99.9% of the programming I watch on television involves my favorite Minnesota sports teams, football in general, films and documentaries, nature/environment/space programs, and the news.
That may seem like a lot, but it's not. I watch no sitcoms, nor do I watch any pseudo-"reality" shows. I watch no shows that group strangers together on an island or in a house while the cameras roll. I watch nothing that features people on a stage, singing or dancing or otherwise performing, while a panel of celebrity judges cries and/or genuflects on a nightly basis over the life-altering wonderment of it all.
But, still, if you take HBO away from me because of a contract/pricing dispute, that's going to be problematic. And, a few months later, if for the same reason you take away the channel that’s my go-to source for Twins, Wild, Timberwolves and Gophers action, well, it’s time to sound the sirens and convene an emergency meeting of the special counsel on extinction-level events.
The loss of HBO was, shall we say...destabilizing. But when a dispute between Dish Network and the Disney-owned Fox regional sports networks - Fox Sports North among them - led to FSN disappearing from my programming guide in the midst of this fun Twins season...well, let's just say I found myself sitting in my chair, staring at the birds out the window while muttering nonsensical words and waving imaginary flies away from my face.
So, should I be concerned that... Or maybe the better way to phrase the question is, is it wrong that I am now paying four TV programming providers to watch my favorite sports teams, films and documentaries, nature/environment/space programs, and the news?
The monthly fee for Netflix is a drop in the bucket, and it has some solid programming. The same goes for the fee for the HBO Now app I purchased. With Dish Network graciously reducing my monthly bill after yanking HBO, this is all essentially a wash.
But here's where it gets interesting. My best option to watch my favorite sports teams on FSN is Hulu + Live Sports. It's a manageable $45 a month, which increased to $50 a month around 10 minutes into the first episode of "The Handmaid's Tale" my wife and I were watching, when I realized that if I didn't pony up $5 more, I was going to have to endure commercial blocks every few minutes.
But Dish Network, they're crafty. You don't get to be that big and make all that cash without being a little manipulative...
So I'm telling some friends a recent evening about the joys of Hulu + Live Sports. I'm rattling off all the channels I get, including my local network affiliates and FSN and all of my other favorite sports channels.
And then, the mushroom cloud blooms on the distant horizon... "And Redzone?" a friend inquires.
Ah, yes...Redzone. For NFL fans and fantasy footballers, it's the best thing since caramel sauce on ice cream. When first launched years ago by NFL Network, Dish Network charged $5 to add it to your programming package, but the catch was that it only aired during the NFL's regular season; it was off-air from basically January until September, but you were prohibited from cancelling it during those months and then reactivating it as a new NFL season approached.
At some point, though, seeing how much NFL fans loved Redzone, Dish Network tucked it into the cozy confines of a larger programming package. Getting Redzone on an a la carte basis was no longer an option.
With Hulu + Live Sports comfortably tucked into my TV programming fold, my original plan was to nix my Dish Network account entirely. But when I, in a panic, clicked through my Hulu channel offerings and realized Redzone was not there, I had to go with Plan B: Scaling back our Dish Network account as much as possible, while not losing Redzone, a lone channel available only four months out of the entire year.
But Dish Network, they're hardcore, man. Hard...core.
Four days in a row, I tried to modify my account online, and each day as I clicked my way toward confirming the changes, which reduced my bill by more than half, their website conveniently crashed. So I embarked on an online chat, and although Alberto was polite, it's like he was instructed to not dig too deep into what I was requesting. Even though I told him exactly what my intentions were, he left the local channels (and their fee) and a premium movie channel pack (and its fee) on my account. Upon realizing this, I chatted online the next day with Ashley, who said she would gladly make my requested changes, as long as I agreed to pay a $5 fee because I’d made changes to my account twice within 30 days. Through gritted teeth, I told Ashley that I’d be absolutely delighted to pay the five bucks.
So, where does this leave things? Well, yes, I’m paying four fees to watch a relatively narrow scope of TV programming. But I have HBO and FSN, and Hulu is worth it simply because of the uncorked freakishness of The Handmaid’s Tale. And not only that, I did the math and we’re saving around $2 a month compared to what we were paying to watch TV a few months ago.
Blessed be the fruit, indeed.