Wednesday, March 9, 2011

This Week in Poor Value Cable TV - Cost per Minute

Hey kids! Let's see what how much value Jack got from cable TV this week!


[Jack is not such a big fan of TV and generally resents paying good money for what he feels is a massive preponderance of moronic programming. -- Ed.]

Here in chez Elliott, we are signed up for Bend Broadband's "Preferred" package, plus the HBO and Showtime movie channels. This lineup costs $97 a month1 with the set top box2 rental added in.

Here are the shows that were on this past week3. Let's see whether Jack is getting his money's worth (Mrs Elliott probably is. She'll watch about anything. I am told that when she was a kid they used to put her in a corner of the kitchen with a pot and a lid to play with. With such implements she was able to entertain herself for hours. So this analysis applies only to the mister, and not the distaff, side here.)

At the end of this post I will tally up the number of minutes of good programming the week yielded and see how much I paid per minute for the stuff I found worth watching.

Right then. To the listings.

If a show is in boldface, it means it's a program I enjoy watching, a program I think is good enough to pay real money for. Otherwise, it's crap. Movies are not listed because Netflix has a much better selection of movies and the only reason we're paying for HBO/Showtime is for the original programming. Of which there seems to be little at all for the past few months.
.
Wednesday:
  • Fox: American Idol at 8 p.m. and Traffic Light at 9:30 p.m.
  • CBS: Survivor at 8 p.m., Criminal Minds at 9 p.m., andCriminal Minds: Suspect Behavior at 10 p.m.
  • ABC: has The Middle at 8 p.m., Better With You at 8:30 p.m., Modern Family at 9 p.m., Mr. Sunshine at 9:30 p.m. and Off the Map at 10 p.m.
  • NBC: Minute to Win It at 9 p.m.
  • FX: Justified at 10 p.m.
  • TBS: Are We There Yet? at 10 & 10:30 p.m.
  • Discovery: Sons of Guns at 9 & 9:30 p.m. and Desert Car Kings at 10 p.m.
  • Comedy: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report
  • Syfy: Face Off at 10 p.m.
  • TLC: Hoarding: Buried Alive at 10 p.m.
  • Travel: Man vs. Food at 9 p.m.
  • ESPN: College basketball with UNC/Florida State at 7 p.m. and Clemson/Duke at 9 p.m.
  • ESPN2: College basketball with UCONN/West Virginia at 7 p.m. and Texas A&M/Kansas at 9 p.m.
  • NBA TV: Hornets/Knicks at 7:30 p.m. and Rockets/Clippers at 10:30 p.m.
Wednesday's yield: Three shows: Modern Family, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. So this Wednesday yielded 66 minutes of programming worth watching the whole damn night.

Thursday:
  • Fox: American Idol at 8 p.m.
  • USA: Fairly Legal at 10 p.m.
  • WGN: WWE Superstars at 8 p.m.
  • Spike TV: TNA: Impact! at 9 p.m.
  • Discovery: Man vs. Wild at 9 p.m. and Out of the Wild at 10 p.m.
  • Comedy: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report
  • TLC: Babies Behind Bars at 10 p.m.
  • ESPN: College basketball with Tennessee/South Carolina at 7 p.m. and Wisconsin/Indiana at 9 p.m.
  • ESPN2: College basketball with St. John's/Seton Hall at 7 p.m. and UCAL/Washington at 9 p.m.
  • TNT: An NBA doubleheader with Magic/Heat at 8 p.m. and Nuggets/Jazz at 10:30 p.m.
Thursday's Yield: WTF? NBC usually provides some entertainment with Parks and Recreation, The Office, and 30 Rock, but not tonight. Cripes. Basketball is about as interesting as watching tall men running from one side of a gym to the other. Then back again. Over and over. 44 minutes. Good thing my Blu-Ray player is set up with Netflix.

Friday:

  • CW: Smallville at 8 p.m. and Supernatural at 9 p.m.
  • NBC: Who Do You Think You Are? at 8 p.m.
  • Syfy: WWE Smackdown at 8 p.m. and Merlin at 10 p.m.
  • CBS: The Defenders at 8 p.m.
  • TLC: Say Yes to the Dress at 9 & 9:30 p.m. and DC Cupcakes at 10 p.m.
  • Discovery: Flying Wild Alaska at 9 p.m. and the season premiere of American Loggers at 10 p.m.
  • BBC America: Law & Order: UK at 9 p.m.
  • IFC: Onion News Network at 10 p.m.
  • HBO: The Ricky Gervais Show at 9 p.m., Real Time with Bill Maher at 10 p.m. and Funny or Die Presents at 11:59 p.m.
  • ESPN: an NBA doubleheader with Bulls/Magic at 7 p.m. and Heat/Spurs at 9:30 p.m.
  • ESPN2: Akron/Kent State college basketball at 7 p.m. and Friday Night Fights at 9 p.m.
Friday's Yield: 90 minutes. I'd probably watch the Onion News Network on IFC if I wanted to pony up more money for the Variety package, but I don't see much else in that package that interests me.

Saturday:

  • Fox: Cops at 8 p.m.
  • CBS: Duke/UNC college basketball at 8 p.m.
  • BBC America: Being Human at 9 p.m.
  • Showtime: Caroline Rhea & Friends at 9 p.m.
  • NBC: Saturday Night Live with Miley Cyrus & The Strokes at 11:29 p.m.
Saturday's Yield: Really? That's it? They're not even trying, are they. 0 minutes.

Sunday:

  • NBC: America's Next Great Restaurant at 8 p.m. and The Apprentice at 9 p.m.
  • CBS: The Amazing Race at 8 p.m. and CSI: Miami at 10 p.m.
  • Fox: The Simpsons at 8 p.m., Bob's Burgers at 8:30 p.m., Family Guy at 9 p.m. and The Cleveland Show at 9:30 p.m.
  • A&E: Breakout Kings at 10 p.m.
  • HBO: Big Love at 9 p.m.
  • Showtime: Californication at 9 p.m., and Shameless at 10 p.m.
  • History: Ax Men at 9 p.m.
  • Comedy Central: Daniel Tosh: Happy Thoughts at 9 p.m.
  • TLC: Cake Boss at 9 p.m., and Heavily Ever After at 10 & 10:30 p.m.
  • ESPN (720p) has Celtics/Bucks at 9 p.m.
  • ESPN2 (720p) has college basketball with Santa Clara/St. Mary's at 8 p.m. and San Francisco/Gonzaga at 10 p.m.
Sunday's Yield: 0 minutes.

Monday: 

  • NBC: The Event at 8 p.m. and Harry's Law at 10 p.m.
  • ABC: The Bachelor at 8 p.m.
  • Fox: House at 8 p.m. and The Chicago Code at 9 p.m.
  • CBS: Mad Love at 8:30 p.m.
  • ABC Family: Pretty Little Liars at 8 p.m. and the series finale of Greek at 9 p.m.
  • Syfy: Being Human at 9 p.m. and Stargate Universe at 10 p.m.
  • TLC: Cake Boss at 9 p.m., Outrageous Kid Parties at 9:30 p.m. and 19 Kids & Counting at 10 & 10:30 p.m.
  • BBC America: Top Gear at 9 p.m.
  • Comedy: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report
  • USA: WWE Raw at 9 p.m.
  • MTV: Skins at 10 p.m.
  • A&E: Heavy at 10 p.m.
  • ESPN: college basketball with Virginia Commonwealth/Old Dominion at 7 p.m. and Gonzaga/St. Mary's at 9 p.m.
  • ESPN2: college basketball with Saint Peters/Iona at 7 p.m. and College of Charleston/Wofford at 9 p.m.
Monday's Yield: 44 minutes.

Tuesday:
  • Fox: Glee at 8 p.m., Raising Hope at 9 p.m., and Traffic Light at 9:30 p.m.
  • NBC: The Biggest Loser at 8 p.m.
  • Comedy Central: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report and Onion SportsDome at 8 p.m. and Tosh.0 at 10 p.m
  • USA: White Collar at 10 p.m.
  • Discovery: Pitchmen at 7 p.m. and Dirty Jobs at 9 p.m., and American Treasures at 10 p.m.
  • ABC: V at 9 p.m. and Detroit 187 at 10 p.m.
  • History: Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy at 9 p.m. and Top Shot at 10 p.m.
  • FX: Lights Out at 10 p.m.
  • TNT: Southland at 10 p.m.
  • TLC: What Not to Wear at 9 p.m. and Tiniest Tween at 10 p.m.
  • ESPN: women's college basketball with Notre Dame/UCONN at 7 p.m. and men's basketball with Butler/Milwaukee at 9 p.m.
  • ESPN2: college basketball with Arkansas-Little Rock at 7 p.m. and Butler/Milwaukee at 9 p.m.
  • NBA: Trail Blazers/Heat at 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday's Yield: 88 minutes. I still watch Glee with Mrs Elliott, but the teenage dramas have gotten annoying. I don't think I would pay for that show. 

Crunching the Numbers 

This week I found 332 minutes of programming I would be willing to pay for. Not quite six hours.

That's just pathetic. That's two evenings of TV spread out over seven.

My half of the cable bill is $48.50/month, or about $11 per week.

COST PER MINUTE: 33 cents. I pay a buck for every three minutes of TV I find worth watching. Almost anything else would provide a better value.

Is the cable company to blame? No, not at all. They pay for these shows, they make them available, they service the customers. Cable companies have no say in the quality of the programming, they just deliver it into my house. I doubt anyone is getting rich, and they employ a fair number of people.

Who, then is to blame for this terrible value? The networks? The poor taste of the American public? Predatory capitalism? All of the above, for sure. But the real blame can be laid at my feet: like so many pimplewits, I signed up.

I would cheerfully shut off the TV portion of the cable (no complaints about BB's Internet service), rig an antenna to get the local news broadcasts, watch the good films on Netflix and be done with it.

But (a) there's this ridge between the house and the transmission towers so getting a signal with an antenna doesn't work (tried it), and (b) Mrs Elliott has her own ideas. Like I said, she finds plenty on TV to suit her.

Television: As Good as a Pot and a Lid, just a Lot More Expensive. 

===============
Footnotes.

1. Our cable bills shows that we are paying $53 for the Preferred Digital package, $16 for HBO, $15 for Showtime, and $13 for the set-top box, for a total for TV of $97/month. But wait—it gets better! Bend Broadband just sent out a mailer announcing that rates are going up in April. Not by a lot, but I bet that the quality of what is delivered into the house won't go up at all.

2. The set-top box (STB) is a Moxi, which we initially liked but have since grown tired of. Its glacially slow menuing system and 15 minute boot time are exhausting. The new Alpha STB, currently in beta test at Bend Broadband, is said to be miles better.

3. All listings are from hd.engadet.com, all are HD. I like HD, don't care to return to SD. Nor do I own a black and white TV or a console radio. 

9 comments:

  1. You watch a lot more TV than I do. Frankly I don't know why we pay for HBO at all. It's not worth it just for "Boardwalk Empire" and the occasional movie.

    Netflix has a better selection of movies, but not all are offered via streaming, which means waiting for a DVD to arrive in the mail.

    Oh, HBO had a pretty good play on the other night: "The Sunset Limited," by Cormac McCarthy, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel Jackson. Almost forgot about that.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Basketball is about as interesting as watching tall men running from one side of a gym to the other."

    That's because basketball IS tall men running from one side of a gym to the other. And now and then throwing a ball through a large ring mounted on a board.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Jack,
    I have a few thoughts. First isn't 11.00/332 minutes 3 cents a minute, not 33 cents? Second, what about all the other HD simulcast channels in that package that you didn't list - no good content on those (there are 56 HD channels in the Preferred pkg and all of the premium channels are available in HD)? Third - what about using the DVR to seek out content that is on during other times of the day and record it for viewing during prime time? And if you were to include an external hard drive this would provide plenty of storage for that with no recurring cost. Fourth - there is a TON of free video on demand you can access at any time. Sure the VOD menu is cumbersome but it's there to be discovered and all HBO on demand is in HD now (you noted you only watch HD but the quality of the SD VOD is very good too). While I could be labled as biased due to my employer being BendBroadband, I personally find cable TV to be a great value compared to other forms of entertainment. For example, skiing, at $70 a day runs about 20 cents a minute if I get in 6 hrs (not including gas to get to the mountain). Of course xcrounty is a better deal :-). You are correct that Netflix, is a better deal - but that's because they are essentially taking a lot of old content and repurposing it with a nice interface and better search. Also they are consuming enormous amount of Internet bandwidth without compensating anyone for that - this is going to come to a head in the future if usage continues to escalate - but that's a topic for another day. I'd like to see you get more bang for your buck from your cable subscription - but at 3 cents per minute or $1.80 per hour - when you look at what's involved it really is a good value IMHO.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous writes to say that,

    "First isn't 11.00/332 minutes 3 cents a minute, not 33 cents?"

    Maybe. Jack's not very good at arithmetic. My reader is encouraged to view my math with suspicion.

    "Second, what about all the other HD simulcast channels in that package that you didn't list - no good content on those[...]?"

    No, not really. Many of the programs are just the same thing time-shifted; and if I didn't list it, I wasn't interested in watching it.

    "Third - what about using the DVR to seek out content that is on during other times of the day and record it for viewing during prime time?"

    Seriously. Do we think that networks and premium channels don't already put their best on at prime time? I've been sick before. Sick enough to lie on the chesterfield, bemoan my condition, and dial around the channels during the day looking for any damn thing worth watching. The selection is crappier than in the evening. Same for the occasional bout of insomnia. Nothing on late at night, either. What hidden gems are you aware of that I might be missing?

    "And if you were to include an external hard drive this would provide plenty of storage for that with no recurring cost."

    We've got the stock HD the Moxi came with. Despite doing a lot of recording of even the vaguely promising shows, we've never come close to filling the thing.

    "Fourth - there is a TON of free video on demand you can access at any time."

    We've learned to stay away from Moxi's VOD menu. More often than not it locks up the box when scrolling through the selections. Only a hard reboot -- unplugging it from the wall -- unsticks it. Did I mention that it takes about 20 minutes for that underpowered POS to reboot?

    "While I could be labled as biased due to my employer being BendBroadband, I personally find cable TV to be a great value compared to other forms of entertainment."

    And please understand that I'm not slamming BB. BB doesn't create the programming.

    "You are correct that Netflix, is a better deal - but that's because they are essentially taking a lot of old content and repurposing it with a nice interface and better search."

    Whatever, I can queue films up before they are even released, and their library of discs is deep enough to satisfy me. Their VOD selection isn't as good, it's unclear whether the BB VOD selection is any better (see: Goddamn Moxi Locks Up and Takes Freakin' Forever To Reboot, above).

    "I'd like to see you get more bang for your buck from your cable subscription - but at 3 cents per minute or $1.80 per hour - when you look at what's involved it really is a good value IMHO."

    But it doesn't feel that way when I sit down to see what's on and find nothing. Oh sure, on Basic Cable I can kill a few minutes watching KTVZ's Ben Burkel make wildly inaccurate guesses about tomorrow's weather, and Jeopardy is good for 15 minutes or so. Glee manages to entertain once in a while, and NBC's Thursday night lineup can be pretty clever at times. Jon Stewart is always good.

    Over on the premium side of things, Bill Maher is about the only thing on. None of the shows I enjoy, such as Men of a Certain Age, The League, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Life and Times of Tim, Bored to Death, Dexter or Nurse Jackie are running.

    Judging by the huge number of shows aimed at morons, some people will watch damn near anything, but the selection of good stuff (IMO) is pretty sparse for anyone who has any standards.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Jack,

    "First isn't 11.00/332 minutes 3 cents a minute, not 33 cents?"

    Maybe. Jack's not very good at arithmetic. My reader is encouraged to view my math with suspicion.

    Response: I thought you had an engineering background and were a highly detailed type person. Me thinks you are joshing me here.

    "Second, what about all the other HD simulcast channels in that package that you didn't list - no good content on those[...]?"

    No, not really. Many of the programs are just the same thing time-shifted; and if I didn't list it, I wasn't interested in watching it.

    Response: What one likes to watch is a personal thing so I won't take you to task here. For example - I love courtroom and police dramas, so between Goodwife, Southland, Detroit and one other whose name is escaping me I can gather 4 hours of compelling, well scripted and well acted TV per week. If one's viewing preferences are very narrow, then it can be hard to find content.

    "Third - what about using the DVR to seek out content that is on during other times of the day and record it for viewing during prime time?"

    Seriously. Do we think that networks and premium channels don't already put their best on at prime time? I've been sick before. Sick enough to lie on the chesterfield, bemoan my condition, and dial around the channels during the day looking for any damn thing worth watching. The selection is crappier than in the evening. Same for the occasional bout of insomnia. Nothing on late at night, either. What hidden gems are you aware of that I might be missing?


    Response - I don't know what you do like to watch as the list is so small it doesn't really provide a good view - let's say you liked movies - you could review the movies on premium, TMC, AMC and other channels and record some to play during prime time. What the heck are you watching on netflix (Leave it to Beaver reruns perhaps - ok giving you a bad time here)

    "And if you were to include an external hard drive this would provide plenty of storage for that with no recurring cost."

    We've got the stock HD the Moxi came with. Despite doing a lot of recording of even the vaguely promising shows, we've never come close to filling the thing.

    "Fourth - there is a TON of free video on demand you can access at any time."

    We've learned to stay away from Moxi's VOD menu. More often than not it locks up the box when scrolling through the selections. Only a hard reboot -- unplugging it from the wall -- unsticks it. Did I mention that it takes about 20 minutes for that underpowered POS to reboot?

    Response: this is abnormal and should not occur. Have you used the (free) technical support? I have an MC3 Moxi and don't run into any such issues with VOD. Do you have MC1 or newer MC3? It's true that a reboot takes some time to fully reload the guide data but that should be a very rare event.

    ReplyDelete
  6. continued due to character limitation:

    "While I could be labled as biased due to my employer being BendBroadband, I personally find cable TV to be a great value compared to other forms of entertainment."

    And please understand that I'm not slamming BB. BB doesn't create the programming.

    "You are correct that Netflix, is a better deal - but that's because they are essentially taking a lot of old content and repurposing it with a nice interface and better search."

    Whatever, I can queue films up before they are even released, and their library of discs is deep enough to satisfy me. Their VOD selection isn't as good, it's unclear whether the BB VOD selection is any better (see: Goddamn Moxi Locks Up and Takes Freakin' Forever To Reboot, above).

    "I'd like to see you get more bang for your buck from your cable subscription - but at 3 cents per minute or $1.80 per hour - when you look at what's involved it really is a good value IMHO."

    But it doesn't feel that way when I sit down to see what's on and find nothing. Oh sure, on Basic Cable I can kill a few minutes watching KTVZ's Ben Burkel make wildly inaccurate guesses about tomorrow's weather, and Jeopardy is good for 15 minutes or so. Glee manages to entertain once in a while, and NBC's Thursday night lineup can be pretty clever at times. Jon Stewart is always good.

    Over on the premium side of things, Bill Maher is about the only thing on. None of the shows I enjoy, such as Men of a Certain Age, The League, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Life and Times of Tim, Bored to Death, Dexter or Nurse Jackie are running.

    Response: Perhaps you don't want to look at past episodes - but if you did, you could go to VOD.

    Judging by the huge number of shows aimed at morons, some people will watch damn near anything, but the selection of good stuff (IMO) is pretty sparse for anyone who has any standards.

    Response: I didn't see PBS on your list - that's a show geared toward the non-moron. Also HBO has some great documentaries on VOD (in HD). I agree there's plenty of xxxx on TV for a moron to gorge on - but there is an amasing amount of very well written, well acted content these days and it's there to be discovered! Please let us help you with the Moxi VOD situation.

    ReplyDelete
  7. PBS does have the occasional really good drama, though it irks me that we can't make good dramas here but have to buy them from the U.K.; but I find little else there to entertain me.

    Look, man, I appreciate your desire to help, but at age 61 I'm pretty capable of delving into listings and teasing out things I want to watch. As you say, if one has narrow interests, TV is not likely to satisfy them.

    AMC et al are very good for old movies, but I'm not much of an old movie guy. I can count on one hand the number of flicks I care to see more than once. That's what Netflix offers: about one new movie a week. The ones that were critically reviewed but never make it here, the foreign films, the quirky ones, the indies.

    Same goes for reruns and repeats of old TV shows. Not interested. For that matter, there aren't more than a dozen or so novels that satisfy me the second or third time through.

    We have access to VOD content via our Blu-Ray player and after desultorily browsing through the offerings, said "meh," and moved on.

    W/r/t solving the Moxi, I'd rather just wait for the alpha to be released. VOD isn't that important to me. A snappier menu system is.

    You have to understand -- this post was not intended to solicit help. I was just griping.

    BB's doing a fine job, American TV just sucks. Probably not any better elsewhere. If it wasn't for Mrs Elliott's considerably greater appetite for programs, the thing would be off most nights a week while I enjoyed reading.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks Jack. I appreciate that you weren't asking for help, but part of what makes the local dog different is listening and reaching out to customers who are a)experiencing problems or b)may not understand something or have a misperception about the service. We agree that programming taste is a personal matter and while fun to debate, isn't our focus or business.

    The fact is that Moxi had a very good concept with their Emmy award winning guide - but they were not a hardware company. So good UI, imperfect hardware and now it's 5 years old. Alpha takes the original Moxi UI to the next level and in HD and it's all new hardware, done by Arris. So we are expecting it to be done right. Their other gear is top notch. I'm getting Alpha installed next week.

    On VOD: Not sure what VOD you are referring to with the BlueRay player. I was hunting around the other day and found 3-4 excellent documenteries in HD on HBO - had no idea they were there - exploring can be fun. There's other things like guitar lessons too - it all depends on one's interest - I like checking around to see what's there and there's no cost outside of the pay per view movie section. You might also check out COTV's Talk of the Town on VOD. Interesting look at local issues with local folks involved. Currently up - a 2-part look at the school system.

    Thanks for the good word at the end. JF

    ReplyDelete

 
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