Dish Network TV Everywhere

Francie Bauer from Dish Network describes Dish Network devices that are enabled via Sling technology to allow consumers to watch their programming content from anywhere in the world via the Internet on computers and other mobile devices.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central.

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Shredding The Cord

Ah, my once-beloved Dish Network account – the thing I once thought I could never do without; the budget monster that consumed $100 per month, month after month, year after year. I agonized for months over the idea of simply killing it before finally pulling the plug.

It’s been the better part of a year since I put the budget-busting beast to rest and cancelled the account. Dish Network itself seemed to want to throw up as many roadblocks as possible to get me to change my mind. They wanted the LNB module off of my roof, in addition to the two receivers. I had 30 days to send the units back in the packing boxes they sent or they would make me pay full price for them.

I was able to talk the guy out of forcing me to climb up on my roof to retrieve the LNB, and I was able to get the two receivers sent back to them within the 30 days of cancellation. However, somehow they had in their billing system I had three receivers, not two. They sent return packaging for three units. I spent time on the phone with them to make sure this discrepancy was resolved, and they assured me it was.

Ooops, not so fast! A month or two later I got a letter from them stating I still owed them for a receiver and they intended to hit my bank account for the amount. A phone call to them resolved the issue and I haven’t heard a peep from them since.

How has life been without all of those channels? $ome part of me hate$ to admit it, but I haven’t missed it at all. I’ve got an Intel Mac Mini set up as a DVR for local over-the-air HD broadcasts, as well as a Netflix account and several other Internet-connected set top box viewing solutions.

Observations

A very large percentage of TV programming is marketing presented as content. Much of what passes for entertainment depicts multitudes of dysfunctional drama queens assaulting and insulting the people around them. The more dysfunctional they are, the more likely it is the marketing messages will seep into the mesmerized minds of the audience. Even if one isn’t watching commercials, product placement and even behavior placement abounds. Viewers are being programmed to buy certain products, as well as behave in certain ways.

Think you can’t do without cable or satellite TV? Think again. I was paying $1,200 dollars a year for Dish Network. Multiply that by just 5 years and that’s a whopping $6,000 dollars for the privilege of being shaped and influenced by marketing messages so I would spend even more money.

Let’s go one step further. For many people TV is an addiction. These people are crack dealers in disguise. How else could it be that they can continue to raise their prices and people continue to pay ever more?

Let’s be honest. The vast majority of cable TV programming is less than worthless. Could that $6,000 dollars been better spent on higher-quality programming? Of course it could.

Should You Pay For Content?

I was listening to a podcast where the hosts were chatting back and forth about the newly offered Hulu Plus, where for $10 dollars a month, you can get Hulu on a wide variety of devices including smart phones and over-the-top Internet TV boxes. Hulu is also offering a somewhat wider, but still incomplete back catalog archive of shows. One of the hosts was saying he wouldn’t pay for content, he wanted it “for free.”

Whether we realize it or not, we are all paying for content, either directly or indirectly. Even if we have only a TV antenna and watch only the local TV channels, we are still paying for content indirectly via advertising. When we buy consumer products of virtually any kind, part of what we pay goes for advertising, which pays for content creation.

If we are paying indirectly only, someone else is deciding for us as to the quality of the programming content. We can either consume that content or not, but we still pay as consumers buying products. We have very little indirect control over what gets put on the air. On the other hand, if we pay for content directly, then we have far greater control over the quality of the media we are consuming.

If Hulu can offer value for the money, then it will succeed What they have to do is figure out what people are willing to pay for. Perhaps that value revolves around putting highly-sought-after content on as many devices as possible. Perhaps it revolves around coming up with the absolute best back catalog of old TV shows. Imagine having instant streaming access to every TV show ever produced in every country in any language, and every movie ever produced anywhere in any language. Something like that would be well worth paying for. Imagine a site such as IMDB.Com that lists every movie and TV show ever made, except as a subscriber you could instantly stream it – now you’re talking. Hulu, anyone else out there – are you listening?

I personally would be willing to pay for a service such as Hulu, except for one small glitch. There are no back catalog shows on the site at the moment that really excite me. Network drama shows can sometimes be quite good, but my tastes are somewhat different.

When I had Dish Network, I was watching a few selected shows on only 3 channels – Discovery, TLC and History. I can get most of these shows if I really want them at some point via Netflix. To my way of thinking, Netflix is a much better value. Netflix has a far wider variety of content, plus they also offer the handy rental service of DVD’s and Blu-ray discs.

The verdict is currently out whether Hulu will be able to figure out what value it needs to best serve its customers. If people are paying Hulu money directly, then Hulu had better quickly figure out exactly what those customers want and do its best to deliver it to them.

Hey Hulu, here’s an idea to try. Offer first-run streaming movies, but do it the Hulu way. I would be willing to pay for a first run movie streaming for a nominal pay-per-view fee, say $5.99. Vudu is offering streaming first run movies, but you have to have a big fat Internet connection to be able to use Vudu. The Vudu service demands way more bandwidth than my Internet service can currently deliver.

Here’s yet another idea for Hulu – offer exclusive, Hulu-only content consisting of well-produced material revolving around the “Entertainment Tonight” type of concept. Do exclusive interviews of movie and TV stars. Do exclusive interviews of directors. Give people real value for their money. Make your customers want to not only see you succeed, but motivate them to help you succeed.

Choosing Influences

So now that I’ve cut the cord with Dish Network, I’ve started digging deeper into the instant streaming material available on Netflix. It seems that most of the programs I would have watched on Discovery, TLC or History – the three channels I watched 99% of the time — are available as season DVD sets streaming via Netflix.

There are also plenty of season DVD’s of television programs available for streaming that I don’t have any interest in. Now that I’ve cut my Dish Network subscription, I realize that I was paying dearly for their presence even though I had no interest in watching them.

The bottom line is that I can only watch one show at a time. Having 200 plus channels available simultaneously seemed exciting, but the reality is that at least 97% of whatever was on at any given point didn’t appeal to me in any way. It’s crap looking to influence whoever it can reach out and grab.

With audio podcast listening, it allows me to choose my own influences. The IPTV revolution brings that powerful ability to choose my influences to television.

This revelation shouldn’t surprise me, because I’ve been here before. Back in late 2004 when I discovered podcasting, it was exactly what I’d been looking for. I was suddenly able to pick and choose audio content and consume it on my own terms. I could listen to exactly what I wanted, when I wanted to listen to it. Suddenly, instead of being at the mercy of having to listen to what was mostly crap programming on radio stations I happened to be driving by, I was able to turn that huge amount of listening time I had while driving into a tremendous benefit.

Broadcast television has been traditionally viewed as mindless entertainment. Like audio programming, television programming can easily be used in the same beneficial ways. Now that I’m forced to choose what to watch, I realize that what I choose to spend time watching will be much more personally beneficial.

Broadcast television is potentially detrimental and there’s no question in my mind that much of it is hypnotic. If a TV screen is present and turned on most people can’t help but periodically stare at it, even if the sound is turned down.

It has only been a bit over 24 hours since I cancelled my Dish Network subscription, and I’m already over the emotional separation. Who needs all of those less-than-useless channels?

Ending A Relationship

Our relationship had always been so full of promise and fun. Being gone so much of the time due to my job was certainly a strain. Even so, when I was around, I didn’t make many demands.

Something was coming between us. Lately I’ve been looking elsewhere and slowly began finding satisfaction on the Internet. The thought of divorce has been crossing my mind over the past few months. It was a painful decision, but I knew it had to be made.

Today I decided it was time to sever our ties.

I’ve been a Dish Network customer for about 10 years – until today.

What came between us? I’ve been experimenting with the idea of getting TV content from various sources on the Internet. I’ve tried connecting both Mac with Front Row and Windows Media Center laptops to an LCD HDTV. A full-fledged computer is very flexible in that it can play virtually any file type, but the clunky, complex hands-on Interface is not designed to be operated from an easy chair. I want as much content as possible integrated into one place.

In the meantime I stumbled across some software called Playon TV available at http://www.playon.tv. The software comes with a 30 day trial and works with the DLNA and UpNP network device standards. The software sells for $39.95. Playon TV is designed to be installed either on a computer or a home server on the home network. Playon TV enables streaming of Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Videos, Pandora, etc. to a DNLA/UpNP device like the WD TV Live Plus, X-Box 360, etc. There are also plenty of free third-party plugins for Playon TV that add a mind-boggling and growing variety of content to the Playon TV network share. It works well with my hacked Apple TV with XBMC.

Yesterday I visited my local Best Buy store and bought a Western Digital WD TV Live Plus to connect to the small HDTV in my kitchen. The WD TV Live is a very small set-top box that comes with a small remote control that has an Ethernet port in and an HDMI port out. Straight out of the box it does an excellent job of playing Netflix and is capable of playing back 1080P content. Only the Plus version plays Netflix.

The WD TV Live Plus combined with the Playon TV software convinced me it was time for radical measures. This afternoon I cancelled my Dish Network account and will save $97 dollars per month. I also bought a second WD TV Live Plus unit to connect to my main HDTV/surround sound setup.

At $97 dollars per month savings the two WD TV Live Plus units will have paid for themselves within 3 months.

Can I live without access to Dish Network? I think it’s going to be similar to a few years ago when I dropped my wired phone line. There was a bit of an emotional attachment that I had to let go of, but once I cut the cord it was no big deal.

Dish Network Rewards New customers. What about us?

I am not going to cry over Dish Network offering HD only packages to new customers. In other words if you don’t like watching crappy Standard def channels on your big screen you now have a choice to get only the high quality HD channels starting at $30 per month with local channels. I understand that is their business model to give “free” equipment to get you hooked when you start out. My understanding when I signed up for service was that it is a once per lifetime deal. You can’t stop service then start again when you see a better deal. You can use a spouse to get another deal started I guess. I do feel slighted that being a customer in good standing, I can’t get the same options as a new customer who has not spent one dollar with Dish yet. I think the worry on their part is that too many folks will jump to the lower priced HD package and they will lose significant dollars. The word is that early next year current customers can jump to HD only so I am fine with that. I’d rather wait while Dish gets their plan together than have them lose a ton of money then go out of business 5 years from now because of dumb decisions.

I will definitely go HD only as soon as possible since I do not watch SD anymore. I am an HD elitist I suppose. When my buddy first got HD he said that he often watched a less interesting football game in HD instead of a better game in SD. I thought he was exaggerating but now I do the same thing. But now it is harder to find an SD game, which is a good thing. If not for sports and ESPN more specifically HD programming might not be as expanded as it is now. Football is the most watched sport in the USA so the fact that HD games have increased has only created demand for Hi Def in more programming.