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I Just Want to Watch TV — Really!

I just don't get it: video-on-demand, subscription VOD, Interactive television, and digital television — it's enough to make you blow a fuse. (I mean a digit.)

I can't keep up with all the new technology. I only watch television, I don't want to work too hard or interact with my television. I interact all day. TV is my drug, my faithful mindless companion that asks for nothing but to press three simple buttons — on/off, volume and channel.

I called my cable company to find out about my digital cable, to see what all the hype was about and to ask why my bill keeps going up.

"What is video-on-demand?" I asked. As the automatic response unit answered, I pressed one for English and two for "I'm a subscriber." After listening to 10 minutes of promos about the cable system's outstanding customer service, a human answered the phone.

"What is video-on-demand?" I asked.

"Oh, you need the customer-service line," they answered. "We're the sales-retention line. Let me transfer you."

After a few more promos about how valuable a customer I am, a human answered. The representative at the cable company didn't know what I was talking about so he had to transfer me to the "new technologies" call center.

Once there, I was put on hold and told about the great new world of broadband and VOD. "How about customer service-on-demand!" I screamed into the phone.

Finally a human answered: "Hello, may I help you?"

I asked about VOD, SVOD, digital cable, and what the heck I was getting and paying for.

"Video-on-demand is great," she said. "You can get top Hollywood movies whenever you want them."

"Great," I said, "but isn't that why I brought my premium channels?"

She responded: "Well, with premium channels you get premium entertainment but with video-on-demand, you get pay-per-view movies when you want them."

"I thought I already get pay-per-view movies when I want them now?" I asked.

"Well, not really," she said. "You only get certain movies at specific times which are near video-on-demand, but with VOD, you can get all the movies anytime you want them."

"All the movies?" I asked. "How about a new movie, like Spider-Man, or a classic, like Casablanca? Can I get them too?"

"Well, not quite," she explained. "You can only get any movie that is on PPV anytime you want it."

"But wait, I already have PPV," I replied. "I thought video-on-demand meant I can get any movie I want anytime I want it?"

"No," she answered," Not any movie, only the movies you already get on PPV."

"Why doesn't VOD give me all the movies I want," I asked?

"Because all the movies are not in the window for VOD," she responded.

"But if the window for VOD and PPV is the same, what's the difference?" I asked.

"You can stop the movie, pause it and rewind it on VOD, unlike PPV," she responded. "Plus, you don't have to wait until the movie starts, you can order it to start anytime you want," she said calmly.

"So, VOD is not really video-on-demand with any movie any time I want. It's only PPV movies on demand," I clarified. "PPV movies, which I can stop, pause or start anytime I want! Why not call it 'Stop, pause and start video on PPV?' " I asked.

The phone was silent for a moment.

"Would you like to add Showtime?" she asked?

"What is SVOD?" I continued.

"SVOD is movies anytime you want them. You can rewind them, pause them and fast forward them too," she answered.

"Wait, isn't that video-on-demand?" I inquired, totally confused.

"Yes it is, but with SVOD, you pay one low monthly fee and get a package of movies and specials every month," she responded.

"But wait, isn't that what my 10 screens of HBO are about?" I asked.

"Well, not exactly," she said, "You get great Hollywood movies and specials, but only when HBO wants to show them to you, not anytime you want to see them."

"Hold on," I said, as my brain fried. "I got HBO to see Hollywood hits and specials at my convenience. Then, I got 10 channels of HBO to really get top hits and specials when I wanted to see them. But now, those reasons don't hold water so I have to get HBO on SVOD to really, really get the top Hollywood hits anytime I want them?"

"OK, with HBO on SVOD will I get all the premium movies anytime I want them," I asked as I turned up my respirator.

"Well, not exactly," said the CSR. "You get only the movies on HBO anytime you want them."

"What if the movies I want are not on HBO?" I inquired?

"Well, we can add Showtime or Starz Encore to your package for you if you would like," she explained.

"What is interactive TV?" I asked with much trepidation.

"It's the hottest new thing and it will make your life easier," the CSR said. "You can interact with your television!"

"I already can change the channels, turn up and down the volume and turn it on and off … what else do I want to do to interact with my television, I asked?"

"You will now be able to order pizza when you order a PPV movie," she said with glee! I didn't have the heart to mention that I already had the pizza parlor on my speed dial on my telephone.

"Hey — why don't you call that pizza-per-view?" I said, feeling clever.

"Would you like to add The Movie Channel?" my cable representative asked?

What's up with multiplex channels? I have 10 channels of HBO; I can add 10 channels of Showtime and 14 channels of Starz Encore? Why do I need so many?

"So there is always a movie when you want it," she said.

"But isn't that pay-per-view?" I asked. "Or is that VOD, or is that SVOD?" I was at my wit's end.

"You've been very helpful," I said to the CSR. "Are you from around here?"

"No, I'm in Colorado at a call center," she said.

"Colorado? But I'm in California," I said. "I thought you offered local service?"

"We offer local repair service, but not local customer service," she replied.

"Would you like to add another outlet?" she added.

Now, I'm beginning to lose it.

"OK, one final question. I'm purchasing a digital television … Should my picture get better with the digital cable?"

"No," she said, "It won't improve your digital television picture."

"Why not?" I asked in amazement.

"You see, although you have digital cable, it really isn't digital cable. The signal is delivered digitally to our headend and sent out to you digitally. When it gets to your home, your set top box converts it to analog to play on your set," she responded.

"What?!" I said in a state of confused shock, "Digital cable really isn't digital cable, video-on-demand really isn't any video-on-demand, your local service isn't really local, interactive television is really pizza-per-view … I think I'm going mad."

I began to mumble to myself. It isn't supposed to be so hard. I need to figure it all out, it's all so confusing.

"What kind of business are you in?" she asked while typing into a database management customer-relationship program.

"Oh, I'm a rocket scientist," I replied, still utterly confused.

"Well, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to enjoy your digital cable service," she said as she thanked me and hung up.