Thursday, October 8, 2009

Family Planning and DirecTV

Like a lot of folks, we’ve been trying to find ways to cut costs. Every so often I will comb through our family budget and try to find places where we can save a couple bucks here and there. Now that we’ve had our DirecTV service up and running for over a year we’ve lost the introductory discounts, so I figured that would be a good place to try to cut costs.

Man, has this been a disaster.

About a month ago, I called DirecTV and asked to drop to a lower tier. We have been in the “Choice Xtra” plan (what’s with DirecTV and the dropping of letters?) which boasts over 200 channels and carries a cost of $61 per month, before HD, DVR, etc. I decided that we would go with the “Family” plan, which carries only 50 channels or so for a price of just $30. Both carry local channels, so I figured that we’d at least have 2, 4, 5, 7, 25, etc and we’d be OK.

Well, let me tell you what DirecTV’s definition of family is.

According to DirecTV, families only watch kids’ shows, religion, and National Geographic. Essentially, the breakdown is 20 kids’ channels, 20 religious channels, a farm channel, a do-it-yourself channel, National Geographic, and three music channels, which only carry kids and religious music.

No news. Not CNN, MSNBC, Fox, Headline News...nothing. No sports. Not ESPN, Versus...they don’t even include the local sports networks like NESN and CSNE.

Apparently, families are all religious nuts who watch kids shows in the morning, preachin’ and prayin’ in the afternoon, and tips on how to raise cattle or fix a toilet in the evening. The moms and dads in these families don’t care about the news and don’t watch sports. Families don’t have teenagers, who might watch MTV.

In short, the typical DirecTV “family” is disturbed.

Now, I rationalized that I could do without the news channels because I get most of my news from the Internet, and I didn’t really need ESPN—if there is a big Monday Night Football game or something on I can go watch it with my brother. But I couldn’t do without seeing the Bruins and Red Sox, so I asked what it would cost to add NESN and CSNE back to the package. I was told that I’d need to buy the entire sports pack, which includes all regional sports networks from across the country. It’s an extra $13 per month.

OK, so now my cost is up to $43. But at least I can watch the Bs, Sox, and Celts when they’re on, as well as coaches’ shows from every East Tumbleweed State College across the country.

So...that part about watching the Red Sox? Last night, I realize that this family package doesn’t include TBS. This means that I won’t be able to watch Sox playoff games. My options are either to go to the aforementioned brother’s house—which means some late night driving since the first two games start at 9:30 each night—or watch it on some pirated Internet stream from ESPN South America or whoever it is that broadcasts these games in Spanish.

(By the way, this works better than you might realize. I watched much of the last Monday Night Football game this way, and while I heard the name “Favre” a lot, all of the other words were in Spanish so I didn’t get as disgusted about it as I would have if the game were in English).

Neither of those are good ideas, so I called DirecTV to go up to the “Choice” tier, which includes TBS (and 149 other channels) at a cost of $56 per month. I figure that I’ll keep it until the playoffs move off from TBS, and then go back to the “Family” package.

When I got off the phone, it was time for me to put Jackson to bed. So we went upstairs and Jackson took his vitamin, brushed his teeth, changed into his pajamas, and then climbed into Michelle’s and my bed to watch “Kipper.” It’s become part of our routine to watch a little episode of “Kipper” on PBS Sprout every night before I tuck him in. So he’s comfy, I turn on the TV and...nothing. Well, there has to be some mistake; I mean, I now have 150 channels, something must be wrong.

Jackson’s not too happy but he takes the news OK and heads off to bed. After I kiss him good night, I check the TV downstairs and still, no PBS Sprout. So I log on to find out if I made a mistake when I ordered and find out that...the Choice package does not include the kids’ channels! Some choice!

Finally, I think I have this straight.
  • If I am a religious nut with kids and no interest in anything other than the Bible and Barney the Dinosaur (wait, there aren’t dinosaurs in the Bible. Hmmm...), the “Family” package is for me.

  • If I am a lonely, childless adult, then the “Choice” package is for me.

  • But if I am like most every other damn American family who has a range of interests like news, sports, music, drama, and children’s programming, I’ve got to open up my wallet to pay a premium for 150 channels I’ll never watch so that me and my family can enjoy the handful that we do.

And even for all that, they are still a better deal than Comcast.
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