Television Deathwatch: DirecTV's deceptive business practices

I got a thing in the mail saying that DirecTV was raising my bill again. They went out of their way to tell me that their costs for programming had gone up by 10%, but that they were doing me a big favor by only raising my rates by 4%! How "nice" of them.

I correctly interpreted that as, "It is time for you to reduce your programming package again." So I went through the list of all of the programs (including "suggestions") that my DirecTivo had recorded in the last 5-ish months and generated the list of channels that I actually watch things from. It turns out that the list is:

  • Multiple shows: 3 or 4 local network affiliates, HBO, SHO, FX, BBCA, SYFY, CN;
  • And at just one show each: AMC, TNT, USA, and COM.
    (And for CN, that's literally about 8 hours of programming per year that I watch: Venture Bros. and Robot Chicken.)

In other words, I receive 626 channels, and watch shows from about 14 of them ever.

So here's how evil DirecTV is:

  • The DirecTV web site lets you add programming packages online, but never, ever lets you delete one. If you click the "X" box next to any of them, it just tells you to call the 800 number and waste time in voice jail before talking to a human.

  • The lowest "basic cable"-like package listed on the web site is the "Choice Package" at $60/month. However, they have a smaller/cheaper package than that for $40/month that you can only get by talking to a human and asking. I don't know what it's called. It contains most of what I want but not BBCA, COM or SYFY. (So for now I decided to pay the extra $20 for the convenience of not having to torrent those, but I'm not convinced that was the right call.)

  • If you ever have to replace your receiver or replace your crypto card, they will begin charging you a $6/month "additional receiver" charge for the broken receiver that you just threw away with the card that is no longer active, until you notice and call them and ask them to stop. (Likewise, you can't take care of this from the web site. Adding? Sure. Deleting? Crazy talk.)

  • I want exactly one channel each of SHO and HBO. They'll only sell me the bundle of 16 each. I have a DVR and they play everything multiple times: I only need one, because it's just a feed. But really, that's just the same old game of only selling bundles so that they can pretend to the advertisers that there are people in the world who actually want to watch the 600+ other channels they glom on to the two dozen-ish channels that anyone actually gives a shit about. It's such an ancient, long-standing monopolist evil that it's hardly worth mentioning, but hey, it's still fucking evil. If they let people buy channels a la carte, we'd all be paying $10/month, or they'd have to admit that they actually charge you $60 for Game of Thrones even if you don't watch it.

And this is all for plain old SD. I see they've finally released an HD DirecTivo, made of 3-ish years old tech, but you can't buy it outright: there's some kind of monthly licensing fee in addition to the higher rates for an HD feed, so it looks really, really rapey.

A few months ago I tried the "just torrent everything" approach for a few weeks, just to see if it was yet feasible to use the Internet as my television, and it's not. I tried using Ted for a while, and it... almost worked, but it was still a huge pain in the ass and ended up being an extremely manual process compared to what a DVR does.



Tags: , , , , ,

75 Responses:

  1. Lloyd says:

    Not watching Game of Thrones? Is that like not watching House?

    (A tagger always pays his bills.)

    • LafinJack says:

      Why do people watch House?

      • yukbon says:

        for the same reason people eat canned pasta or boxed mac 'n' cheese: it's familiar. (plus they use big words and you get to watch hugh laurie say things out loud that you shouldn't)

        • Leonardo Herrera says:

          you get to watch hugh laurie say things out loud that you shouldn't

          That's good enough reason to me.

        • skreidle says:

          This, plus you learn about bizarre medical cases -- as every case in house is based on real medical history.

  2. Sick Beard says:

    You should give SickBeard a try, especially if you're willing to pay a small amount for usenet service (doesn't matter much what provider you choose). I think it also has some torrent support, but I never bothered. SickBeard + sabnzbd+ + usenet and 30 minutes or so setting it all up will get you exactly what you're looking for.

    • roy says:

      I've been using sickbeard, with torrents only and it works marginally well. It's designed for scraping usenet so i probably should pay for an account

      • roy says:

        just wanted to clarify, i believe sickbeard would fit the bill when used with a usenet account.

    • Jairus Khan says:

      Seconding this. Sickbeard + Sabnzbd is a magical autosubscribe to every TV show I ever want to watch.

    • Thirding this. SickBeard works amazingly well. Usenet has the added bonus that it's download-only, so in some countries it's actually not an illegal way of obtaining stuff.

  3. Otto says:

    In theory I could drop my TV sub. and torrent everything I care to watch. It is feasible when you use the various RSS feeds and uTorrent's subscription mechanism. Did it for a while. The setup is a bit painful, but it does work if you're selective about your feeds.

    Too lazy to bother though.

  4. ducksauz says:

    I'll second the Sickbeard + SABnzbd + Usenet setup. Sign up with an index site like newzbin or nzbmatrix and you've got all the indexing you need. I've been doing it for years and it works great. Occasionally there's a UK show that's missing episodes. When I want that I hit up, a private torrent site dedicated to UK tv. Oh yeah, everything I get off usenet is at least 720p H.264 MKV. Toss that SD DirectTV box in the garbage and give in.

  5. Out of curiosity, how many gaps are there in the iTunes video store (plus potentially Hulu plus I guess) that you can't fill except for cable/satellite/bittorrent? HBO is the obvious one, but I'm finding increasingly few others. (Obviously the DRM issue is annoying, but for ephemeral episodic stuff that I'm never going to want to archive, I'm hard-pressed to care.)

    • jwz says:

      I haven't tried personally, but everything I've read about the various per-episode stores (iTunes / Playstation / Netflix Instant / Hulu / Hulu 2, whatever else) says that they all play increasingly-more-common artificial-scarcity games like, "for popular shows, you can get the most recent two episodes, but only a week late, and you can't get anything from the previous season at all." I'm not interested in playing whack-a-mole with customer-hostile behavior like that.

      • Fair enough. I've found them to be less annoying about TV shows than movies in that regard, but it's entirely possible that the small number of shows I watch just haven't had their turn in the Stupidity Barrel yet.

      • Dan says:

        I just went through that with Hulu. In addition to charging you and still showing commercials, they limit availability to shows. We wanted to catch up on Castle, and saw that the previous season was on Hulu. We joined, but it was right at the beginning of the new season, and the *very next day* the previous season was removed. We also wanted to catch a Simpsons that was screwed up by a football game. Hulu has The Simpsons...but unless you're a DISH customer, you have to wait 8 days after the original broadcast.

        Don't get me started on NetFlix...

      • billb says:

        Not that you care, but you know that sites like Netflix and Hulu would probably love to show you all the current and old stuff now but the content owners make them put in restrictions, right?

        • Pavel says:

          And in what way does that excuse change our consumer experience?

          Just because something has a really good reason for sucking doesn't mean that it doesn't suck.

          • Rick C says:

            True, but it helps you focus the blame where it should be. Blaming Hulu because Fox forces them to limit what they can show you is like yelling at the cashier because you couldn't find the item you wanted.

          • billb says:

            It doesn't excuse or change anything, but it does further the conversation about who to yell at. If you yell at Hulu, they're only going to say "Not our fault. It's what the content providers allow." If you're lucky, they might pass your sentiment along to whoever owns the content. Who we should be talking to about our complaints of delays is the content providers.

            Not everyone appears to know this. Dan, above, clearly seems to be blaming Hulu for "limit[ing] availability to shows," for pulling a season of Castle after the next one started, and for running The Simpson's 8 days after original airing. He seems mad at Hulu. I think his anger is misdirected. Presumably his anger at Netflix is similarly at issue.

        • jwz says:

          "Hulu is a joint venture of NBCUniversal (Comcast/General Electric), Fox Entertainment Group (News Corp) and Disney-ABC Television Group (The Walt Disney Company),with funding by Providence Equity Partners, the owner of Newport Television." -- Hivemind.

          Therefore, saying "Hulu would love to..." is exactly saying, "This guy's left had would love to but he has to pretend that his right hand is saying no."

          • billb says:

            Shit. I always forget that. Mea culpa. You're totally right.

          • Nick Lamb says:

            It seems to me more like "The guy behind the counter would love to let you, but the guy who owns the store says no". Of course the guy behind the counter could just let you anyway, but then he is definitely going to lose his job.

            Hulu isn't just a brand of these companies, it's a joint enterprise, which mean the guy running Hulu on a day-to-day basis just runs Hulu. He doesn't control or have any significant influence over TV channels like NBC, Fox, etc. In the metaphor he is just the guy behind the counter. The board of directors for Hulu, who meet only occasionally and set broad strategy, and have the power to fire that guy, are responsible directly to (and are senior executives at) News Corp, Disney etc. They are the store owner.

            And indeed if you look in your financial pages, rather than the entertainment section, you'll find that Hulu's CEO (that's the guy behind the counter again) was indeed in conflict with the board for much of 2011.

            • gryazi says:

              Let us not forget that brief moment around its launch, when they actually advertised for it, and it almost looked like it was the start of something and wouldn't collapse into suck.

              I think there were a few months where it actually looked almost viable, and the content seemed to be increasing.

              Then the latest round of cable subscriber-fee disputes picked up (is there a sunspot cycle for these?), and I think the "backers" decided to "realize" their investment in it as carrot-and-stick. While the system as a whole is a complicated circlejerk that guarantees you manage to pay for 600 channels with nothing on but ads, the content companies have figured out how to charge the cable companies for the "popular" channels. Getting $1 a head per month for every cable subscriber in New York City (and the rest of the planet, likely) whether or not they even watch Fox has got to beat the hell out of actually fighting to get people to look at your content and foot the bandwidth bill to push your service across an Internet that never figured out multicast where the 'last mile' is now universally owned by companies in the subscription-TV business. (This is the only conceivable reason why even the broadcast networks make it a complete bullshit nightmare to try to watch them online for free, even if you'd just like the same stream you could get by throwing a FTA dish up in the backyard, or an antenna in well-served areas - the 'translators' beaming into the valley I was stuck in for much of the last decade were all shut down a decade earlier, so that stung.)

              I'm sure "We'll put more on Hulu until it becomes as popular and usable as YouTube!" / "We'll make Hulu suck even worse if you're nice to us!" comes up a lot in those negotiations, and whether or not it's a net zero with the fees paid back out to occupy a dozen channels with crap to raise the bar to entry for anyone else who wants to compete* (600 channels.. but they're all booked?) it still probably makes one individual division's balance sheet look really good, which keeps getting those managers their bonuses and promotions, so why rock that boat?

              *Ever stood there and read the ingredients in toothpaste, when there's an entire aisle filled with sixty different products from maybe 8 brands owned by 3 companies? Shampoo? Advil and Motrin - each in two different shapes, with the generics stocked in two different shapes and colors to compete with both? I'll give beverages and food a pass because they actually have potentially noticeable distinctions - though Coke and Pepsi were probably the first to realize there was money to be made this way - but commodity capitalism seems to be all about just occupying all the space on the shelf.

  6. Chad says:

    Which shows are you having trouble finding reliable torrents for? Most torrent clients support scraping RSS feeds these days, and many torrent sites support custom RSS feeds.

    • jwz says:

      "All of them." It mostly worked, but it was flaky and so took manual intervention. I'd say it worked about 80% of the time. The rest of the time, it'd miss something, or download something old, or I'd get it in Swedish audio and German subtitles.

      You know how much manual intervention Tivo requires? None.

      When it's 3am and I'm thinking, "Ok, I'm gonna zone out and watch some TV before bed", you know how much dicking around with RSS feeds I feel like doing? None.

      • Al says:

        Yeah but you pay for the dicking free experience and obviously they jack you.

      • I find the eztv rss feeds + utorrent + serviio for feeding to my tv works incredibly well.

        Also the plain old eztv site is good to browse when there's been nothing worth watching. No rss feed required for the odd one off.

  7. I guess I have to be That Guy who can't believe people pay this much for that shit. Netflix is fine for distracting myself when I need that, and I can free-ride on friend's TV when there is actually something interesting, which happens maybe a couple of times a year. Torrents are fine for the other stuff I either care about for feel compelled to pay attention to - queue it up, it is there when I get home.

    So this all cost $8/mo. on top of the connectivity I already have to have. and I sometimes wonder if I used Netflix enough to make it worth it.

    Now, granted, $100/mo. for the fucking iPhone is stupid. But you have to have a phone.

    • jwz says:

      You are in fact being That Guy, and you should stop.

      This would all be a lot cheaper even if I just bought boxes of shiny discs a year after the sell-by date, but then I'd be "that guy who doesn't know what anyone else is talking about." So I pay more to see it now. First-world problems.

    • Cow says:

      But going "you need to have a phone" and ending at "well, then that makes paying $100/mo to have the current shiny shiny okay" is the same as saying "I need to be caught up on shows X, Y, and Z" and ending at "thus I pay $100/mo for DirecTV".

      Which makes this post even more That Guy than average, because it even more ends up as "This thing I like is okay because I do it (even if I do an e-hipster-shrug), but this thing you like is shit because I don't."

  8. sherm says:

    The "lease fee" of which you speak is the same as the $6 or whatever they charge you for the amazing value-add of having a receiver activated. Whatever $number-ending-with-99 you have to pay to "buy" the thing also happens to be just paying them. You don't own anything. Also, any receiver activation, whether you own the box or not, renews a 24-month programming contract. They do not tell you this on the phone, even though they are required to.

    The new Tivo is crap, by all reports. What's your objection to their homegrown DVR again? If it was "it doesn't work," it does now. If it's some kind of specific Tivo thing, then why not the cable company? Surely they're not even more disreputable than Direct...

    • sherm says:

      ...and just to piss you off further, that "10% increase" is definitely all sports programming related. A huge amount of the rest of your bill also goes to pay for sports. People don't DVR sporting events and your average sports fan is easy to sell stupid shit to.

      • jwz says:

        You're right. That definitely does piss me off more. What's your reason for believing this? (Not that I doubt it, mind you.)

        • sherm says:

          It's pretty much impossible to find numbers since nobody wants you to know them. But look at what's happening in sports. College football conferences are getting obscene amounts of money from programmers - so are individual MLB teams (they do not negotiate a national deal like the NFL). A large part of the Comcast-Universal deal was Comcast's desire to go to full-on war with Disney over sports programming in the next 10 years.

          This isn't advertising money - this is your satellite bill. I can't find the quote online, but the Pac-12 commissioner talks about it constantly. Cable is still a multibillion dollar pool of money - commercial-skipping, Netflix and torrents threaten all of it except live sports.

          Another factor is that almost all of the corporate-owned local stations are giving up their "must carry" status and switching to negotiated carriage with the cable and satellite co's. Viewership numbers for advertising are no longer as important to them as getting a percentage of your bill.

        • Richard says:

          Very informative NYTimes article Paying a "Sports Tax," Even if You Don’t Watch (2011/12/16)

          Are you ready for some football?

          You are paying for it regardless.

          Although “sports” never shows up as a line item on a cable or satellite bill, American television subscribers pay, on average, about $100 a year for sports programming — no matter how many games they watch. A sizable portion goes to the National Football League, which dominates sports on television and which struck an extraordinary deal this week with the major networks — $27 billion over nine years — that most likely means the average cable bill will rise again soon.


          (Bonus: I get to be That Guy who says "I don't have a teevee, of course, but I read all about it on the intertubes".)

      • Elusis says:

        Yeah, I cancelled cable when I was unemployed a couple of years ago, but this is why I didn't pick it up again. I ran down the list of channels on the package that would give me the networks I actually watched and found out of 200 channels, there were over 20 religious channels, over 30 shopping channels, and over 30 sports channels. That's approaching 50% of the list that I will never, ever watch just by virtue of their basic programming model, and I couldn't choke it down any more. So I'm "that guy who doesn't know what people are talking about" because I wait for the DVDs to come out, or play whack-a-mole with the free version of Hulu. :-/

        • Adolf Osborne says:

          I simply don't discuss TV with others, and my family watches whatever shows up on Netflix (I could build a bigger antenna and pick up networks other than PBS, but I've been unimpressed with the broadcast world for a few years).

          But then, we're not socialites (or club owners) who perceive the need to be up-to-date on the latest TV fictions, so we're OK with that.

          I torrent a few things (unabridged BBC Top Gear, Daily Show, and Colbert), because I am either hopelessly addicted or because they cover current events (or both) but those aren't the topic here AFAICT. (And unabridged Top Gear isn't legally available in any form in the US without a lengthy wait.)

          • Elusis says:

            Yes, clearly only assholes feel the need to talk with others about TV shows they enjoy.

            • Adolf Osborne says:

              Yes, perhaps.

              Or perhaps only assholes care to talk about TV at all. (It is, after all, just television.)

      • And the flip side of this is that as someone who actually likes watching football, I would be willing to pay the NFL directly for high-quality streaming of games, but that is impossible to get without already being a DirecTV subscriber or something stupid like that.

        I can't wait for the cable/satellite era to end. We can all just pay for the shit we want to watch, directly to the people filming it, and everyone except the people currently making money by being middlemen will be happier.

    • jwz says:

      I don't have the numbers in front of me (because Adium still can't search) but when the HD DirecTivo was announced, I did the math and it's way more expensive.

      My objection is that a friend has one, and the UI makes me want to throw things. It sucks. The UI is categorically worse than the Tivo UI of a decade ago.

      At this point I might be better off switching to Comcast + a non-DirecTV Tivo, but that would involve some unpleasant recabling exercises down in the garage, plus forcing myself past the Fallacy of Sunk Cost, which is always difficult even if you know you're doing it.

      There was definitely a time when the picture quality and reliability from Comcast was significantly inferior to DirecTV, but that time is probably past, especially since DirecTV have been clearly ratcheting down the bitrate on their channels a couple times a a year.

      • sherm says:

        The UI looks better now.

        It should be the same programming cost + $10 "HD Access" (which you can refuse to pay for if you auto-pay your bill, and probably even if you don't) + $x DVR fee (that you probably already pay) + $y Tivo fee. That Tivo fee should be the only addition, unless you bought the "lifetime" Tivo service years ago in which case both DVR fees would be new.

        But yeah, their pricing keeps going significantly higher and their quality lower. Cable is still way more expensive though, at least in Comcast territory, and the multi-room-over-coax stuff that Direct has going now is fun.

      • I used to love love my DirecTiVo and TiVo in general. Mine died and I moved on. The latest UI and DVR models from DirecTV are quite usable and not as retarded as before. Even get Rotten Tomatoes ratings in the movie descriptions, actor cross references, etc. Suggest you find a friend with a HR24. It even plays Youtube. I think the only thing it lacks and the only thing besides the sound effects is the bayesian network ratings system.

        As far as monthly costs: I got my bill down from $155 to $96.49 by swapping accounts from my housemate to me and taking advantage of their year end special where I pledge 10,000 years of servitude for 12 month rate of $40 for the uber-non-sports package and free HD if I allow them to suck money, on demand, out of a credit card of my choosing.

        I suspect if you call up and speak with a retention specialist, you too can sell your soul for similar terms.


      • jono says:

        I have the new HD DirecTivo. Its UI is *exactly the same* as my old non-HD DirecTivo.

        • jwz says:

          By "What's your objection to their homegrown DVR" I assumed he was talking about DirecTV's non-Tivo DVR. The UI on that is crap, from what I've seen. Glad to hear that the HD DirecTivo works the same as the non-HD DirecTivo.

  9. Turtle Boughs says:

    Get Netflix and patience. And for the stuff that causes you such anxiety that you must must must watch it, the hassle of torrenting it will be worth it.

    • jwz says:

      You're not listening, dude. If my choices are A) "feel like I'm being robbed", B), "be a year out of date", or C) "manually dick around with it constantly", I'm gonna hold my nose and go with A. Your time-versus-money value assessment of these choices may well vary.

      • Turtle Boughs says:

        I commend you on your choice of (A).

        As an added bonus, you've also produced unbounded entertainment for yourself and others by posting on the topic in a pseudo-Socratic form where the main thesis is left to be inferred by your readers until snark overcomes and you give up the ghost with a multiple choice test which includes the answer key.

        Everyone wins!

        • DFB says:

          I thought this was a call to arms to organize for unbundling. I swear, jwz could easily get one of those White House petition things going.

      • JKT says:

        I've used the torrent method since 2009 solely for my TV show watching (being in the UK, all the shows are at least a few weeks, sometimes months, behind the US), and beyond a couple (literally, 2) hours when I upgraded Flexget and added the extended patches to rtorrent, it's been completely a hands-off setup (no fiddling, unless I add new shows to my watch-list) since then.

        The method: Flexget ( polls an RSS feed generated from (I can send you an invite if you'd like to try), downloads the torrents into a watch directory which is then automatically polled by rtorrent. Then, once the download is complete, it moves the downloaded file to somewhere else (I categorise by 'film' - goes into a general directory - 'television' - which has sub folders for each show.) so I know it's available for viewing.

        If you'd be interested in giving it a go, I'll email you the instructions on how I did it, including a sample flexget.cfg file which should get you started on downloading shows (excluding complete boxsets, German and HebSub ones.) automatically. TL is also blazingly fast...

        It's probably an hour or twos' effort, and then should be pain-free from then on out. Drop me a mail - j (at) jkt (dot) im if you'd like my set-up configuration.

        • er0ck says:

          second this. in linux i use flexget and deluge for zero maintenance. add in the xbmc set top box and it's as tv/movie watching should have been a decade ago. we pay for cable to get some money through to the producers and my GF enjoys channel surfing to this day...

  10. J. Peterson says:

    Funny, earlier today I pulled the plug on Comcast TV. Same deal, you must call the 800 number and tediously shout down the sales droid trying sell you even more stuff ("what part of 'cut $65 off my bill' do you not understand?"). The only TV I watch (Jon Stewart) is on the web now, and the kids can apparently get a sufficient fix from NetFlix, YouTube etc.

    Anybody want to buy a seven year old Tivo? Hey, it includes a lifetime subscription!

    • Rick C says:

      They probably all do that. When I had FIOS it was the same way--you can add stuff online but you can't remove anything without calling them.

      Only it was even worse, because we called them for something related to tv, and they said "oh, you guys are using 5Mbps internet? We don't even offer that any more; we'll upgrade you to 20Mbps for free." They raise the speeds but don't tell you and don't upgrade you without you calling. (By contrast, Time Warner, who I have now, raised their speeds and sent out both emails and snail mail about it.)

  11. MattyJ says:

    I went through a few cycles of DirecTV->Dish->DirecTV->Dish. They seem to know exactly what I want to watch then switch that one important channel to the highest tier. I finally had enough and bought a Roku and I love it.

    50% of what I watch is Hockey. Roku has NHL center ice.
    30% of what I watch is on Hulu Plus.
    I found out I almost never watch Netflix so I swapped that out for Amazon Prime (15%.)
    The last 5% was Food Network and those idiots don't stream anything, so screw them.

    What with having to purchase certain shows outright through Amazon, I'm still spending a maximum of $25 a month on TV. Almost everything I watch is in HD.

    As a bonus I've found lots of stuff (Criterion Collection, every SNL, ever) that is great for 'I'm bored, what's on?' times.

    The caveat, of course, is that I never watched HBO, Cinemax, etc. in the first place. Can't get those streaming anywhere unless you already have cable/satellite, which makes no sense.

    Boxee is intriguing because it apparently can stream off of regular websites. You potentially have more direct streaming choices. Roku has to have a channel/app for it.

    The main drawback is that certain things expire. Most things I want to watch come on the next day to Hulu. Other things (Louie) are a week behind. But a handful of things (Colbert and Stewart, namely) expire in 3 weeks. If you don't watch them in that time, they're gone. Most other regular stuff (Community, FOX cartoons) are there forever. It's especially awesome that Hulu+ has every episode of SNL ever, which is nice to browse every now and again.

    Sorry to be so long winded. I was skeptical about Roku but fell in love with it within a couple days. It won't work for everybody, depending on what you watch and what you want to give up, but once you link it to your Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, etc. accounts, it just sits there and gives you TV.

    I contemplated torrenting and whatnot, then I realized that I'm 40 and my leisure time is worth more to me than dicking around with that shit. Plus, all those types of solutions do not pass the wife test. Roku passes that test with flying colors.

  12. I went sickbeard, sabnzbd, and a paid usenet provider, and the service is 100% better than when I was paying ten times as much for a DVR. The kicker is that I have no objections to spending the full amount if the service was what I wanted. So, some shows don't show up for a few days, but others (especially the British stuff) show up right away. I think that I dick with it five minutes a week. I'd say that my dicking is about on par with using a DirecTiVo in 2002, and one million less dicks than a Comcast DVR. Cancelling cable service was incredibly satisfying. I think that the customer service representative cried a little.

  13. I'm all Mac, so I use Automatic (was free, now $10) as the RSS reader feeding to Transmission (free) from (a private site, about $10/year to use - invites available!). I use XBMC (free) on a Mac Mini for it all, controlled from my universal remote. No keyboards needed.

    I could invest more time to make it 100% automatic by having Transmission delete finished downloads after X amount of time because you need to seed to keep your download rates up, and also have it restart Transmission on a regular basis, but the 90% method has worked well enough for me. I get 720p HD shows about 1-2 hours after they air. I never run out of TV to watch.

    It's also really handy when you find a show you like and want the previous seasons - the site has full seasons as a single torrent in HD. Just finished a marathon of American Horror Story, for example.

    You are totally right that there isn't a nice TiVo-like interface over all this crap, probably because the nerds making these things are fine with the 90% like I am. Typical open source software.

  14. Q says:

    I kind of gave up on watching anything current, having to wait a week or whatever for a new episode in a regular series sucks, imho. I've gone to only watching completed series mostly, I think the only 'current' show I'm up on is Portlandia, but I just watch it straight off the website.

    When the future arrives and I can actually watch what I want, when I want from the current lineup, I might hook back in to current TV, but really, waiting in the checkout line at the local grocery store without any clue what the headlines on the tabloids are talking about isn't so bad.

  15. Josh says:

    Have you tried using ShowRSS? I use ShowRSS, Catch and Transmission and it works pretty much perfectly. New torrent files come in through catch (fed to it by showrss), transmission watches the directory and downloads them. Done and done! ShowRSS has a pretty good selection of torrent RSS feeds for shows you might care about too.

  16. Glen Raphael says:

    "If they let people buy channels a la carte, we'd all be paying $10/month, or they'd have to admit that they actually charge you $60 for Game of Thrones even if you don't watch it."

    Selling in "bundles" unambiguously makes the customers better off; if providers were forced to sell a la carte the average price per channel would skyrocket and lots of channels and shows that nerds love would simply be shut down. The thing is: selling you fewer channels on a piecemeal basis *doesn't save the cable company money* so they don't get savings from doing that which they can then pass on to you. So long as they're offering 60 channels to the world they have to pay for all of them, so they might as well offer most of them to you. Bundling a few "bads" with your "goods" makes the package cheaper for everyone, producing more consumer surplus.

    • MattyJ says:

      Wow! I never knew that the bundling of channels that people don't want and collusion between all the TV providers to keep prices artificially high and stifle competition was such a benefit to me! Thanks for explaining to me how the big cable and satellite providers have my personal interests in mind when they make their business decisions! I'm going to go subscribe to DirecTV, Dish and cable all at once because their business is so consumer friendly!

      • Glen Raphael says:

        Restrictions on competitiive entry are indeed bad for the consumer - we'd see more variety and lower prices and better service if, say, jwz were legally allowed to make his own cable channel and serve it up to his neighbors (wirelessly or by running a cable) for a fee. But no, "bundling" isn't like that.

        When you buy a newspaper, do you complain that you're not interested in the sports section or the classified ads, so they should be forced to sell you just the sections you want for a lower price?

        • jason marks says:

          ah, the old newspaper analogy.....

          putting aside the obvious differences (the "archaic" technology of print newspaper production and distribution creates significant opportunities for economies of scale through bundling that are not needed and don't exist for subscription TV), the analogy completely fails in that there's an artificial restraint of trade occurring in the subscription TV world. there are, in fact, unbundled newspaper products available for people who just want business news (WSJ, Barron's), sports (Sports Daily - don't know if this survived the internet), entertainment (Variety). these products co-exist with bundled-content newspapers and consumers get to pick which option or options give them the best value.

          in contrast, content providers have acted to keep the option of a la carte from being offered in the market by the TV subscription services. (yes, one thing that's often lost in these discussions is that Comcast, Dish, DirectTV, etc. are not the main bad guys here - it's the content providers who have a monopoly on unique and desirable shows and use that to obtain mandatory terms that force providers and customers to buy programming in bundles.)

          • MattyJ says:

            Glen, is the irony lost on you that I was able to click on that link and read exactly one article without buying an entire magazine full of other stuff I didn't want to read?

            I'd like the author of the article to explain this further:

            "In the past decade, media businesses, from music to newspapers, have suffered from the impact of unbundling."

            I find it hard to believe that either of those industries are suffering because of unbundling, to any degree. Old media has many other problems that are destroying them from within.

            I don't think iTunes has suffered by essentially offering every song as a single. Consumers seem to like this brand of unbundling.

      • Elusis says:

        "Just relax and let the hooks do their work."

  17. Gordo says:

    A vote for SickBeard & SABnzbd+, plus pyTivo.

    I have a Series 3 TiVo (HD) and use pyTiVo ( to load shows from SickBeard on it.

    Finally, I wrote a mod for SickBeard that automatically notifies pyTivo to transfer when a show is downloaded. (The mod currently waiting for it to be git pulled into the project:

    Combined with OTA HD, this setup works for me. Most of all, I still watch tv on the TiVo, from the couch and has run lights out for a few months.

    So there's that.

  18. Add my name to chorus of voices recommending a SABnzbd and SickBeard combo.

    I tried FlexGet + torrent feeds, but there was still too much manual intervention. I spent a few hours setting up SABnzbd and SickBeard on my media server this weekend, and my my my, now I know what "automated" feels like.

    All you need is an afternoon to spend on setup, and $10 p/m for an unlimited usenet account. Well worth it.

  19. wkrick says:

    I just went toe-to-toe with Time Warner Cable after moving into my new house. Their cheapest digital cable package is $82.49/month, plus you need to rent digital boxes for each TV at $11 a month. Screw that.

    I don't watch much TV, and I have two Series 1 TiVo (analog only) units with lifetime subscriptions that I'm not ready to part with, so all I really need is analog cable. I had to speak to three different salespeople before one finally admitted that they still offer analog basic cable packages even after I sent them links to their own online price listing that clearly listed analog cable "Broadcast TV" for $16.99 a month.

    The cool thing is that after they wired me up, when I hooked the cable up to my LCD TV, it's internal tuner picked up digital 1080i or 720p 16:9 versions of most of the major channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, PBS, etc...) and 480i 4:3 digital versions of the rest. For some reason, my other (older) LCD TV doesn't get a few of the channels that the newer one gets. I'm not sure why.

    I put a splitter on the cable before the TV and routed one line to my Series 1 TiVo, and the other to my LCD TV.

    I don't know how long TWC will offer analog service though. They made an announcement last year that they were going to eventually completely phase out analog similar to what Comcast has already done. But, heck, if I get a few years out of it before they completely phase it out, I'll be happy...

    $82.49 - $16.99 = $65.50 x 12 months = $786 per year saved.

    That's a non-trivial amount lot of cash.

    I also got 10 megabit cable broadband from them for $55.95/month so my total bill is $72.94/month plus taxes. I think I can live with that.

  20. skreidle says:

    And I was just recently thinking about switching from Comcast to DirecTV -- possibly more channels for less money, where "less money" is the important part, as I'm sure I watch no more than a dozen channels regularly -- ABC, NBC, Fox, Syfy, BBCA, Comedy Central, AMC, and History probably cover almost everything we watch regularly.

  21. Wibble says:

    I'll put in my 2c that Dish has been pretty good to me so far (almost two years). HD quality is good (at least on a 40" lcd), base price (120-channel package) hasn't changed (and has historically increased less than DTV).

    I got their 922 receiver, which has 2x HD tuners, an optional over-the-air tuner, 500GB of storage and you can add USB external hard drives (you can't record to EHDs, but can move as much over as you want for long-term storage). I've used their older tuner, 722 or whatever, and I can definitely say the 922 interface is -much- better. It also can, theoretically, if the stars align, stream live or dvr'ed HD content to a browser or mobile device, and you can also access a fair amount of content directly online depending on what channels you get. They had some hardware and software issues with the 922 when it first came out, but I've been lucky with mine (knock knock), and I believe everything's worked out now in general.

    I pay (after the promotional discount wore off) $65/mo, that's inc. DVR service fees and 'protection plan'. HD is 'free' as long as you sign up for the initial 2-yr contract. I do not have HBO, SHO, or BBCA. The only thing I think they're a little behind DTV in is multi-room HD, but I've gathered you only have one screen, so meh...?

  22. phuzz says:

    As a comparison, this is what I get in the UK.
    First, I have to pay for a TV license (yes, it's a pretty weird idea). For my £145 per year I get about 30 odd channels free, of which I might want to watch about 7-10. Also note that none of the BBC channels have any advertising (except for their own shows, and that only between programs).
    Plus we get iplayer, which is pretty much the equivalent of Hulu (I think), except only for BBC show. Also most of the major channels have their own online viewy thingies.
    I'd guess about 50% of the uk do the same, and the rest is split between cable (one provider, Virgin) and satellite (Sky), with maybe 1% on niche video on demand type services.
    Virgin and Sky both do the "we'll put the one channel you do want in with a bunch you don't so you have to buy the lot" type upselling. Nice to see we're not getting screwed just because it's a virtual monopoly over here.

  23. John M. says:

    jwz, how did you run the report that shows all the shows that you have recorded? Did you just look at the recording history and manually type it all in or is there a way to extract that data from the TiVo?

    • jwz says:

      If you have a hacked tivo with the TivoWebPlus web server on it, it's easy to get these lists. Otherwise, I guess you have to do it the hard way.