A new romance has entered my life — a slender, beautiful wisp of a thing. However, a little voice still nags at me about this new relationship. Call it a guy thing, but a commitment for an entire year provokes uneasiness that something better, sexier, more exciting beckons from just over the horizon.The relationship is with satellite provider DirecTV. Although the new one-year contract has started off well, I still fret over the same crisis facing other consumers: how to choose technology while cringing at the prospect of purchasing the equivalent of an eight-track cassette or paying $3,500 for a TV whose price plummets months later. There’s something overwhelming about having too many options and weighing too many techno changes. The rivalry among cablers, satellite services and now phone companies provides the option of money-saving packages. It would be easier to sort out, of course, if everyone weren’t so loudly insisting that they hold the key to the future, as corporate titans wrestle to control the super-bundle that maximizes the pipeline into the home. I was an Adelphia cable subscriber until DirecTV’s persistent invitations to “Come on down” gradually eroded the inertia that kept me tethered to cable lines. (Plus the fact that a friend found one of those “We’ll practically pay you to take us” discount offers, but I’d have gotten around to it eventually … I think.) As a bonus, DirecTV included, for just a few bucks more, a “dual-tuner Tivo,” which — by allowing me to record two channels simultaneously — functions as a social secretary, companion and personal valet. Technology races toward us like laser blasts in a “Star Wars” videogame. Despite watching television for a living, fear of such doodads (doodadophobia?) prevented me from becoming an early adopter of many of these modern marvels, and one can only imagine how terrifying they are to those with VCRs still blinking “12:00.” In the daily jostling, DirecTV has begun running ads targeted to Adelphia subscribers, pointing out that the cabler is being sold. To its credit, Adelphia continues fighting back with a multifaceted pitch under the slogan “Get. Watch. Do. What You Want.” (If memory serves, the Rigas family’s pursuit of that philosophy is what got the company into this mess.) Telephone companies, meanwhile, are inking programming deals as they join the competition to deliver high-speed DSL, cable, interactive services — basically everything short of Swedish massage — in one handy-dandy package on one lengthy bill. Speaking as a new subscriber, I find DirecTV has been reasonably impressive — beginning with the independent contractor who installed it. In a service-appointment first, the guy actually arrived before the scheduled two-hour hookup window, forcing me to greet him at the door having just exited the shower (cue porn music). Having the dish allows for receiving early feeds of several cable channels, meaning HBO’s “Deadwood” gallops in at 6 p.m. Pacific time each Sunday, as opposed to running opposite “Desperate Housewives.” On the down side, when rainstorms strafed L.A., the transmission went screwy for a while, something that never happened (due to weather, anyway) with cable. Yet even with all the jaw-dropping innovations that are here and promised, it’s worth maintaining healthy skepticism about the who, what, when and how of technology sweeping through living rooms. For starters, far from embracing the convenience of a single provider, many people like the idea of spreading these services around as opposed to putting all their eggs in one basket. This has certainly come to mind with my persnickety DSL connection courtesy of SBC, whose tech support appears determined to make customers feel like idiots whenever something goes wrong. Despite deep pockets, the telcos have also exhibited a weak stomach in the past when it comes to the show-business fray, which I’m not convinced they understand. After all, they cut and ran on Tele-TV and Americast in the 1990s, splashy programming ventures that disappeared faster than the Macarena. Finally, for all the dazzling benefits of TiVo and the reams of columns flogging it, DVR service hasn’t achieved the kind of ubiquitous penetration many expected. As a result, even the most bullish analysts seem to keep amending their “Everyone will have one by — oops, did we say 2006? Sorry, we meant 2009” forecasts. Those more fluent than I in tech talk tout the inevitability of revolution, though no one really knows which formula will be ascendant. That confusion will slow the process, because who wants to bank on receiving news and entertainment from broadband or a cell phone, only to discover they could have been saved the trouble by implanting that microchip directly into the base of their skulls? So, sure, it’s a wired world, but until it’s clear which puppeteers will be holding the strings, the picture is sorely lacking in high (or even low) definition. And at the risk of appearing fickle in my newfound ardor for DirecTV, like many in this maddening age, I can’t help but wonder if I’m missing out on that perfect love connection.
- Triptyk Studios, New York, New York
- Petrol Advertising, Burbank, California
- Bridgewater Associates, Westport, Connecticut
- Company Confidential, Aspen, Colorado
- Save the Children, Fairfield, Connecticut