Saturday, March 27, 2010

Downgraded our cable due to copy protection

Alana and I just downgraded our cable TV service.

Last month, our cable box started acting up. The sound would break up on 4 channels, and the channels would pixellate. I used Comcast's online chat several times, but in the end they told me I had to replace the cable box. That's cool, electronics fail.

This morning I discovered that although I scheduled our DVD recorder to record Australian Grand Prix qualifying on Speed Channel, nothing recorded. The error message said that the program was copy protected.

The new cable box prevents us from recording channels above channel 120 or so on our DVD Recorder. Problem: I record Formula 1 on Speed because the races are at ungodly hours. Tonight's Australian Grand Prix is on at 1 am. Usually coverage starts at 6:30 am on Sundays. The Asian and Australian races are usually in the wee hours. Each season Fox runs several races (and butchers the time-shifted ones to fit in commercials), so there's only one race on Speed that is on live at a half decent time, the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Speed and BBC America are the only two channels we regularly watch on that tier (BBC America isn't copy protected, but Speed is, so not all the channels are considered worth protecting; for some reason, Speed is). There are others I'd watch from time to time, like IFC, if I remember to look down there for a show, and if it happens that there's something on at the time — this is the same issue I have with HBO.

So, my options:
  1. Watch the races live when I can.
  2. Pay extra money and get Comcast's DVR. (The offered it to us for $5 a month for 6 months, but then it bumps up to $16 a month).
  3. Drop the Preferred tier entirely and download the races.
  4. Stop watching F1 entirely, except for when Fox carries it. Given the snorefest that was Bahrain, this isn't much of a hardship.

Note that the FIA is woefully behind the times when it comes to access to F1 races. I can watch edited versions of the races a couple of days after the fact. Of course, to do that I have to go to the F1 site, which loudly proclaims the last race's winner. And you don't get to see the whole race. (In the case of Bahrain, that's not such a bad thing.) Oh, well. It was only my favourite sport.

I'm still deciding what to do, but we canceled the Preferred tier. We can watch Top Gear episodes online, which is about all we were watching BBC America for, anyway. The extra money can come in handy. Things are tight, though Alana is back to work (temporarily, for the Census Bureau). Reducing our bills by $16 a month helps.

So, by stupidly applying copy protection against someone paying legally for the channel — and who was only recording in order to time shift — they lost $16 a month and a viewer. Proof, again, that copy protection schemes mostly harm paying customers. Thanks for the "help", Comcast.

Oh, and the cable box is still messing up. So the replacement didn't even help, and I have to run it up there and get another replacement.


McBugBear said...

Toni Weisskopf from Baen summed up copy protection in the most succinct fashion I've ever read:

Well, part of the “secret” there is that we don’t pay for expensive DRM (“digital rights management”) schemes. I’ve never understood why we should add to our costs with the sole outcome that it’s harder for readers to buy and read the books we want to sell. On the contrary, I want to make it as easy as possible for my readers to find, purchase and read my books. That goal influences every publishing decision I make from our marketing to what typefaces we use.

Lux Mentis said...

I chose option 3. Excellent torrents provide .MKV files that are really great quality of the BBC's coverage, complete with all the pre-race stuff that is neat to watch.

I'd actually pay BBC for this coverage alone if there was a mechanism for that. I can't get this coverage in my local BBC option. It's one of the few things (add in Military Channel, History Channels, Discovery Channel, and Syfy) that I would watch. I'd also pay for rally racing or NASCAR, if there was a reasonable cost way to get just these things.

TV is still not about content consumption on the user's schedule and in the user's chosen interests, it is about 'take it or leave it' and 'buy the package or don't buy anything'.

So, instead, I DL the races or have a friend give me his PVR'd copies. Rogers or Bell don't get TV money from me. I get a few specials of interest off the doc or military channels via (blech) iTunes because where the option is available, I do want to pay for it.

The two cases where I believe in downloading are:

1) No one makes rights available in my country for the material

2) A company tries to use packaging of content with other content I don't want to force me to pay for things I do not want

When it comes to books, my one addenda case is:

3) I have the paper book but don't think I should have to pay the entire cover price again for the PDF, just a nominal format translation cost. I've already compensated the author!