Tuesday, April 23, 2013

TV killed the TV star

Warsaw. April 22. 23:45 CET. Game of Thrones, watched. Mad Men, watched. I wonder how the Boston Marathon bomber investigation is going. Let's check CNN…hmmm, that's weird. It used to be here…hmm, oh it changed channels. Wait, it says I don't have access to CNN anymore. Wtf?

That pretty much sums up the 'success' of the merger of Polish digital TV providers Cyfra+ and N, which launched their new joint platform nc+ on the first day of spring. 

Cyfra+ was second with 1.5 million customers and N was third with 1 million. Since mergers always 'reap synergies,' the companies' owners decided in 2012 to bed together to try to topple the market leader, Polsat Cyfrowy, which has some 3.6 million customers. Considering the recent launch and the fact the stage for the merger was set long ago, I might have imagined work on the actual merger would have made more progress. But I would have been wrong. 

On March 21, the first day of a spring that resembled rather the dead of winter (symbolic, I agree), nc+ launched to . . . outrage. Absolute freaking insane outrage. The new packages were widely deemed to be worse than either of the individual packages offered by the constituent companies. Better, the packages were more expensive. My calculations showed that if I wanted broadly the same channels as I had with just Cyfra+, I would have had to pay 62% more. 

The company also began unilaterally changing the contracts of some users and setting deadlines for transfer to the new merged network. Some of these customers sued the company at Poland's competition regulator and won.

Needless to say, the ranks of the pissed off mounted. One such launched his own Facebook page: Anty nc+, which to date has collected 94,405 likes. That is a lot of disgruntlement. 

Nc+'s managers were not immune to the fact they oversaw the worst TV launch in Poland's history. They quickly cut prices, offered promotions, and published apologies online and in the Polish press. 

But as you can see with the unilateral decision to drop CNN, everything is not kosher. Other channels I want are also not offered though they are advertised as being offered. I got a customer service response today that they don't guarantee the availability of any channel. Great. 

So, I started looking around at the competition. UPC Polska is one such provider. Let's see, how's there offer . . . wait, what? This isn't real competition? UPC Polska owns a 17% stake in nc+. So much for free market competition. 

It's all pretty funny in fact. If I were an MBA hack, I'd write a report entitled, "How TV Killed the TV Star." The main takeaway would be: why should I have my channel selection dictated to me by a company that really does not have my best viewing interests in mind or even know what these are? Why should I not be able to trade, say, 50 useless Italian and French channels (for me) for CNN? Why not indeed? 

In the end, the entire nc+ disaster could thus kill themselves. I know that I, for one, can't wait for the day when I can choose exactly what channels I want, pay a likely lower rate and get rid of the middleman altogether.

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