I’ve written elsewhere what I think marketing is. Here’s what marketing isn’t, and why some companies give “marketing” a bad name.
Charter Cable (and I guess other cable companies around the US) have been moving to “all digital signals.” The core reason, which makes technical sense, is that every analog cable TV channel uses enough room on the cable for the equivalent of 4 digital channels.
So, moving to “all digital” makes sense. More channels, same space, higher quality. Wins for the company and wins for the customers.
However, that is not all that Charter and others have done. They lobbied the FCC to encrypt (scramble) the digital signals—even the ones for basic local channels like NBC, CBS, ABC, and FOX—so that folks who previously had no converter box on their flat screen TV would now have to do one of two things:
- Subscribe to an additional level of service that included an advanced set-top box (what most people do anyway, hence their “most people won’t have to do anything” message)
- Rent a smaller, “simpler”, “digital converter” box (really an addressable descrambler) and connect it to the flat screen TV, having to tune all stations from the converter box instead of from your TV.
What Charter et al would have you believe is that your TV is not capable of receiving the digital signal straight from the cable. In fact, all TV’s sold in almost the past decade and certainly anyone with a flat screen TV can receive the digital signals off the cable (or over the air for that matter) via the thing built into these sets called the QAM tuner. What they can’t do is descramble the digital signal that Charter et al is now sending over the cable, thanks to the FCC ruling.
Now, there are advantages to Charter et al for this new approach. There are essentially zero advantages to the consumer.
However, Charter’s constant messaging about how it is good for consumers is mailed, emailed, and shown on TV over and over and over. This is where marketing gets a bad rap. Charter is “spinning” their self-serving decision into a message that makes it look good for a customer, rather than updating products in a way that is beneficial to consumers that would make us want to spend more money.
Let’s review what is really happening:
Things that are good for everyone, and one basis for Charter’s messaging:
- Removing analog signals on the cable releases room so that there can be more digital HD stations and possibly serve higher Internet speeds on the same cable.
- Um, that’s it. And that can be accomplished WITHOUT encrypting (scrambling) basic tiers of TV stations. (I am not suggesting that they don’t scramble premium stations like HBO that you need to pay for).
Good just for Charter et al, but they don’t really want to tell you their change:
- Enables Charter to disable customers who haven’t subscribed to certain tiers of basic channels from seeing them on their flat screen TV via the tuner in their TV they already paid for (the QAM tuner). (OK, I understand this one. But Charter could prevent this in a slightly more expensive way by rolling a truck and disabling this at the telephone pole).
- Enables Charter to track what you are watching (like they can on an advanced converter box). Now they will have no customers watching their service without them being able to know, on a device-by-device basis, what you are tuned to at any time.
- Disables customers from using computer-based TV tuners (QAM tuner cards or devices with built-in QAM tuners) to watch TV. So, if you have a computer or DVR that can currently independently tune in digital TV signals, that now goes away.
- Enables Charter to have an additional revenue stream for “converter” device rental on a set-by-set basis. Yes, they offered some converters for free for a while, but that goes away.
- Enables Charter to “shut off” service immediately without rolling a truck. (Arguably an OK thing for non-payment, but this sort of encourages them to reduce grace periods for late payments with an immediate shut off.)
- Prevents secondary, non-main TV’s in your house (like a kitchen TV or workshop TV) that customers didn’t want a cable box for from being able to receive ANY signal unless they add and pay for an additional cable box.
The reality is that this effort to move to encrypted digital service is really done for the benefit of the cable companies, for the most part. And their brilliant “spin” in their marketing materials (it even sort of snowed the FCC) is exactly why many people think that “marketing” means “how can we spin a position that is really an advantage to us into a message that makes it look good for consumers?”
That’s not what marketing is. That’s what quasi-monopolies and overly-influential lobbying of regulators is.