If Not For The NFL, DirecTV Would Be In Big Trouble

David Kiley

This is one of those blogs that is a little seat-of-the-pants. I recently moved back to Michigan to be a senior correspondent for BusinessWeek. Burt Helm is taking over as Marketing Editor, and will be contributing to this blog.

Being back in Michigan means that I needed to go from the cable TV and Net service I had in NJ to DirecTV. Why? I won't be without my New York Giants come the Fall. And Rupert Murdoch has wisely negotiated an exclusive deal with the NFL that means that I wouldn't be able to get the Giant games here via Comcast.

I had DirecTV two years ago when I last lived in Michigan. And I swore I'd never have it again. But here I am back.

DIRECTV has, according to its website, been rated #1 in customer satisfaction, "higher than cable or any other satellite company, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index." I'm looking into this rating system and rating entity, because I am baffled by this given the lousey service I have had from DirecTV in two rounds of service.

For all the criticism of cable TV service, let me just say that in two years with Comcast, I didn't have one complaint. The service was great, and I became a big fan of Comcast's On Demand service.

When I had DirecTV two years ago, the service never worked the way it was supposed to, and the outsourced installer who put it in actually said, "I don't have time to figure out what's wrong...you know, I don't work for DirecTV, I'm just an installer."

In the month or so I have had DirecTV, I have had to call the service number about ten or so times to straighten out various problems. The installer who connected the equipment, while I was at work, ran the cable across my living room floor and suggested that I stuff it under my wall-to-wall carpet. I had a stereo tech take it out and string it over the ceiling out of sight. It took him 30 minutes. It took the installer longer than that to do it wrong. That guy, as well as a second DirecTV tech who had been to the house to fix a problem suggested the original installer had been off his head when he did the work.

Last night I asked a service guy on the 800-number, who I could hardly understand, why the TiVo service was taping all kinds of stuff I didn't program, and he really couldn't tell me why it was happening or how I might keep it from continuing.

I heard morning radio show host Don Imus talking about DirecTV the other day, saying he had never had a problem with it. His partner, Charles, though said he got rid of it and would never go back because of what a hassle it was. I guess Charles isn't as big a football fan as I am.

And now I am back to my first point. Without the NFL exclusivity, no way would I ever consider the service. Comcast was cheaper, had better service and offered On Demand programming in a way that DirecTV doesn't.

So, here is an open letter to Comcast and the other other cable operators: Can't you band together and make the NFL an offer that bests Murdoch's to provide NFL games to your subscribers the next time the agreement comes up for renewal? If you did that, I predict, you would see your market shares go up in every market as people realize that, with expanding service from cable operators, satellite TV should go the way of Beta.