Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Boston, we have a problem.

What was supposed to be an unique television event -- the live broadcast by dawn's early light of the Red Sox season opener from Tokyo -- became a debacle for DirecTV this morning when a widespread outage affected thousands of unhappy customers, including this one. I got up at 6AM to find the screen "searching for signal" on both NESN and ESPN2.

After resetting the box, testing other channels, and, yes, making sure we paid our bill, a call to customer service yielded 15 minutes of bad hold music, followed by a terse response from a harried customer service rep: "It is a known issue. We are working on it." Super.

While trying to tune the game in on AM radio (is it just my imagination, or is AM radio reception worse these days?), we went poking around the Internet for news of the problem. We found the news had reached the Boston Globe's live game blogger, who posted news of the outage between game updates. These in-game blog entries typically never get comments, but within minutes, there were a dozen. A half hour later, 30 more "me-toos." Now, 218 comments from angry fans have piled up. The Globe's Erik Wilbur has also blogged on it, garnering 30 comments. Even ESPN's Buster Onley complained about it on-air, and he blogged it, too.

This is a PR nightmare for DirecTV.

Meanwhile, to their credit, the company hosts user forums on their web site. This is smart business on their part, allowing users to compare notes and troubleshoot without going off-site and without tying up technical support lines. But as you can see for yourself here, they're now hosting well over 100 company-hostile postings.

As of 11AM, with the game all over but the shouting, the problem was not resolved on my TV. Now, instead of getting a black screen with "searching for signal," you see a placard "No need to call us. We are aware this TV station is temporarily unavailable. We'll have this channel back as soon as possible. Sorry for the interruption."

DirecTV to Face the Wrath of Red Sox Nation

What's interesting now is how the satellite TV giant handles the fallout. To a die-hard fan, there is nothing they can do to fix it, because they can't give us back the experience we missed. The game will be re-aired at 2:30PM today, IF the technical difficulties are resolved. I've set my DVR to record it, but the content of the game is far less important than missing the event. I listened to the game on the radio; I know what happened, and I can read countless news accounts of the game's events. But the opportunity to watch it happen, live, is gone.

DirecTV's modus operandi is usually to issue partial credits in the event of an outage. But judging from the level of vitriol in some of these blog commentsI doubt that will be enough. Get the Blue Screen of Death enough times and you decide it's time for a Mac. A dissatisfied consumer's only recourse in this situation is simply to take their business elsewhere. (Umm, that's 1-800-COMCAST for those of you keeping score at home. Or 1-888-GET-FIOS to see if Verizon's new TV service is available in your area.)

1 comment:

sitboaf said...

i know it's the "wave of the future," but this is why satellite and wi/fi bugs me.
I want a wire physically connected to my house until companies figure out how to make this stuff work more reliably. Yes, I know traditional cable fails sometimes, too. It's a preference.
Also, AM radio always sounds like sh*t. I was very disappointed when the Sox failed to make that FM radio deal in the offseason, so I could actually hear more than 60% of the game while driving around.