SureWest was back on our Elk Grove street last night going door-to-door trying to attract more Cable TV/Internet/Phone customers. They now were promising 30 HD channels and a DVR with 120GB HD by the end of the year. While SureWest does have the fastest Internet, we passed, and told the sales rep the following:
- We dropped land line phone service for all-cellular two years ago. SureWest is just way too late with phone service for some customers, especially with the Apple iPhone coming out this June.
- 30 HD channels won't cut it competitively by the end of the year (when 40-80 HD channels should be available nationally) and that is what at least one satellite competitor is promising.
-The number of SD channels is irrelevant to HD customers. Now that we have a widescreen HDTV, we're primarily looking for HD and/or full widescreen programming at DVD-quality (480p). Cable cannot deliver this second option, which requires a zoom to full screen feature when wide screen movies are shown on 4:3/480p channels...
- While SD is not a primary consideration, SureWest's SD picture quality is truly awful in the one area I've seen it working (Natomas), and a real barrier to considering the service. It is vastly inferior to Comcast's SD, which recently was upgraded to all-digital and is now quite good, although Comcast's SD channels still are a bit over compressed.
- A DVR with a 120GB HD will be completely insufficient storage for 30 or more HD channels (much less 40-80 channels). A 120GB HD barely is enough temporary storage for Comcast's 13 HD channels over the course of a week. SureWest will need 300-500GB HD's with more HD channels. (Of course, SureWest may use MPEG-4 rather than MPEG-2, and this would change my calculations, but 120GB still seems a bit small for a large number of HD channels).
- The sales rep could not answer questions about Comcast Sports Net HD or Fox Bay Area Sports Net HD. Local sports fans want to see the Kings, Warriors, Sharks, Giants and A's in HD.
- Finally, cable Video On Demand may not be compelling either (It isn't from Comcast as far as we are concerned). Even now, for about the same price of a single monthly Premium cable channel (from Comcast our current provider), we can watch as many DVD movies as we can receive and return by mail each month -- from a much larger library of 40,000-50,000 movies. By contrast, most of Comcast's On Demand offerings are 4:3 standard definition TV, and many of their HD movies rentals are too expensive at $5.99 each.
SureWest seems to be putting together a 2008 HD upgrade plan that only competes with (and just surpasses) 2007 Comcast offerings, and does not seem to be taking into account competition from the satellite companies or IPTV providers like Apple or Netflix. This is a mistake, especially since HD customers probably have the additional choice of more serious a'la carte programming from Netflix and/or Apple (through Apple TV) by 2008 (we have some HD and near-DVD content available even now). We would be foolish not to consider these programming options as well continuing to rent low cost Netflix or Blockbuster online movies by mail. In addition, the IPTV options (especially those from Apple) will allow us to view our content on high definition computer screens and new video iPods and the iPhone that are coming.
To be competitive, SureWest needs to put together a more compelling HD package for late 2007, early 2008.
I also e-mailed most of these observations to SureWest's Darla J. Yetter
(Corporate Secretary and Assistant to the President), who promised to pass them along.