| July 14, 2020
I was planning to cut the cord a year ago. My DirecTV bill was around $180 a month and they announced that they were going to raise the price another $10 a month. DirecTV Now (as it was then known) was around $50 a month. HBO was free with my AT&T unlimited phone plan. Showtime and Encore and Cinemax would add another $30 to my streaming plan. So what was I thinking, hanging on to DirecTV?
I was a happy DirecTV customer for about 20 years. I switched to DirecTV from cable when they added local channels. In Los Angeles, we were in that first wave. And I wanted Sunday Ticket, the NFL access program that meant I could watch my favorite team at home every week instead of going to sports bars at 10am on Sundays. In 1994, it was $139 a season. (Currently, Sunday Ticket is $289 and $389 if you want Red Zone or streaming.) I first signed up in 1997.
I installed those early DirecTV antennas with one wire coming down to my apartment myself (badly). As the service expanded with more valuable complications, the antennas changed and DirecTV installed them. I think I have had four or five over the years.
In the early days, the DVR was actually a TIVO. Then it was branded in-house. Then the box became a product that we leased, instead of owned. The boxes were the size of a small DVD player, one for each TV. I had external hard drives in my living room and bedroom to expand the amount of space on those DVRs (which would only ever work with the specific DVR it was set up with, so when those DVRs went bad, all the content was lost).
The internet brought home sharing, with the DVRs on a network. And soon, a central DVR with two terabytes of space that serviced all the TVs with only a small box (8′ by 5″) connected to each TV.
And of course, my relationship with DirecTV lived through the transition from square TVs to HD wide screen… then 1080… then 4K… and broad VOD. But one thing about DirecTV… they always demanded to be paid for all kinds of little things. My “Premier” package is $170. Add on $9 a month for a protection plan for the equipment I lease. $10 a month for the centralized DVR, plus $3 a month to use it and $7 each for added TVs. For my family, that’s $44 a month, or more than 25% added to the fee for Premier. At least they stopped charging for HD and local channels, which they did for years.
Last year, I was going to cut the cord and was offered a deal that took it down to under $100 a month. And I stayed. There are limitations, but basically, I have been happy with the service and have used it for a couple decades, through thick and thin.
Last week, I found out that $40 of that discount had expired. On top of that, I updated my AT&T wireless account for more data service freedom—I was one of the early “unlimited” wireless service customers who eventually found out that the service was not actually unlimited. Still irritates—and found out that the new wireless deals didn’t include HBO, for which I had been getting a monthly credit on my DirecTV bill. So that was another $13 hike coming up.
I called again. Again I was sent to a special operator. The bill this month was $173. They would cut it to $140. I said, “Turn it off.”
That’s a scary moment. The end of a relationship. I wouldn’t call it an abusive one, either. It was too expensive, but I got a lot out of it. Access and convenience.
For many years, I would do the math in my head and figure, “Okay… that’s $30 too much a month, but it’s only $360 a year and we waste so much money on nothing and we really use this and it works well for us, so… okay.” But two things changed in the last year or two for me.
We finally got fiber optic internet at the house and this means that I don’t have to worry about the quality of the streaming experience. There will be a day when something goes wrong and I will be irritated, but basically, our home internet access is close to perfect. Also, over these years, we had most of the nooks and crannies of the place – a 1908 building with a lot of cement that blocks signal – either hard-wired or connected via wi-fi extenders. This was a function of streaming services and videogaming that have been more and more hungry for consistent connections.
Here is a list of what is hooked up in our home:
3 hard-wired televisions
3 hard-wired Apple TVs (more on how we made that choice later)
1 hard-wired PS4
2 hard-wired DVD players
1 hard-wired tv sound box
2 hard-wired wi-fi extenders
1 hard-wired work computer
1 wifi-connected television
1 wifi-connected AppleTV
1 wifi-connected PS4
5 wifi-connected Alexa products
6 wifi-connected lamps
2 wi-fi connected iPads
3 wi-fi connected smart phones
1 wifi-connected Ring doorbell
And all the streaming on the TVs and sometimes, the portables.
That’s a lot to rely on when your wi-fi goes out every time it rains hard… even in Southern California, where it only rains occasionally.
Second, the small package streaming offerings became legitimate. Years ago, you may have read me raging against start-up companies that sought to sell streaming access to local stations by manipulating the rights of broadcasters. I consider that stealing – no matter how much broadcasters have taken advantage over the decades – and never wanted a part of that.
In the year since I originally considered cutting the cord, the small package streaming world has gotten less attractive, not more. The tech has improved in some cases. But the pricing has gotten worse, unless you are looking for the most limited packages. Playstation Vue, which my 2018 research would have made my #1 choice, has closed shop. DirecTV Now has devolved into AT&T TV Now. Prices have gone up, coming closer to echoing the cable packages. Obviously, if you want less content, you can pay less. But my family wants all the movie channels.
And so, we have cut the cord. The savings, as it all works out, are about $20 a month. Saving $240 a year isn’t bad… but against the expenditure of $1300+ a year for service, it already feels like we are back to, “maybe the same old thing is worth a little more money.”
This first few days have been interesting… but that conversation is for the next entry.
"We had a very good plan to put on the SHOW safely. But with an unending number of cases and the national chaos, even the best strategy is threatened by this out-of-control environment. No matter how much many of us wear our masks and observe social distancing, [circumstances have] worsened and the health and safety of you—our passholders, filmmakers, the people of Telluride and its surrounding areas—cannot be compromised. We have been working cooperatively with our fellow fall film festival partners to champion global cinema and its artists. We hope that many of you will seek out and discover the titles we’ve selected for this year’s program at the New York Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival or Venice Film Festival. We will announce soon what we have programmed in the hopes that you will experience as we did, the best in film this year. We understand that film festivals and their long-term health are not top of mind today. A safe vaccine, vital medical interventions for those sick and properly enforced health regulations are. However, we do ask that you take this moment to consider a world where gathering around a shared love of culture is no longer possible and what that means for the psychological condition of the world. If the prospect prompts a sense of despair, please advocate and champion the return of our gatherings that provide vital nourishment and oxygen to humanity's soul."
July 14, 2020
"After months of intense due diligence around physically holding an event, we’ve come to the heartbreaking but unanimous conclusion to cancel this year’s Labor Day celebration of film in Telluride."
July 14, 2020
Focus Features Takes U.S. Rights To Schrader's The Card Counter; Universal Pictures International In UK, France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Australian, New Zealand China, Japan, South Korea, Latin America and Airlines. Schrader: "The folks at Focus are the best at what they do. Over the years I've been jealous of directors in the Focus fold. Now happily I am one."
| July 14, 2020
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