OUTTAKES: A Dish? No Way! Uh, Maybe


"What do we need that for?"

That's how my wife replied -- rather acidly -- about ayear ago, when I mulled aloud over whether we should consider getting a dish.

Then along came BBC America, and now, the idea of a dishdoesn't seem so revolutionary in our household. And it confirmed my"over-the-brink" theory of why people switch out cable for DBS; subsequentrandom interviews with DBS subscribers cemented my thinking.

The theory is: A single catalyst pushes those over the edgewho either wouldn't think of buying a dish, or who are just toying with the idea.

My wife is something of an Anglophile, and we both love anEnglish drama called EastEnders. So her ears perked up when she heard thatDiscovery was peddling the BBC America service here. "They also have HamishMacBeth? Will we get that channel?"

"Well ... " I said, "one of the DBS serviceswill probably pick it up before Cablevision does."

"Then we've got to get a dish!" my wifesaid, practically running out the door to start pricing them.

BBC America was the catalyst that pushed my wife over thebrink. For me, it was the time that it took more than five minutes of watching a painfullyslow scroll to find out what time Austin Powers was playing on PPV. And having morePPV channels at $2.99 sounded better than returning videos late to the store.

We're still a cable family, but those who have madethe switch -- or who are considering it -- tell similar tales.

Jim, a Jones Intercable subscriber from Tucson, Ariz., sayshe and his Japanese wife would gladly fork over $30 per month to anyone who picks up theNHK network.

For my neighbor, Sal, DirecTv's NFL Sunday Ticket wasenough to push him over the edge. In fact, Sal was so impressed by the NFL package that hestopped stealing cable in order to pay for DBS.

Jay, who was shopping for WebTV at a New York electronicsstore, agreed with Sal, saying, "I would do it just for the football" -- if onlyhis wife would let him.

Jay's dilemma has a name for it in theconsumer-electronics business: the spouse-acceptance factor. The poor salesman spends anhour talking the husband into buying DBS for all of the sports, until his wife walks byand says, "Over my dead body."

That is, until DBS companies find the wives' holecard. So far, most cable programming is geared toward men -- especially DBS programming --so "spouse acceptance" is probably the cable operator's best friend.

Still, it didn't help TCI in Tulsa, Okla., where BillChapman recently switched to EchoStar's Dish Network after 15 years as apremium-cable subscriber.

Chapman was probably typical of most cable switch-outs."I was never a fan of theirs, switching channels all of the time," he said ofTCI.

Already on the fence, something pushed Bill over the brink.

"The thing that made me do it was the clarity of thepicture, the digital picture. That's what pushed me," he said.

What can cable do to get him back?

"I don't see anything that they have to offerme," he said.

So will the Grossmans defect? Probably not. There's nocertainty that BBC America will even get a DBS slot. As we reported a few weeks ago,it's not so easy anymore for a new cable network to get onto DBS.

The laws of supply and demand, which have helped cableoperators, did not expire when DBS launched. Now, increasingly channel-locked DBS serviceshave the upper hand with newbies like BBC America, and they are asking for launch fees.

But with Discovery's clout, BBC isn't in a badspot and, as my wife keeps pointing out, the network is airing triple-runs of up-to-date EastEndersepisodes.

Still, inertia is a powerful force, and there are twostrong reasons to remain with cable, even if a DBS service signs the BBC: Second-sethookups are expensive, and there's that whole local-broadcast-station issue.

Besides, to me, a dish is secondary: I'm still tryingto talk my wife into buying a 32-inch set.

"Picture-in-picture? What do we need thatfor?"