I ran into a wall with yesterday's posting on econo-minded cable TV packages which eliminate pricey sports channels from ESPN.
In talking about Comcast's role, I wrote that the jock-free $30 Digital Economy package it offers in some communities is not available in "my Philly-hood" and even if it was, wouldn't be very user-friendly. 'Cause no pay-per-view or DVR functionality is available at that low. low price.
Turns out I was wrong and semi-wrong on these accounts.
Digital Economy is available here. And yes, you can make it interactive. But to turn on the video recorder lurking inside the set-top box, a subscriber must fork over an extra (and I believe excessive) $16.95 a month, bring the monthly bill (with taxes) to $50 plus.
So what were my sources of mis-information, an agitated Comcast PR guy wanted to know. Only Comcast itself. The side the public can access.
For starters, there was the phone sales rep who, after much searching on her terminal, assured me that there was no such thing as a Digital Economy package for my South Philly zip code and the cheapest TV deal I qualified for was $44.95 a month.
Not taking "no" for an answer, I then went fishing for information at the Comcast Xfinity web site, which likewise offered nothing about the $30 service, either on the home page or when I clicked on the tab to pull down programming options.
Only a Google search of"Xfinity" and "Digital Economy" finally brought up some (but not much) information about the bargain option and a bunch of other channel bundles Comcast offers hither and yon. (Not every market gets every deal.) Looking for morsels in the fine print, footnote #9 stated that "added features" (which I took to mean pay-per-view and DVR access) aren't available until a subscriber bumps up to the $44.95 enhanced basic service.
So why the obfuscation? Mixed messaging?
To this observer, it boils down to Comcast being a very large and complex operation, with a lack of thorough communications between departments and more than its fair share of opposing motivations at play.
On one shoulder of the mega-corp sits the "good child" who wants the public persona of Comcast to appear socially responsible and technically advanced, to win positive press, community good will and favorable actions by the federal government on small matters like how big and diversified the company can grow.
On the other shoulder sits the ruthless bean counter, whose mantra is "What will this cost us!? We've got to increase profits. Our shareholders are depending on us!"
So while I don't doubt it's true, as my Comcast PR contact assured me, that Digital Economy was in fact "promoted" for "a couple weeks" before Christmas, no commercial for the offering showed up on any prime time TV show I was watching. (Maybe because I don't subscribe to Comcast?) And today, judging by the company's website, Digital Economy isn't even a blip on the radar screen of the Comcast Xfinity marketing team.
MORE TEETH GRINDERS: While I've got your eyes, let me also share a couple other, recent cases in point which speak to the lack of full disclosure, consistent information sharing and conflicted goals at the Comcast tower.
This past summer, company engineers were anxious to showcase (and have me write about) their super spiffy new interactive cable- and web-mashing program guide and search engine. The thing is gorgeous. the operation magical, everything Google TV ought to be.
But after a bit of probing of my Comcast demonstrators, it came out that the guide is currently available to only a couple hundred test customers in Georgia. And it only works with higher powered cable boxes deployed in the last two years. So to roll out this wonderful product nationwide - or even just to a city or two - will cost the company billions in box replacements. Think those mean bean counters are ever gonna let that happen? Ask again in five or ten years.
Then there's the low-cost internet access service which Comcast introduced last year here and elsewhere. A worthy step in the pursuit of computer literacy and internet access for all, the $10 a month deal is available to any families with a student who qualifies for a free school lunch or other forms of public assistance. Comcast executive v.p David L. Cohen himself came to the newspaper office to trumpet the cause. When I asked, Cohen said the service operated at the same high upload and download speeds that regular customers buy for almost five times more. He also suggested that Comcast had arm-twisted major computer companies to sell it state-of the-art Windows 7 desktop computers at ridiculously low prices, so Comcast could then resell these PCs to its new student subscribers for a mere $150.
But Cohen apparently hadn't consulted with the bean boys about all this. When I did a bit of independent research - again, talking to Comcast sales reps and searching the website - it turned out the bargain internet service streams at a fraction of the bit rate of Comcast's standard price high speed. So there'll be no streaming of Web TV shows here, children. And as for those super deal $150 computers a student could buy? Turned out to be some leftover (or "refurbished") low cost and underpowered netbooks which the manufacturers were thrilled to be dumping on Comcast and its constituency.
I want to be a Comcast supporter, really I do. But when you guys talk out of both sides of your mouth, you sure don't make it easy.