TV Guide Weighs In

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I can't say I was surprised to "get the call." It didn't take long for Gemstar-TV Guide's Peter Boylan to track me down to talk about last week's column, in which I spelled out my beefs with his new, souped-up IPG.

In a nutshell, I had written about a confluence of bad luck: Our "DCT-1000" digital box went to heaven or hell-we all know where they belong-and was replaced at about the same time TV Guide rolled out "Release 15," its new IPG.

The new box probably locked up after I had pushed every imaginable button on the remote, rendering the IPG useless.

So I had praised Cablevision Systems for the great care it had taken in fixing the problem quickly and for finally giving me instructions for the IPG-something it, for whatever reason, did not send out to the system's 1,500 digital customers.

Now I think I know why the Cablevision folks didn't: They were told that the new guide works the same way as the old one.

You have to understand that this system is a bit of an anomaly: Cablevision inherited it from Tele-Communications Inc. several years ago, along with 1,500 Headend in the Sky customers. So Cablevision has the unenviable task of servicing a technology it will never roll out, but has to support until it deploys its Sony digital offering.

I also trashed TV Guide because I'm not the only one who never got new instructions for this initially baffling IPG. And these were cable executives, not cable MSOs, trying to negotiate their case in the pages of this newspaper.

Boylan understandably wanted to set the record straight, and we had a nice chat that I feel obliged to share. I do that out of fairness, but also because it's so symptomatic of the tricky customer-operator-vendor triangle.

Boylan gave me chapter and verse on how things work on his end. He told me how every time TV Guide issues a new release, it's done after much consumer research and input from operators about how to train CSRs and installers.

TV Guide's affiliate salespeople, he says, work up communications plans with individual systems prior to the launch of a new product.

TV Guide's affiliate salespeople have an arsenal of training materials for the very people-the CSRs and installers-who actually interact with the customers. Customers are supposed to get a videotape about the IPG, and they have presumably seen cross-channel promotional spots alerting them about the new guide.

I told Boylan that was indeed the case three years ago, when TCI first rolled out HITS and TV Guide's earlier IPG. How well I remember that install-it took hours back then. But we came out of it armed with a giant, colorful box of instructions. All was well then. In the three years that we had that IPG, there was never a glitch.

Fast-forward to now: When I asked him why that didn't happen this go round, for Release 15, he quietly said, "Some operators [like Cox Communications in his own backyard in Tulsa, Okla.] do it really well, and others don't."

Well, there's a lot of powerful truth in Boylan's quiet but pointed remark.

I really think Boylan gets it. Unless operators and vendors work together, instead of trying to outmaneuver one another in often-tricky negotiations, the customer is the one who really gets hurt.

And when the customer gets hurt, he doesn't whimper-he bolts for other options.

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