The Trouble With iN Demand

I rarely find a reason to use my iN Demand service. I have a DVR. I make sure that any program I want to see is scheduled to record on that DVR. I use the DVR as a backup.If something were to go wrong with the trains, and instead of arriving home at 6:00 I was to be delayed until 9:00, the DVR would go ahead and record my show. I prefer watching the show as it airs. The DVR is for those occasions when more than one show I want to see are on at the same time, and neither will be repeated.

But the DVR is not infallible. If a show is time delayed because they were airing golf earlier that day, I may end up with only half a show. And occasionally the DVR will just go nuts, and for it's own reasons, not record a show I wanted. And then sometimes it was not the DVR's fault at all, but my local station pre-empting a show for some sort of local news coverage. The local sports team wins a tournament? Pre-emption to see the athletes dump campaign on each other. Possibility of a dangerous storm? Pre-emption to watch a reporter standing outside in the midst of it. But for whatever reason, when I go to watch a program I was sure I had recorded on the DVR, I find out it is not there. This is the reason, and the only reason, I go to the iN Demand channels. Let me make this clear. I only need to use iN Demand when I was unable to watch the show live, and then the DVR failed as a backup, and then the show was not scheduled to be repeated. That is only a few times a year I need to use the service. So how come at least three times each year I have to call my cable company to tell them that iN Demand is missing a show that is suppose to be on the service?

At LEAST three times a year. Lets say I want to catch an episode of 666 Park Avenue I missed on iN Demand. There is the list of 666 Park Avenue episodes right there on iN Demand. There is the episode from two weeks ago. There is last weeks episode. But no episode for this week. Since each episode is a chapter in an overall story, I decide to DVR the next episode, then wait until the missed episode is added to iN Demand, that way I can watch them in order. But a week passes, and the episode is never added. It is skipped. iN Demand will have episode #5, episode #6, and then episode #8. Episode #7 was never added. And since most shows on iN Demand are removed after a month, I now have three weeks to get my cable company to add the missing episode before the deadline. This happens about three times a year with my limited use of iN Demand. I can not imagine how many times it happens to someone who exclusively watches programs on iN Demand.

Now that I have a deadline to get that show added, I have to immediately call my cable company and alert them that the content is missing. Well, easier said than done. Here is what I end up going through. The employee at the cable company always tries to blame my cable box. The reason the show is missing is because something in my cable box must be broken. They will even claim that they took remote readings and found something wrong with my box. The only way to get the missing show is to fix the box, and the only way to do that is to send a repairman over, and the earliest date a repairman is available just happens to be a day after the deadline when iN Demand takes the show down. So even if my box was "fixed", it would be too late to see that episode of 666 Park Avenue.

I am not stupid. My cable company was hoping I was either a stupid customer, or not familiar enough with technology to know that I am being fed a load of horse s*it. If the box was really broken, then there should be NO episodes of 666 Park Avenue on iN Demand, and not just the one episode missing. But you try to explain this to the cable employee and he will continue to insist there is something wrong with that box. He will even suggest rebooting my box to try and fix the problem. So I humor him, unplug my box, then plug it back in. I waste five minutes watching the box reboot, then go to iN Demand where, guess what, the episode is still missing.

At this point I need to prove that the show is not on iN Demand, and not just absent from my house. I tell the guy that I have a second cable box, and the episode is missing from that one as well. "Then it is probably something wrong with the cable going into your house." is his response. "Oh yeah? Well I have a friend who said he also does not have that episode on iN Demand." I tell him. "Well, maybe something is wrong on your block." he suggests. "My friend lives a mile away on the other side of town." I tell him. "It is possible both you and your friend have the same thing wrong with your boxes" he says. "Lets cut the s*it. You have a television monitor right there in your office." I ask. "Yes I do sir." he says. "Well then, put iN Demand on and see for yourself." I say. "All the episodes seem to be here" he says. "If that is the case, then play episode #7. I'll be listening right here." I say. After a long pause the cable employee finally admits that episode #7 "seems to be missing from the system."

At this point the cable employee goes into his second phase of excuses. He blames the absence of the show on the network that provided it. If that episode of 666 Park Avenue is not on iN Demand, it is because ABC did not send it. "Sir, we are just the cable company. We do not make the shows. ABC does. If it is not on their iN Demand channel then they did not add it."

That is rarely true. There have been occasions where something was pulled from iN Demand for legal reasons. A talk show where a guest said something that turned out to be libelous, or a scripted show where some of the music was not legally cleared. But the pulled shows usually return after a few days edited, the offending section muted or cut out. As far as I know, networks have never skipped episodes in any of the series they make available for iN Demand. And considering most network series are continuing stories in a soap opera format, skipping an episode would be plain stupid. The networks use iN Demand to build viewership for their broadcast shows. Many times viewers discover a show on iN Demand, but do not begin watching it on broadcast television until their schedule permits. Popular ABC shows like Scandal and Revenge were mostly discovered on iN Demand or through ABC.com by viewers who did not watch the initial broadcasts. If they are hooking a viewer through iN Demand then they could loose them by skipping an episode. And then there are millions of viewers like me who use iN Demand to catch up on shows inadvertently missed. If a viewer misses an episode on broadcast and does not have computer access, they will need the iN Demand service to see that episode. If they miss it completely then there is a good chance they will simply abandon the show. In an age where the networks are trying to hold onto the few million viewers they are getting, iN Demand has become a vital tool.

And there are the commercials. Most programs on iN Demand disable the fast forward function, forcing you to watch the entire episode in real time. And along with that the commercials. Nielsen keeps tabs of the ratings for iN Demand programs, even episodes that are weeks old. And I understand iN Demand also supplies the networks real time data on which programs were watched. The sponsors who advertise on iN Demand pay depending on the viewership. A skipped episode means lower viewership, and lower revenues. In every instance where I called a network to ask them to add a missing show, I was informed that they were not the ones who skipped the episode. Each time I was told that the network had sent out the episode to all the cable companies with iN Demand. It should be there. They were never thrilled to hear that my cable company was claiming they were never sent the missing episode.

By the time of the 666 Park Avenue incident, I have already been through calling the networks and asking them to add missing content. So I simply tell the cable employee "I already called ABC and they said they sent you the show." It takes a while to convince my cable company that I know for a fact that the network did not skip this content. So now it is on to the final round of excuses. "Sir, there must have been a glitch in our system. As soon as we can contact our technical department, we will have one of our engineers try to fix the problem." I have been told that the system for uploading new content is so simple that high school interns could do it. For the missing content, it should be just as simple as having the cable companies server contact ABC's server, then point and click and the show is uploaded. All done from a computer terminal with a program that looks no different than your basic computer program. Less complicated than watching a video on YouTube. They should not need to contact technicians to fix the problem. This excuse gives them more time. Weeks could go by without the missing content added.

I get lucky with that 666 Park Avenue episode. Two weeks later, just days before the deadline, it is available on iN Demand. And it only took two rounds of phone calls. But other times I was not as lucky. many times it is the day of the deadline, and I am on the phone, frustrated with my cable company. I tell the cable employee on the phone this time that I had called about the missing content many times before, and that they had promised to get their technicians on it right away. And that there are only a few hours left before the show is suppose to be taken down. There are another round of excuses. Perhaps the two cable representatives I called prior told no one about the missing content, this new person suggests. Unbelievably, my cable company would rather let me believe that they have horrible customer service than that they would not or could not add the full iN Demand content. The final excuse, blame it on the employee answering the phone.

I am sure that they did not expect me to pursue this matter this far. But what is even more unbelievable, the person on the other end of the phone suggests I watch the missing show on the internet. Sure, most television shows are now available on Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and the networks own websites. But if I am still calling about the missing show the day of the deadline, that must mean that it has not yet been made available online. The iN Demand was suppose to be my last chance. And in this day and age where just about every television program is a continuing story with a major twist every few weeks, missing an episode is the equivalent of ripping an entire chapter out of a novel. Of coarse by this time I am very angry, not just at the prospect of missing the show, but being forced to go through that endless run around instead of being told up front "No, we did not add it, and we are not going to add it." The employee finally tells me that there is no time for their engineers to add the show before the deadline. "Sorry about that. To make it up to you, would you like a free weekend of HBO?" No, I don't want free HBO.

So why so much missing content? And why so much resistance by my cable company to get missing content added? This all goes back to how the iN Demand service works. And why most shows are taken down after a few weeks. I mean, wouldn't it make more sense to just keep adding new shows while leaving the old ones up? What if my friends convince me to try a show that has already been on for months? "Oh, you must watch Scandal" they say. Problem is that I can only watch the last four episodes, not catch up on the entire series. If networks can make money through advertisements on iN Demand, then why take shows down at all? The iN Demand library should be expanding as new content is added.

Lets put it this way. The computer you are now using to read this hub. How much storage space does it have? You do know there is a limit to how many files you can keep on this computer. A little something called memory, which is basically the available space on the rewritable disc that holds your temporary files, your operating system, and all your downloaded movies and music. You know you constantly have to transfer pictures, movies and music to backup discs, and run the Disc Cleanup program to get rid of all those unused temporary files. While your computer has a limit to it's memory, so does the computer at your cable company. It is called a server, a sort of super computer the size of a refrigerator that has about 2,000 times more memory than the average desktop computer. servers are expensive. And they take up a lot of room, which limits how many servers your cable company can stuff into that one room they set aside. This limits the amount of content for the different iN Demand channels that can be stored.

This is why older programs are taken down. To make room on the server for new episodes. The problem is, that iN Demand has become such a popular format, that the networks are all trying to add more and more content. Back before digital cable, when the best cable companies could only provide 95 channels on their analog systems, your cable company had to pick and choose which channels filled the 95 slots, and which did not. MTV and VH1 got on there, but probably not M2 or MuchMusic. There was room for Discovery, but probably not TLC. Room for AMC, but probably not TCM, and definitely no room for something like FX. You may not have been happy about some of the channels that were not available where you lived, but at least you understood why there was no room on the dial for them. With iN Demand cable companies are once again having the same problem. There are more iN Demand shows available than there is room for on their servers. But instead of being honest about it, and simply limiting the iN Demand channels available, they have begun a policy of rationing. This gives the illusion that every single iN Demand program is available, which is simply not true. Content is skipped. Sometimes randomly. But often programs the cable companies assume will not get that many viewers to begin with, and therefore hardly any complaints when they are not available.

The simple solution is more servers. But it is also the more costly solution. Your cable companies are already making the maximum amount of money possible from their iN Demand services. It was designed for pay subscription channels, a place to move those pay-per-view movies and rebroadcasts of live events. And for the porn. In those cases your cable company would have gotten a cut of the fee. But then it morphed into a service that the satellite companies could not provide, unlimited reruns of network shows. But the more servers your cable company adds, the more the expense to provide iN Demand services. Eventually they would be spending more to provide iN Demand then it pulls in. The advantage of iN Demand is that the technology is exclusive to cable. Competition from the phone companies and satellite cant offer it. But how long will cable customers put up with random missing content? How much will they put up with the runaround when they report content missing? And when Hulu gets around to offering current reruns of every single show, will iN Demand even be relevant? Hulu and other internet companies knew enough to invest in more than enough servers. They have the ability to store entire series, not just the past few episodes. And with more and more advances in technology, Hulu and other sites can now be put on most television screens. The advantage iN Demand once had is quickly slipping away.

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