ANYWHERE, BUT MOSTLY HERE —
This is not a review, but a contextual setup
and some behavioral observations about my relationship with a Dish Network
THIS IS THE CONTEXTUAL SETUP
It starts with a very persistent PR woman determined to have me review the
Dish Sling-Hopper “unbeatable whole-home HD DVR.” This is the set-top box
system that caused a stir at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas last
January, and that broadcasters are suing over in two federal courts. The
original Hopper set-top, introduced in early 2012, included an “Auto Hop”
feature that could be set to skip commercials in primetime, only on broadcast
Oddly, the very broadcast networks singled out for the attack on their
business model—as sooo
2010 as it may
be—have been cast as obstructionists, resistant to the “innovation” and change
inevitably triggered by the digitization of media, which they largely
innovated. Dish, meanwhile, is being held up as the white hat for creating a
set-top box surely destined to save mankind from itself by slashing the number
of fridge visitations while watching TV.
Admittedly, CBS execs didn’t help the broadcast rep when they kyboshed
“Best of CES” award
for the Sling-Hopper this year. It was a slo-mo lob over the plate for Gary
Shapiro, chief of the Consumer Electronics Association, CES organizer and
lobbyist for set-top box makers. He knocked it out of the park, defying CES protocol
the Sling-Hopper himself.
And so thus intensified the outcry against the broadcasters and the deification of
poor Dish, a megamillion dollar corporation run by Charlie Ergen, one of the
most ruthless folksy CEOs in business. (The other being John Malone. The
biggest all-time PPV cage match ever in my mind is John vs. Charlie, whose
shareholders are suing
him for buying fire sale LightSquared debt and peddling it to
Dish for millions in profit. What, they don’t like that? Charlie has needs.)
So as Dish and its Sling-Hopper became a poster technology for the greater good
of all consumers everywhere, I responded
with a soupç
on of snark as is my
wont when the manure approaches hip-wader threshold. I proposed that the
Sling-Hopper was about money, pure and simple. (There’s nothing either right or wrong about that as far as I’m concerned. It’s merely that portraying
a money play as a great kindness to humanity is, to me, an abundance of excretia, and McAdams On
has a fetish for calling out
scatological creativity. )
Dish needed a money play because, like all mature service providers, it no
longer will grow significantly through subscriber acquisition. It can only
poach disgruntled cable subscribers or add whiz-bangs and charge more them.
Props, then, to Dish, because while the Sling-Hopper doesn’t cure cancer, it is
a doozy of a whiz-bang. And thanks in
part to a goofy CBS exec, anyone who didn’t know about it before 2013 CES knew
about it afterward.
The whiz-bang effect is important because it’s a way to reel in new subs and
secure old ones. Cable’s done it by locking broadband and phone service to TV.
Satellite guys no-cando broadband and phone on their own, but they yes-cando TV
on every piece of electronics you own with access to apps. Dish has done so with
that near-perfect balance of complexity and intuitivity that hooks users like
At least it has with its Dish
Anywhere app for the iPad.
THIS PART IS ABOUT THE iPAD & ME: A
STORY OF LOVE AND NEUROPATHWAYS
I know this because of the aforementioned flack (a term reserved for PR folks I
greatly respect). Unable to get me to uproot Time Warner Cable from the small
enclave where I reside, she chased me to the ground to review a connected iPad. I can do so only from the singular perspective of my own media usage habits and
Since this was the first time I’ve had an iPad, I can’t attest unequivocally it
wasn’t the form factor itself that changed my viewing behavior. The same holds for content, because I had access to shows on the Dish iPad Anywhere app I
did not have readily on TV.
phase of “Dexter,” for example.
Dish sent the iPad loaded with Anywhere—cloud-based stuff that follows
you—and Transfer—stuff you’ve pulled off your set-top’s DVR to watch when the
cloud’s out of reach. I stuck with Anywhere because the preloaded Transfer
material did not interest me. Also, since I don’t have a Dish
subscription and the Hopper set-top, I couldn’t go digging around for something
I preferred. Nor was I able to skip commercials in primetime, broadcast TV shows. More
on that in a moment.
The Dish folks preloaded some shows on Anywhere and set future episodes for
“recording,” which actually means “cloud syncing.” Setting up recording is the
simplest operation of all. You touch the screen twice. Once to identify the
show and a second time to ID it for recording. Recorded shows appear as
thumbnails under “My DVR.”
I compiled very little in My DVR because the review iPad turns into a serving
tray after 30 days. Thirty days in a busy life goes
fast, and there was already a virtual lifetime of content available through any of four interfaces: Showcase, On-Demand and
Blockbuster, which resemble the Netflix interface; and the Guide, similar in appearance
to the rolling spreadsheet version on TV, but that you finger-swipe to scroll. These interfaces are the intuitivity of Dish Anywhere.
The Guide alone, at right, is enough for any sentient being to look at an infrared remote control a if it were an ancient relic. You whip through the Guide, touching once for a show summary as well as the choice to either watch or record. The
same thing on TV robs you of part of your life because you can’t set it to
The sheer volume of content available through the four interfaces is the previously
cited element of complication. It’s enough to keep you looking for some elusive
thing that you can’t identify but that you’ll know when you see—the media
equivalent of returning to the fridge again and again to see if cookies
materialized since you opened the door 10 minutes ago.
Neurologically, this behavior arises from, and reinforces, an overactive orbital cortex, which
when associated with cleanliness is considered OCD, but when associated with
media usage is deemed desirable. This is so because habitual, addictive media
usage assures user
loyalty and predictability. The same thing keeps pay TV subscribers who gripe
incessantly about the medium from cancelling. It’s called “addiction” from which there is “withdrawal.” And I
will go through withdrawal when I give up this iPad tomorrow, in part because it altered my
Now I certainly can take my laptop out to the pool and watch something under the
stars, but I seldom do. I connect it to the TV. I used
the iPad outside and in bed much more often, due in part to the form factor. It
doesn’t roast my lap, it’s less cumbersome and it has the touchscreen. I don’t
see how it could be easier to watch TV on this thing unless Lenny Kravitz came
over in his fur vest and held it in front of my face.
The single, most frustrating thing about Dish Anywhere was in the viewer. The
rewind and fast-forward functions are indistinct and random. You cannot tell
where they stop, so skipping commercials on basic cable
programs such as “Breaking Bad” is impractical. I would have skipped them if I could have,
which speaks to the convenience of Auto-Hop.
At the same time, I didn't not
“Breaking Bad” because I couldn’t skip commercials.
The fact that Auto-Hop targets only broadcast networks in their most lucrative
time period suggests it’s all about leverage in retransmission negotiations rather than some great technological innovation to better peoples’ lives. In fact, ad-skipping alone
is hardly an innovation at all. This Lifehacker article
tells you how to program a
skip-button on your remote for both broadcast and cable networks.
Even without ad-skipping, the Dish Anywhere iPad is a compelling play. Within
30 very busy days, my viewing moved from the 40-inch Bravia (most content in
SD) and the laptop to the iPad. It would take more than 30 days to determine
how the device would settle into my overall media usage habits. I suspect there
would be an interest plateau and decline as with any new media form, electronic
device, Barbie Doll or power tool. I definitely will miss it for a while. And while it was not enough for me to switch to a Dish subscription, it may be for someone selecting a new provider or at the breaking point with their current one.