Finally I bit the bullet. I gave Austar the boot. I had been dealing with Austar for almost a year to try and get them to improve their captioning output and quality with no great success. Austar is the company that provides Pay TV to rural areas. It basically provides Foxtel feed to rural Australia. With over 200 channels it has a variety of stuff to watch. Unfortunately very little of it is accessible with captions. So I called them and told them I wanted to switch it off. Put simply it was not value for money. It was no easy thing to do. With Pay TV being the only way that I can watch my beloved West Ham, now back in the English Premier League, I made the call with great trepidation. But it is done and as from September the 3rd Austar will be history in our household.
Funnily enough it actually took longer to switch Austar off than it did to connect it. I called, got hold of an operator and said please switch it off. The operator then spent the next hour trying to convince me to stay on. “ But Mr Kerridge, is their anything that we can do to improve our service that will convince you to stay on?” I then spent the next ten minutes explaining to them that the reason I was switching off was because of the lack of captions. I explained that even when captions were provided that they were often poor quality. Captions were missing and that sometimes captions actually ghosted. Ghosting is when captions actually duplicate, where you get two lots of the same captions making it impossible to read.
“We can send out a technician to look at the problem for you Mr Kerridge.” At this I suggested that they check my file on the computer and have a look at all the communication that I had with them. I explained that they would see that there were a number of steps already tried that involved swapping set top boxes, moving the satellite dish, visits from technicians and so on. None of this, I explained to them, had made any difference.
“Yes I can see that this has happened. But Mr Kerridge what about if I reduce how much you pay by $20 a month to make up for the lack of access.” I explained that this was not going to be sufficient. I explained that unless they fixed up the captioning, not only the amount of captioning but also the quality of captioning so that drop outs and ghosting did not occur, then$20 a month was not going to change anything. It simply wasn’t value for money. I suggested that if they would allow me to pay for Fox Sports only so that I could continue to watch West Ham play I might consider that. “I am sorry we cannot do that Mr Kerridge” It was worth a shot, you don’t ask don’t get!
“Mr Kerridge, May I call you Gary?” I said that was fine. “Gary, what if we change your package to suit you so that you are watching movies, would that entice you to stay?” I explained again that unless there were increases in captioning and the quality of that captioning that there would not be much point in doing this. The issue, I pointed out, was about more and better access.
“But Gary, I see you like the Lifestyle Channel and we could offer you the full package at no extra cost?” Of course at this stage I began to wonder whether it was I or the operator who was deaf because nothing seemed to sink in. I explained patiently that they had already offered me this for free but I found out that they actually, after a month, had started charging me for it as they had for the full sports package which they had also offered free. I explained that unless there was more captioning and better quality captioning then the answer was still no.
“Ok Gary, I see it is very frustrating. But do you like documentaries, what if we provide full coverage of all documentary channels at no extra cost.” I explained that there was not much point because nearly all the documentaries were not captioned . “Let me just check that for you Gary.” So I waited while the operator checked. Strangely there was no reply; instead she tried a different strategy.
“But Gary you do realise that Austar have committed to increasing captions?” I pointed out that I was indeed aware. I pointed out the exact figures they had agreed to increase captioning by in the agreed period. I pointed out that they had agreed to increase from 35% of content to 55% of content. I pointed out that sport was to increase from 5% to 15%. I pointed out that this had been endorsed by our friends at Media Access Australia with absolutely no input from consumers. I pointed out that increases were pointless without increases in quality to match. And finally I pointed out that combined it meant that I could access less than 50% of all content on Pay TV so perhaps a fair price for me to pay was 50% of the actual subscription and that I be reimbursed my subscription each month that I document where the captions screw up. (Yes I was a bit fed up by this time.)
“Oh Gary that is disappointing that nothing I can offer can convince you to stay with us we will proceed with your disconnection.” I said that I would stay if I could pay for Fox Sports only. It was my last effort to be able to continue to watch my beloved Hammers. “I am sorry Mr Kerridge I am not authorised to do this.” Now that I was officially unsubscribed I was no longer Gary, I was back to Mr Kerridge. Interestingly enough, even though I am deaf and it’s on file and although I have corresponded with them monthly for the last year or so and that they know to communicate with me either by email or SMS options, that after this phone call they still rang my voice line of my mobile four times. I rang back through the National Relay Service to see what they wanted. I was secretly hoping they were going to offer me Fox Sports. Sadly no, they wanted to know if I had changed my mind. The answer was still no.
I can’t make sense as to why Pay TV is being treated with such kid gloves in regard to provision of captioning. Indeed last year they made record profits of $598 million, an increase of 8.5%. This makes them the most profitable form of television in Australia. (Source: www.crikey.com.au/2012/08/09/foxtel-australias-new-media-titan-rakes-in-950m/ )
In the same period Channel 10 profits fell 90.5%. In November 2011 Channel 9 was in such financial trouble that they had to meet with bankers to discuss debts of $2.7 billion. Channel 7 profits, which include newspaper earnings, were relatively healthy with profits recorded of $115.1 million. Clearly Foxtel is out performing Free to Air TV but it has, for some strange reason, been allowed to get away with providing only 55% access to its programs through captioning. At the same time struggling free to air channels are expected to provide nearly 100% access to captioning. Something is very wrong here. And our friends at Media Access Australia endorse this, perhaps they would like to explain because I have no way of understanding the logic. (Sources: www.sevenwestmedia.com.au/docs/financial-results/2011-preliminary-final-results.pdf – www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2011/s3370129.htm – www.theaustralian.com.au/media/ten-reports-20-per-cent-earnings-slump/story-e6frg996-12261 )
As a snap shot of what Pay TV offers you I asked my 13 year old son Finlay, via Facebook, to do some research for me. Finlay checked three of the choices on Austar and provided me with information on captioning access between 5 and 6 pm on Tuesday 21st August. He looked at Documentaries and News which provided 34 different programs in that time slot and just 9 of them had captions. My maths tells me that’s a whopping 26.4% access. On Kids shows there were 10 programs showing and 8 of these provided captions at 80% access. On Lifestyle Channel there were 45 programs and 18 of those were captioned and this provided the deaf viewer with a fabulous 40% access to what was on offer. Deaf readers must all be salivating at the amount of access available because for the three options, in total, 39.3% of the programs that were offered had captions. And for this the deaf viewer is expected to pay full subscription. What a great deal hey?
So from 3rd of September Austar is no more in our household. Somehow I will watch West Ham through seeking media streams through the Internet. I and my three lads will connect the Mac to the TV through HDMI and see if we can watch it through HDMI. The three lads are devastated. It gave them another excuse to do nothing but sit on there arses and this has been taken away. The missus is jumping for glee. She is not a TV lover, she is hoping we will all clean house more as a substitute.
Joking aside the amount of access that is being provided by Pay TV in Australia is a scandal. They are the most profitable form of TV yet are being allowed to get away with murder. They will lay blame solely on the channels that they beam into our homes. They will say it is the channels responsibility to provide the access and their hands are tied. Bottom line is that Foxtel provide and promote the package, it is their responsibility to ensure that what they provide as a service is accessible through the provision of captioning. Access to captioning must increase in both quantity and quality. Neither is being provided to the deaf viewer at present time. So my advice is to the deaf viewer – switch off and take your dollar elsewhere. To Foxtel my advice is – Lift your game, its not good enough. To Media Access Australia who provided advice to the decision makers and who endorsed the agreement where Foxtel could provide only a paltry 55% access I ask – What the hell were you thinking?!