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McAdams On: Candor in Marketing

BANDWAGON: There is but one thing behind the full frontal assault on broadcasting, and it has nothing to do what may or may not benefit “consumers.” The game is about money, pure and simple. To characterize it any other way is disingenuous, though not surprising. Candor is not exactly persuasive.
Say, for example, if Dish introduced its new Hopper set-top box in complete transparency...

Dear subscriber,
Look, there’s only so many ways we can squeeze more money out of you. We think you’ve caught onto the absolute uselessness of the whole 500-channel universe thing. I mean, who really wants to pay an extra $10 to see the Chihuahua Channel? And the novelty of having 15 channels of ballroom music wears off pretty quickly, doesn’t it. So we’re kind of stuck here with goading you into buying a new set-top box.

Ha ha. Just kidding. We’re not really going to sell it to you. That would be a tragic waste of incremental revenue. Check out the TV manufacturing industry if you don’t think selling updated hardware is a bad idea. Everybody buys a big flat-panel TV and... game over. Revenues tank like the Exxon Valdez on a reef. Then they’re all like, “3DTV! 3DTV!” And you’re all like, “what-ever.”

So we’re going to rent you a new set-top. We may even appear to upgrade yours for free, but you know better than that. Remember how, when you first signed up, we threw the whole enchilada at you with that insanely low monthly fee, and then three months in, when you couldn’t live without “Ancient Aliens,” we sent you a bill that gave you angina? That’s how we roll here at Big Pay TV, people.

Anyway.... we came up with this seriously redonkulus set-top box. We tried to, anyway. It was pretty much the same set-top box you have, but with more of the same stuff your old one does. We knew you weren’t going to get any further behind on the mortgage for a 2,000-hour hard drive. We don’t think you’re that stupid. And that audio feature that hushes loud stuff? We know your TV probably already does that. (Although Congress didn’t. They passed a law making broadcasters buy a bunch of new equipment to do it as well... Heh heh. Heh heh.)

We thought you’d like the “remote control locator” feature. Don’t know why we didn’t think of that for $5 a month before. But now we have, and we want you to become as dependent on it as you are on that little electronic trigger that unlocks your car door. Or crack, as the case may be. So we had to come up with something to make this set-top seem really, really out there, and it wasn’t going to be our yawn... “state-of-the-art user interface.”

So there we were, thinking about how to asperse broadcasters for making us to pay for their signals like cable networks do. Yes, we charge you an extra $120 a year for their high-definition signals that we compress down to YouTube definition for you. (What? Congress doesn’t need to know those HD signals really don’t take up more bandwidth on the system. What Congress doesn’t know doesn’t hurt us...) We charge you that premium because we can, not because of retransmission costs. You think cable nets don’t want more money for their HD signals? Get a life.

Yet we’ve convinced you that your pay TV bills are rising because of retrans deals with broadcasters. Sweeet. Let’s be real for a minute. Our revenues from adding incremental charges and post-introductory price hikes far outpaces what we’re putting out for retransmission, but if you thought your pay TV bill was going up to buy us Montecristos, well, shoot, that wouldn’t be good. You’d be all up in Congress’s face and there they’d be, having to pretend to do something about it. That’s exhausting. Who do you think those cigars are for, anyway?

Have you ever smoked one of those babies? We seriously hope not, because that’s cash out of our pocket, so to speak. If you did, you’d love what comes to mind—like a set-top box that skips commercials. With monthly extortion service charges for a “protection plan” that costs you more over the life of your contract than the $95 we threaten to charge you for house calls if you don’t opt in. Hey, we didn’t get to be Big Pay TV by playing nice. Then there are the incremental monthly charges for “DVR service,” and for “whole-room DVR service.” We laugh every time we bill those. You never so much as blink an eye.

And you may not actually skip commercials that often in the long run either. Everyone has to use the loo. But the idea is pretty fetching, isn’t it? We thought so, too. We also thought that just applying the feature to broadcast prime time was a stroke of genius. Of course broadcasters would sue us over that. We knew that. It’s right here in the roll-out playbook, right before the part where we put on a big-eyed innocent look and claim to be giving consumers what they want. And we get lobbyists to manipulate you into believing broadcasters are “depriving” you of the right to skip commercials.

WE LOVE IT! And we think you will, too. For a while. It’s a set-top box, not a personal robot servant. You’ll do the same thing with it you do with the set-top box you already have, because you’re a creature of habit. But we’ll have you tied into a two-year contract before you realize that, so just relax and enjoy our mad marketing skills. We do.

Your friend,