenanigans in their new marketing and technology initiatives, some federal and state regulators tell that customer complaints have increased by 20-percent since Labor Day.

New television ads, direct mail and telephone pitches are urging cable customers to upgrade to a set top box. But in the case of Time Warner Cable of New Jersey and Time Warner of New York City, many consumers who were getting channels 2-14 were suddenly cut off from their cable access.

“I received a letter a few weeks ago from Time Warner Cable, saying that my basic cable will require a set top box at a very little cost to me,” said Melody Bachman, from Palisades, New Jersey. “Last Monday I had no television reception at all in my den and bedrooms where I used to use just a coaxial cable directly into my TV.”

Bachman claimed that a call to the Time Warner ‘hot line’ resulted in a mixed message: “The customer service representative said that I would have to now get a cable box to get the local TV affiliates and independent stations and public TV, when I asked whether this had something to do with those TV advertisements pushing the free analog to digital converter boxes, the representative said ‘Yes.’ “However she said that this was cable TV’s solution to the conversion process.”

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Richard M. Sherwin - Contributing Writer
Richard Sherwin is a former syndicated technology columnist and TV/Radio analyst, who has also been a marketing executive with IBM, Philips, NBC and a chief advisor to several manufacturers and service providers.

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