No Easy Decision: Choosing Between Pay-TV Services
By Peter Suciu
May 3, 2019 5:00 AM PT
Many consumers in recent years have opted to cut the cord -- that is, to
ditch cable or satellite TV and instead rely on over-the-top
(OTT) streaming services for their viewing pleasure. Price has been
one factor, but changing viewing habits has been another.
As a reporter who regularly covers pay-TV services of all varieties, I
actually went the opposite direction and for some time have had both
cable and satellite: Comcast Xfinity and Dish Network, to be specific.
It allowed me to relate to the fictional Michael Scott of TV's The
Office, who explained he had satellite TV and cable as a "back up." As
a matter of full disclosure, this was possible in my situation, as I was
on the review program for Dish while I paid a monthly bill to
Comcast for service that included my home office phone and Internet
access along with TV.
To say that it was the "best of both worlds" wasn't just my quoting
the proverb -- it was literally true in this case. I came to
appreciate everything great about both services while being largely
immune to either's downsides. However, to cite another proverb, all good
things come to end. My review time with Dish is ending.
After having had two services, going to one is not exactly easy.
The simplest solution would be to revert to my Xfinity for my cable
viewing, but there are simply too many things I've come to love about
Dish. The irresponsible part could have taken the lead of the
aforementioned TV doofus and kept both pay-TV services, but that would
mean a bill of nearly US$400 -- and that's not including Netflix,
Amazon and Hulu OTT services, which my wife and I also subscribe to at
the present time.
It probably doesn't require my full disclosure that we watch a lot of
TV. It is not something we're ashamed of or try to hide. We have our
favorite shows, and paying for these services is money well spent to
us -- but there is still a limit to what we're willing to and even can
afford to pay.
We had to decide which to keep.
Comcast as the Cable Provider
We've been regular subscribers to Comcast triple play, which
includes phone, Internet and cable, since 2010. In that time we've
largely accepted the issues with Comcast because there weren't many
alternative services. For a brief 24-hour period we ditched Comcast
for a Midwestern alternative service, WOW (Way Out West), but we found
that service to be even more lacking and decided to return to Comcast.
It was a case of the lesser of two evils.
At this point it seems pretty apparent that there aren't many reasons
why we would stick with Comcast. The bill is high and the service has
had its share of problems. However, the Internet is generally reliable
and the phone service is excellent -- and even allows for free calls to
The biggest problem with Comcast before we "upgraded" to its Xfinity
program was that it was difficult to stream content on the secondary
box in the den. In a three-year period, we had no fewer than a dozen
visits from Comcast to resolve the problem. It never was addressed fully, and in the end we simply opted to ditch the secondary box.
Worse still was that Comcast really allowed us to record only two
programs at once while watching a third on the DVR. That might sound
reasonable, but check out what is on each Sunday night! For us it was
a matter of recording programs at alternative times and juggling what
we watched first. For admitted TV junkies that simply wouldn't do --
nor should it.
Xfinity Marks the Spot
Then a couple of years ago we made the upgrade to Comcast's Xfinity
service, hoping it would improve the situation. It actually made
things worse. Recording programs was no easier, and trying to find
anything on demand required going through repeated layers that made
watching a program a frustrating affair.
Xfinity added voice support, but talking to the remote wasn't much of
an improvement. Whether using the voice functionality or the menus, it was anything
Fast-forwarding and rewinding during a program was equally annoying. When
trying to skip ahead -- say to avoid a commercial break -- we either could go at a slightly faster pace than normal viewing or sprint so far ahead we'd end up having to rewind.
In the end, we often found it was easier to watch the commercials. Perhaps
that was the point, as Comcast owns NBC Universal and its various
channels. Making it easy to skip those paid segments isn't good for
the bottom line now, is it?
Xfinity also never resolved the way the channels are
positioned. Standard-definition and high-definition channels are badly
intermixed, while local channels, basic and premium cable channels seem randomly placed as well. Even after years of having the
service, it was necessary to look up channels or programs.
That isn't ideal for channel surfing, to say the least.
Dishing on Dish
The case for Dish is much easier to make. The channels are nicely
grouped. Local TV channels are placed on the same
"number" as the over-the-air counterpart. Hence Fox2 is on channel 2
and NBC is on channel 4 just as it should be! The major basic
channels -- AMC, FX and History, etc. -- are grouped together, while the
same goes for the premium paid channels.
Better still, an on-demand channel is positioned with the respective
premium offerings -- such as Showtime and Starz -- and for some basic
channels, like the aforementioned FX and History. Click on these and
you quickly can pull up their on-demand content! Now that's
Fast forwarding is much easier with Dish as well. Three of the
major networks, including ABC, Fox and NBC, also offer auto hop
functionality, so you don't even need to skip the commercials --
the DVR does it for you! My wife and I also fell in love with the
prime time anytime feature with Dish. This automatically recorded the
prime time content on those three networks along with CBS. Sure, it
would be great if CW and PBS were included, but we're happy enough to
know that the majority of network shows record automatically.
That helped reduce the number of programs we had to remember to record
each week. The only downside was that at certain times a local affiliate
would preempt the network, but those occasions are far and few between, so it
was worth the tradeoff. For power viewers, Dish certainly has its
Another standout feature with Dish was the ability to stream content
while we traveled -- and on a trip to Vienna, we actually were able to
watch the programs recorded in our living rooms! It was literally the
best of both worlds for a vacation -- and yes, I'll admit I'm one of
those people who worry about missing my shows while I travel, even on
vacation. A vacation in my mind should be getting away from work and
stress, not the things in life I enjoy.
So thanks to the Sling technology with Dish, we could take in the
culture of Europe and watch our shows before going to sleep.
Now, in fairness, Xfinity has started to offer similar features for
remote viewing, and while we haven't tested in Europe we have used it
in the United States. In a head-to-head comparison, Dish performed
better in most situations. There were a few times that Xfinity seemed
to have an edge, but there are numerous factors to consider -- most
notably the quality of the WiFi signal in our hotels.
However, in most cases Dish edged out Xfinity when it came to
streaming our content.
Now Dish isn't perfect, and honestly no TV service is. Dish
is a satellite-based service, and we live in Michigan and get some bad
snowstorms as well as bad rain squalls in the spring and summer.
Satellite service largely has overcome weather issues -- but there is only so
much that can be done. Snow can accumulate on the dish, and that
requires going out to clear it.
Fortunately the literal dish isn't on the roof but is on a beam in the
garden in the back yard. That means I don't have to risk life or limb
to see my programs. (It would be worth the risk, btw, but it isn't a
pleasant way to start a cold morning with an ice storm!)
Another problem with Dish is that it doesn't offer Internet or
phone. The cost for the level of plan that we'd consider for our
viewing habits is on par with what Comcast offers for a triple play.
By picking Dish, we can expect to add $40 to $80 a month for phone and
Internet. As we work from home, having both phone and fast Internet is simply a requirement.
The biggest issue with Dish, however, is its feud with HBO, which has
been ongoing since the beginning of November and shows no sign of
being resolved. We understand why Dish's leadership is holding
its ground, and we stand with them -- but Game of Thrones is on, and
that's a huge favorite of ours!
The solution with Dish would be to get HBO Go and MAX Go, but that will
only add to our bottom line, and it means those are now streaming
services, not really cable channels. This means the cost of keeping
Dish could increase our bill for pay TV by nearly $100. That's not an
insignificant amount of money. For a couple of freelance writers, it
And We Chose�
In the end, it will be hard to stomach that extra $100. It is money
that could be spent to go out to dinner, to splurge on something else
or just to save for a rainy day.
However, dealing with Comcast Xfinity and its frustrations really
isn't worth the money we'd save. We could live with Comcast if it were
the only option in town. Maybe we'd be happy with it... if we hadn't
experienced Dish. The simple truth is we have, and we love Dish.
So if this means I need to write another story or two each month, to
work a little harder, then it is a fair tradeoff. Dish has become
something we truly enjoy. In fairness, it would be easier for me to
ditch Netflix or Hulu instead. With those services, we have to binge shows --
and truth be told, sometimes weeks go by without our engaging with
As someone who grew up with cable -- I even know the day of the year
when I was a child and we first became connected -- I've come to
appreciate what it offers. While I'm cutting the literal cable from
Comcast, I'll be keeping the cable that delivers Dish from the
I'll have to sign up for HBO Go as well, at least until Dish and
HBO resolve their differences, which I do hope happens soon. However,
I think we should all expect more fighting between content providers
and pay-TV services... but that's another issue.
Now the next decision is whether I bother keeping Comcast's phone and
Internet or opt to try out another service. In the end, I know this
isn't the best decision to make� but it is really the only one I can make.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.
Peter Suciu has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2012. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile phones, displays, streaming media, pay TV and autonomous vehicles. He has written and edited for numerous publications and websites, including Newsweek, Wired and FoxNews.com.