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Don't tell anyone, but the folks at HOT have got a secret they'd like to share with you. Or not. It's about a special offer that we're not very sure is so special.
Of course, they're not telling anyone about it openly. We only found out when we called HOT's service center to complain on behalf of some readers about TCM's removal from HOT's package a few months back.
Since then we've had several complaints from readers, and we've been missing our regular supply of Warner Brothers and other classic films, so we called *3636 to see what HOT had to say about it.
The courteous woman at the call center listened and then surprised us with an offer we'd have known nothing about had we not called. Since we were disappointed that TCM was removed, HOT was prepared to offer us free hook-up to its HOT V.O.D. (video on demand) service - ordinarily NIS 10.99 a month - for six months.
Again, the fact this offer was not made public was wrong in and of itself - the company should have run an on-screen graphic instructing viewers to call for some kind of compensation. But with this as our only offer of any compensation until now, we agreed. When it comes to cable TV, don't look a gift channel in the mouth.
The only problem was this gift turned out to be more a present to HOT than to us. Once connected, we saw that the service offered a variety of TV shows (mostly in Hebrew), movies, and other programming we could order at our convenience. Unfortunately, most of it came at a price.
Most of the films available - including classics like Casablanca, which we used to watch on TCM - aren't very prominent on the not-so-easy to access list, and cost anywhere from NIS 10.99 to 17.80 for the more recent ones like Million Dollar Baby. There were only a small handful of freebies, mostly third-rate flicks.
In other words, HOT had just given us the "benefit" of spending more money on its programming. Nice deal - for HOT.
When we tried to find out where we might possibly find, say, a classic movie, we were told to check the list of films offered through a deal with the Third Ear video store chain. But to access those films, you need to pay another fee. An on-line list of movies suggested by the HOT operator wasn't functioning properly.
In the spirit of fair reporting, we decided to speak to HOT's spokesperson. We called the *3636 call center again, and spoke to a woman named Diti. When we suggested that perhaps the whole offer of some kind of compensation for removing TCM should be displayed on-screen, so everyone could take advantage who wanted to do so, we were told this "isn't our obligation."
"If the viewer thinks it's important enough, they'll call us," the HOT representative insisted in a way that left us cold.
We asked to speak to a HOT spokesperson. "HOT doesn't have one," she said. "You can only contact them by fax." Amazed that such a large company does not have a spokesperson accessible by phone, we pressed harder. After a few minutes on hold, Diti somehow got us the number.
That's how we ended up speaking to HOT spokeswoman Aliza Houry, who insisted that TCM's disappearance from the HOT package "didn't really bother too many people." "The ones it did bother called the service, and we worked it out with them," she said.
Houry reluctantly agreed that perhaps more information should be provided about the offer for disgruntled TCM fans, insisting that "most people" who called were happy with the VOD deal, but she acknowledged that the kind of movies TCM used to show aren't generally available through it.
"TV shows, channels and packages are a very dynamic matter," she said in a written statement. "Lately HOT has added a significant amount of new content," outlining a list of new shows that have been added for kids, apparently in a bid to placate those angry over the disappearance of Cartoon Network as well.
But we're talking TCM here. "Customers who ordered any of the channels as an individual channel and not as part of a package will be compensated," she wrote. "If the channels were part of a package, each situation will be handled individually."
Houry suggested that if a viewer who missed his or her TCM wanted something other than the rather dubious VOD compensation, "an effort will be made to find a fitting solution." Gee, we'd like to think so.
Through its rather cavalier attitude towards TCM and its fans, we'd say HOT has ruined a beautiful friendship with fans of classic American movies, who if they have the option should head for YES, where TCM is still screened.
As for the rest of us, make good on your options for some kind of compensation, at least - HOT's "secret" is out.