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(photo credit: Courtesy HOT)
There was a time BCS (before Cables and Satellite) when there was one TV channel in Israel. Perhaps because we were all busy doing other things - like playing with the kids outside, going to movies, visiting friends, reading books and playing indoor games - it did not seem such a hardship that the limited viewing time offered no choices or options. Amazingly, Channel 1 offered a fairly eclectic selection, some good educational stuff, wholesome children's programs and regular English-language dramas and films.
Today, with the umpteen channels offered by both the cable and satellite TV companies, there are evenings when one can zap through the remote control and actually find nothing but re-runs and third-rate movies one never bothered to see first time round in the cinema.
Even BBC Prime, which we fiercely protected when HOT threatened to remove it, offers comedies that were hilarious 20 years ago and are still funny a few years later, but are really past their sell-by date. Crime thrillers lose their suspense the third and fourth time round, and it is time that Prime offered us more from the riches of the new BBC documentaries and dramas that have been screened in the UK.
Did you know that the disciple of the late, lamented Inspector Morse had his own excellent series? And that Amanda Burton, who eventually tired of Silent Witness, starred in a series as a high court barrister? Instead we get, ad nauseam, the colonic irrigation at the spa for embarrassing illnesses and 1,000 ways to transform a suburban garden into a concrete jungle.
With the availability of the cable and satellite channels, Israel TV now offers us a most dismal menu of poorly-presented documentaries, talk shows which demonstrate only that he who shouts loudest gets a word in, and entertainment which is, frankly, at the level of an elementary school end-of-year party.
So it is inevitable that most Israelis, apart from those who are opposed to TV on principle, subscribe to either YES or HOT.
FOR SEVERAL weeks, YES was under fire because of an intolerable disturbance in reception: pictures cracking up, punctuated by loud popping noises. Only now has some explanation been provided in the media and, for the time being, the problem seems to have been solved. But since YES is in possession of their subscribers' mailing and telephone details, why could they not have contacted them at some point, apologized for the disturbance and promised to investigate it? Instead, many subscribers cancelled and YES claims it has lost millions; it says, moreover, that it pays substantially to the government for the privilege of transmitting in Israel, but got little cooperation from that source.
Lest YES viewers fear a repetition of the disturbance and are considering changing to HOT, a word of warning: Customer Services at HOT is staffed by workers who seem to never communicate with each other. I have found them mostly unhelpful.
For some years we subscribed to HOT, using only the basic package, which is enough for our needs. But in order to bully viewers into purchasing the more expensive packages, HOT periodically removed one of the popular channels. BBC News disappeared, then TCM classic movies, then Mezzo classical music - until the big threat of removing BBC Prime from all HOT packages. HOT's Web site was jammed with protests, including threats to cancel subscriptions if the removal of BBC Prime implemented.
When I called Customer Services and pointed out that there was discontent with HOT equivalent to a national emergency, I got the distinct impression that HOT didn't really care what subscribers wanted.
Although HOT eventually did respond and rescinded the cancellation of Prime, we decided that we had had enough and transferred to YES. The service was good, the selection of programs on the basic package is far more varied, and we now receive all the channels that we had lost on HOT.
THAT WAS in January 2007. I telephoned to notify HOT Customer Services and was told that was sufficient, and that their computer had recorded my cancellation. In February and March I received bills, so I called again and was told to write in our cancellation.
In April, May, June, July and August, bills were sent demanding payment. (We had cancelled the credit card payments back in March.) Every time I called Customer Services I was told that the computer had recorded that we had cancelled, and we would get a refund. Instead the next month we received a bill. In July, we started receiving threatening letters from HOT's lawyer.
We wrote to the lawyer including copies of all our letters to HOT and dates of our phone calls, but the lawyer persisted and the pressure continued on into September.
So, whether we prefer HOT or YES, the Israeli consumer - as your October 24 editorial correctly pointed out - has little genuine choice. Wouldn't it be splendid if the Communication Ministry actually took a greater regulatory interest in how these two companies operate?