Dear TiVo: It's not me, it's you

I've been a loyal TiVo customer since The Leprechauns first sent me one. Waaaaaay back in 2005 or so, a TiVo with a year's service prepaid arrived on my doorstep shortly before my birthday. The card was signed only, "The Leprechauns."

I was doing a lot more with CultureGeek back then, since it was part of my day job. When the column was canceled, I relaunched it independently. The upside was that I got to say "piece of shit" in my reviews. The downside was that I couldn't use work time for writing reviews anymore, which is why I go waaaaaay too long between posts. There are only so many hours in the day, and I spin too many plates as it is.

I always assumed the Leprechauns were friends who were fond of the column and wanted to assist me in finding stuff to review. I never wanted to know, frankly; some things should stay secret. It was immensely helpful in that regard, and I became a loyal TiVo customer - even converted my long-resistant dad to the world of DVRs.

Our latest TiVo was purchased on an installment plan when we moved into the house in March 2012. Service plus equipment installments was $19.99 per month. Two years later we'd paid off the TiVo, but I didn't notice that I was still paying $19.99 a month for our continued service.

Earlier this year, Charter informed us that our package deal was ending and we would see a one-third increase in our bill with reduced services. Seriously, they were going to charge us more and remove some of our channels. I tried to negotiate a new deal with them, but they wouldn't give me anything like the great come-on deals posted on their website. I decided I was done with being penalized for being a loyal customer, and we cut the cord.

With the assistance of an Apple TV and a digital antenna (total outlay: $120, or less than one month's Charter service), we ended our decades-long reliance on cable. We already subscribed to Netflix, and kept up with the shows we liked on Hulu. We're also Amazon Prime members, but except for Veronica Mars reruns, we haven't found a single show on Amazon that isn't available on the other two services. So for about $16 a month, we have access to everything we want and we aren't paying for 200 sports channels we'll never watch.

It made the TiVo pretty much useless, so I disconnected it and called TiVo to cancel our service. You know what happens next: the please-please-stay dance. I'd already survived this with Charter, though Charter didn't give me squat to stay - probably because I had to keep the internet service. I was perfectly satisfied with TiVo, but it just wasn't necessary in the new system.

But wait! TiVo Lady says. TiVo can be useful for streamers too! You can hook your antenna into the TiVo, and then it'll capture the shows on broadcast TV for you.

I wavered, but $20 a month was too much for a minor convenience. She countered: We'll drop your bill to $6.95 a month, and give you two free months to see if it's useful to you!

Okay, I gave in. So far the broadcast antenna was virtually useless; we were so accustomed to DVR-ing our entertainment that remembering to be at the television at the time a show actually ran was simply incomprehensible. Not only are we rarely home at the same time, but Boy was about six years old when we got the first TiVo, so he doesn't remember the trauma of racing home to catch Family Ties and missing the first five minutes. Ahem.

And there were a few shows - two or three - that were not available on Hulu or Amazon. We bought those shows via iTunes, but that was sometimes as much as $29.99. This could be a cost savings, yes?

Flaw in plan: I needed to find time to hook up the TiVo I'd already disconnected and figure out how to hook it into the antenna. It's not the most complicated setup - that honor belongs to the Film Professor, famous for his five-remote entertainment system - but since I am the tech support department for Donald-Smith-Gillentine Inc., I needed to sit down and figure out which cables went where.

Um. That sort of never happened. I kept meaning to do it, but the seasons were mostly over, we had moved into our summer binge-watching of old shows, and I've been running about like a madwoman since the new book premiered.

But they caught my attention, when billing resumed this month and they charged me $19.99.

I called again, this time determined to quit TiVo for good. The guy on the phone apologized profusely, and then asked a hilarious question: "If we were not able to set the rate at $6.95, what would be your intentions regarding your service?"

Hee hee hee. Oh boys, I play this game as well as you do, and thus is the point of this long, rambly and probably uninteresting account: always be willing to walk away. The only reasonable deals they ever give you are the ones when you're walking out the door. That is how I pay $16 a month for three year-round memberships to Six Flags, or less than the gate cost of a one-day pass.

I reaffirmed my intent to cancel service if the deal would not be honored. Thus he vanished into the Abyss of Holding, and came back with my $19.99 refunded, another month of free service, and the $6.95 monthly rate going forward.

So here we go again, and this month I swear I'm going to figure out how to put the TiVo back into the system and test it with the antenna. The super-suspicious part of me thinks that perhaps they did it on purpose, in the hopes that I wouldn't notice; after all, $19.99 is a pretty small amount for most people's budgets. But I am nothing if not cheap, and you would be too, with our salaries.

For the record, cutting the cord was one of the best decisions we've ever made. It's not just that we save more than $100 a month even with the streaming services added in. It's not just that we aren't paying for a gazillion channels we'll never use, including channels like TLC that we'd rather not subsidize.

We also choose what we watch differently. We might watch an episode or two of a new show, but if it doesn't grab us, we don't go on with it. We buy only what we want, and thus we choose more carefully. We are more likely to introduce Boy to classics from yesteryear like Star Trek: The Next Generation or M.A.S.H. (which is now his favorite TV show of all time) than to waste our precious few hours watching repetitive dreck just because it's there.

But TiVo, my old friend... shape up. Screw up again and I'll find a way to quit you.


  1. We will be cutting cable this fall, but only because I already paid for MLB network and they won't give me a refund if I cancel now. When we moved into our rental May 1, 2014, we got an "amazing deal" from Comcast (might as well be Charter, same difference!). On April 15th or so, I turned in two of our four cable boxes to get the price reduced (seriously, they charge $20 a box!) so I could get MLB. Then on May 2nd...WHAM...our monthly cable price went up by 45%. WTH?? I argued with them, but it didn't matter. they weren't going to give me any kind of deal. And we've been Comcast customers for more than four years. No such thing as loyalty in this business. So, I've reduced the channel load, which gets the bill lower, but still higher than it was when we had the "deal." I'm so fed up. Hubby has netflix, so by fall, I'll add a Roku box (no Apple for this house!) or two, get a rooftop antenna installed, and that will be that. Broadcast channels and Netflix will have to do it, and I can get MLB Premium (anywhere) that I can stream through computer or Roku. Add that to the soon-to-be-available municipal broadband that will give us gb service to the house for $50 a month forever (yes, I said FOREVER), we will be good to go and I can get rid of over $200 of Comcast and Centurylink bills. Cannot wait!!

  2. Longtime DirecTV customer that cut the cord. I built an HD antenna out of some electrical wire, a piece of wood, and some screws, though I only use it for special events like the Academy Awards. I'm fine with Netflix, Hulu, and HBO. Recently I had an extended stay outside the house due to illness and was stuck with cable TV. The time away made me realize what a cesspool it is. It's pretty much garbage punctuated by advertising screaming at the viewer. To think I used to pay $100 a month to be subjected to it.


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