Conspiracy Against the SuperBowl...
January 30, 2008
Last week I raved (somewhat) about my new TV technology, the advanced new DirecTV DVR that although it sidelined my much-loved TiVo, it did afford me access to a whole new world of new HD channels. In addition, it promised other new features such as web-enabled remote programming (even from your cell phone), and a still-not-released DirecTV "On Demand" service alot like the one from Comcast, which is actually quite nice.

Much to my chagrin, however, I can't get the FOX network in HD. This Sunday being the Superbowl, I thought this would be a great opportunity to have friends over to watch the game, and marvel at its nearly life-like resolution. This is not to be, however. Here's what I learned:

DirecTV had a lot of problems negotiating with local network affiliates in order to offer the major broadcast networks to its subscribers. Until recently, if I wanted to get ABC over DirecTV, I had to ask DirecTV which would in turn ask the local ABC affiliate if was OK for them to provide me DirecTV content from some other ABC affiliate, typically a major west-coast market like Los Angeles. DirecTV can't possibly offer all of the local channels in HD, so they pick a few major players like LA or New York, and offer those as a proxy. The thinking is that most subscribers really want the major network primetime content, and not the local fare such as news and other hometown-produced crap (this application includes me).

As you can imagine, many local affiliates were opposed to this as they drive a substantial amount of their revenue from selling local ads to be viewed by local viewers. In my case, they may not like the idea of DirecTV showing me ABC programming from LA when I can get the local ABC for FREE over the air (or through Comcast, which pays for local programming). Ironically, however, all the networks in San Francisco granted DirecTV a waiver to provide me access to ABC, NBC and CBS based out of Los Angeles. If I want to watch San Francisco news, which I don't because local news is crap and the anchors are full of crap and everything they say is crap, I need to get that "over the air"-meaning, Rabbit Ears. The only network that didn't provide this waiver was the local FOX affiliate. So, I can tune my DirecTV tuner to the 80's (87 for ABC HD, 85 for CBS HD, etc.), but 89, FOX HD, comes back blank.

No worries, because my NEW DirecTV receiver and its NEW DirecTV service now offers local channels without the need for a network waiver. Trouble is, my building has not yet installed the NEW dish required to fully enable the NEW receiver and NEW service, so I can't yet get these NEW local stations.

OK, Plan C. I still have my old TiVo HD receiver, that has an integrated over-the-air tuner for combing HD satellite content from DirecTV with over-the-air digital broadcast content from local affiliates. This was added because at the time, 4 years ago, DirecTV wasn't sure the local affiliates would EVER be broadcast over satellite so they needed a plausible alternative to offer their customers. It would go something like this:

"Thanks for buying DirecTV. Now that we've installed a dish on your house and ran wires all over your home so you can get satellite TV as long as its not too rainy or too windy, you still need to go purchase and install an antennae to get local channels because the local stations won't call us back. Yeah, satellite TV!".

Turns out we implemented all of this in my building, and I was able to convince my old TiVo that I only wanted to use it as an over-the-air tuner. I scanned all the channels and was pleased to learn that I picked up 44 digital broadcast channels, about 15 of them in HD. However, FOX was none of them. Even though I'm in plain site of San Francisco's Sutro Tower, I can't pick up a FOX digital signal. All of this is both depressing and unsolvable by Sunday.

I talked to the DirecTV guy for a bit. He didn't seem too surprised or worried that a lot of DirecTV customers are unable to view the biggest TV event of the year. Ultimately, however, I may take his advice. This is an actual quote:

"I'm not sure if I'm supposed to say this, but you might have to go to a bar. " That's the smartest thing DirecTV has said all day.

tags: technology