Philly viewers – Comcast/BTN warning

First of all, a disclaimer. Despite what some think, I have no inside information regarding either the Big Ten Network or Comcast. Anything that follows is simply my informed opinion gained from reading up on stuff that I’ve found on the internet.

This is my best guess – don’t consider it fact.

I’ve been doing some digging on the Big Ten Network and how it’s going to roll out in Philly and have stumbled upon a little tidbit that I think is going to jump up and bite a lot of folk – and the same issue will get others next spring.

First of all, Comcast and other cable companies for various reasons engage in all sort of promotional and marketing activities to get people to move off of analog cable to digital. One of those that they have been using in some areas is what they refer to as a “Digital Starter” package. It’s usually packaged with a sales pitch that says something like “move to digital TV service at no extra cost”.

What they tell you is that you will get ALL the channels that you are currently getting through a new digital cable box that will give you access to some digital services such as an digital online cable guide and to ON DEMAND, a service that provides a bunch of free and pay services such as pay-per-view movies. You might think of this as expanded basic PLUS digital cable box.

What Comcast isn’t exactly clear about in the sales pitch is that this offering doesn’t give you access to digital only channels, it only gets you to analog channels through a digital box (with one exception – you do get high def versions of your local HD channels). For most people this isn’t a big deal because they are only interested in the analog channels they can already see anyway. They can’t get all those 600 level music channels but who cares anyway. To them, it’s a no big deal.

I raise the question of whether it’s proper to call this a digital offering if you can’t get digital channels. I’m on the fence as to the answer to that because you can get some digital services.

Now here’s the gotcha. When the Big Ten Network rolls out in Philly, as advertised it will be offered in the digital tier only, it will not be offered as an analog channel. Guess what folks. I’m willing to bet a substantial number of people who have the Digital Starter package don’t understand that they don’t have access to digital channels and hence they will not have access to the Big Ten Network. There’s going to be a some pissed off people when August 15 rolls around and they won’t be able to watch the BTN.

Comcast is downright sneaky about the Digital Starter package. They don’t actually refer to it as one of their digital packages. For example, if you look up what it takes to receive the ON DEMAND service, you’ll find this:

To experience ON DEMAND, you must have a Digital Cable box, which is acquired by subscribing to one of our Comcast Digital Cable packages or to an Enhanced Cable or Digital Starter package (where available).

If Comcast considered their “Digital Starter” package to be “one of our Comcast Digital Cable packages” there would be no need to call it out separately. But I’ll bet Comcast’s customers consider it a Comcast Digital Cable package. That’s a little shady if you ask me.

The net of it is, if you are a Philly viewer you’d better double check what the package is that you have with Comcast before you conclude that you will be getting the BTN on August 15th.