Cord Cutting 1: Bye, DISH Network

DISH Network and I go way back… It was 1997 (by my recollection) that I first signed-up for service; the company I worked for at the time counted Echostar (which started DISH) as one of its clients, and I seem to recall we got some deal to sign-up initially. Regardless, other than a few months along the way, I’ve been a customer since. No longer.

In this first of a series on “cord cutting,” I bid farewell to DISH, and my words for the company? Don’t let the screen door hit ya where the dog shoulda bit ya.

DISH may like to cast itself as the underdog, the company battling against all the bad practices of cable, the provider who’s looking out for the average Joe. Instead, I see DISH as as much a part of the entrenched, greedy incumbents as Comcast, or anyone else.

Like cable, DISH Network has gotten incrementally more and more expensive as time has gone on. I get it; the cable television programming landscape is increasingly difficult. All those networks that DISH wants to carry are owned largely by frenemies — companies like Discovery Communications, Disney, Viacom, AT&T, and Comcast — and even those are aren’t have their own monetization objectives and methods that compete in one way or another with what DISH wants to do. The networks extract more money from DISH, and DISH in turn extracts more money from its customers.

But the entire thing has gotten ridiculous. We do watch television in our house, but more and more of that viewing is going places like Netflix and Amazon Video. DISH is for local stations, FX, Food Network, HGTV… And that’s about it. But of course, you can’t just buy those, you have to buy an entire package of stuff you have no desire to have or watch.

Two years ago, when I got tired of paying nearly $150 a month for DISH, I took the time to look at their programming options, and determined we wouldn’t even notice if we downgraded to a smaller programming package at about $75 a month. Easy decision.

In the two years since, however, that price has slowly but surely edged back up over $100 a month. So much for DISH looking out for the average Joe. I didn’t really see the value of DISH at $75 a month, and I certainly don’t see the value of paying over $100.

But price isn’t the only issue.

DISH Network technology isn’t great (or even good)

Two years ago, we re-upped for another two year commitment to DISH and in exchange, we got upgraded hardware: a Hopper receiver with Sling. Sling supposedly enabled DISH Anywhere, the company’s app and service to allow you to watch your programming via the app anywhere you have internet access, and download programming to your device. Since I travel a fair amount, I thought it’d be a great way to take my television with me on airplanes, in hotel rooms, and the like. I was wrong.

First, to download anything to the device, it has to be converted to a format that’s app-compatible. That happens on the receiver, and it’s automatic — but it’s slow. Very, very, very slow.

Secondly, the app barely functions — and that’s been the case now for two years. It won’t connect to the receiver half the time. When it does, it often crashes — or functions simply don’t work; I was hoping to use the app to set-up DVR events because it was easier and faster than doing it on the receiver. Well, in theory, but in practice, it refused to work as often as it succeeded. The fact that the app looks like something from the iOS 4 or 5 days (or worse) doesn’t really help.

And frankly, all that pretty much describes the entirety of DISH’s customer-facing technology interfaces. The program guide on the receivers? Slow and clunky. Navigating the interface? Slow and clunky. Getting anything to come-up on one of the Joey auxiliary receivers? Slow and clunky — and crashes a lot, requiring a restart that takes nearly 10 minutes to complete.

Then there’s DVR playback that just stops working, or freezes, or displays black screens until you restart everything.

And did I mentioned it’s slow? Very, very, very slow.

DISH seems to have forgotten the world in which it lives, and the applications and services with which it competes. While I’m not a massive fan of Netflix’s UX either, it works, and it’s fast. Hulu has an interesting metaphor for navigating its content, and while I find it a little overwhelming, it works, and it’s fast. Amazon Video, like Netflix, seems designed more to serve Amazon’s own interests than the consumers’ interests, but it works, and it’s fast.

DISH? It barely works. And it’s slow. Very, very, very slow.

Back in December 2014, DISH made waves by integrating a Netflix app into the Hopper receivers, which we finally were able to try out in 2016 with the aforementioned receiver upgrade. The only problem? You guessed it: It’s very, very, very slow. Getting from a standing start (turning on the TV) to the point where you are actually viewing a show in your Netflix queue takes anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes on the most direct possible path. That is, in a word, unacceptable.

If you bring it all together, one has to wonder why one even bothers. For several months now, I’ve been threatening to pull the plug on DISH, and the only thing keeping me from it was the pesky two year commitment we made back in late 2016. But now that that contractual commitment is up, we’re done.

They tried so hard to keep me — but added to the irritation instead

When I called DISH customer service yesterday to cancel, I have to give the rep some credit for trying to keep us as a customer. But quite honestly, the repeated attempts to retain the account got fairly irritating after about the 5 minute mark.

First, he explained — get this — that as a customer, we accumulate “loyalty credits” each month that he’d be happy to apply to our account and bring the monthly bill to around the $65 a month mark, with no change in programming.

  • First, I have no way of knowing whether such a mechanism exists within DISH’s systems or not, but it seems like complete and utter B.S.
  • Second, if you have such a system, why do I have to threaten to disconnect service before I receive any value from it? DISH, how about you just apply the discount proactively — then let me know (loudly) about how much you’re doing for me as a customer, and how much you value our relationship? (Because your bottom line matters far more that any customer loyalty does, that’s why.)

Next, he offered a lower programming package for about half that price. The answer was no.

Next, he inquired as to whether there were any friends or family members “to whom he could transfer the account so they could take advantage of that loyalty discount.” No, I’m not going to go call all my friends and family members to ask if they want my service; I’m not sure I’d want to thrust two years’ worth of contract commitment for DISH Network onto my enemies, let alone my friends or family members. I wanted to ask the guy why I would do that and what’s in it for me, but I let it go.

After about 20 minutes on the phone, my DISH service was finally terminated.

So what’s replacing DISH?

This past weekend, I started putting-in the replacement for DISH services, but I’m not showing my cards just yet… Look for the next post in the Cord Cutting series soon, where I’ll cover the programming decision process.