Bargaining for Cable: Free Channels & Lower Bills

Don’t be afraid to negotiate

I pay about $75 a month for my cable television service from Time Warner Cable. While this may not seem like a lot (that’s only $2.50 per day), it adds up: $900 per year for service on a single television in my apartment. Between work and NYC’s free attractions, I really don’t have much time for TV. So imagine my glee when rival cable network RCN set up a table in my building, complete with free donuts and Don Draper-esque salespeople, advertising a $29.99 per month special for those willing to defect—plus RCN would pay all “termination fees” with your cable provider to sweeten the deal. Switching cable providers seemed like too much of a hassle—an offer isn’t truly a deal if it takes hours of effort to return the cable box, set up installation for the new service, etc. But I still figured the RCN poachers could be used to get Time Warner worried… Photo Credit: Getty Images


The call

I placed a call to Time Warner Cable and selected the phone menu option for those who want to cancel their service. I spoke with a friendly woman and told her I wanted to cancel my service because I had received a better offer from RCN. I wasn’t sure what would happen next—from experience doing the same thing with the retention department at a credit card company a while back, though, I expected the threat of cancellation to be enough… She would read-off some script about how they value my business and offer me a more competitive rate. But this is not what happened. She told me I would have to return the cable box to one of two locations in the city, since I was merely “renting” the box from the company and did not own it. “Sure, which address is closest to where I am?” I asked her, totally calling her bluff—although I was growing worried that she would actually turn off my service. Did a bead of sweat form on my forehead? Possibly. Photo Credit: Getty Images


Negotiations begin

I heard the sound of typing—my fear was getting to me. The customer service representative was putting the finishing touches on terminating my account; that’s what I feared. “You know, I don’t watch a lot of TV any more, but I would like to stay with you guys—it’s just that the RCN offer is pretty compelling… I’m trying to cut down on my personal expenses... the RECESSION…” I told her something similar to that; I’m not a CIA agent, so I don’t typically record my phone conversations. There was a pause. And then the Time Warner Cable retention gods showered me with precious gifts. Photo Credit: Getty Images


The offer

“Let me see what we can do for you,” was basically her reply. Here’s what she ended up being able to do for me: a free 12 months of Showtime service, which is absolutely awesome because I enjoy Californication. She wasn’t able to offer me a reduction in price, but at least I was getting substantially more for the same amount. But wait, there was more! Photo Credit: Getty Images


HBO

I already get HBO service (with on-demand), but the customer service rep offered to give me Cinemax and HBO bundled free for the next month, after which point I would be billed each month for HBO and Cinemax. This would effectively increase my monthly rate after the trial period ended, unless I remembered to cancel Cinemax in exactly 30 days… And I don’t have that much faith in my follow-through; more likely, I would totally forget about it and end up paying for several months of unused Cinemax service. This would be pretty much the opposite of what I want. Photo Credit: Jill Clardy


Revision of the offer

So I asked her if I could just get HBO free for the next month, and skip the Cinemax altogether. To my surprise, she agreed to do this, which means my bill was lowered to $60 for one month. I made sure none of this deal-making would result in my rate accidentally going up—she assured me all was good and just in the land of Time Warner. She told me the changes were entered into the system. I thanked her and that was that. Photo Credit: Getty Images


Bored to Death

Later in the week, when I watched HBO’s Bored to Death on-demand, a small wave of pride swept over me. Free HBO. Five minutes of time. A sweet pay-off. If I had a decanter filled with expensive whiskey, I would have poured myself a celebratory glass. I haven’t really had a chance to dive into Showtime yet, but I will. I’m sure many Californication episodes await me—I have a lot of catching up to do. Photo Credit: Getty Images


The takeaway

For some reason, most people assume that faceless behemoth corporations cannot be reasoned with: it’s their way or the highway. But this simply isn’t true. For many sectors, cable being a great example, competition is fierce. Time Warner Cable, for instance, always has the threat of Verizon FiOS looming over it, in addition to fending off smaller hyenas like RCN who pick away at their customer base. Add on to that the new economic reality (many of us have less money to spend on non-essential services) and you get the perfect scenario for deal vultures. Photo Credit: Just chaos


Try it today

Call up your cable or satellite provider. Say you wish to cancel; cite a lower-priced offer from another company that you plan to take advantage of… tell them you want to remain with them, but it just doesn’t make sense to pay more for less. Any provider with common sense will have a capable retention department, armed with lucrative deals (like the free Showtime) to keep you around. Use the same technique with your credit cards, your XM satellite radio service, your cell phone—well, you get the idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if you end up saving thousands each year. You can thank me in the comments. Photo Credit: stopnlook


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