Friday, May 11, 2007

Good Intentions, Bad Execution

Tonight, at 9:54. Comcast disrupted all channels to run a "Levi's Call" notice of an abducted child. For those not familiar with Georgia's strange need to rename everything, this is the same as an Amber Alert in most other states: a notice of an abducted child. Perhaps the idea behind this is useful (and I'm giving the benefit of the doubt here, because I sincerely doubt it), but the execution is horrible.

Whenever Comcast interrupts their broadcast schedule for an Emergency Broadcast System test or a Levi's Call, it shuts down everything--not only are all cable broadcasts forced offline, but recordings on DVR's are shut down and playback on DVR's ceases as well.

Now let's think this through. It's 9:54 pm; I'm at home watching the season finales of various network shows. So what's Comcast thinking--the Levi's Call will act like the Bat-Signal, leading me to don my crimefighting costume and hit the highways looking for a suspicious vehicle with a man and a child in it? Doubtful... While the information might be very useful on radio (which people often listen to in the car) or on interstate message boards, it's pretty useless on television, particularly at 9:54 in the evening. I looked around my library where we were watching television: no missing child, no kidnapper, no suspicious vehicle.

Okay, the Levi's Call is over and done with. So what do they do next? Well, on all non-HD channels, they superimpose a huge black box with the words CHILD ABDUCTION in blocky white letters (yes, they use the absolute kludgiest typeface possible). That's it. No additional information, no description, no crawl at the bottom of the screen... just those two words, superimposed for at least two hours! "Oh, but this is important for viewers to know," the unthinking "all-for-the-children" advocates maintain. I'd love to hear them explain how.

Think it through. I turn on my television and see the words CHILD ABDUCTION. I have no idea who the child is, what he looks like, what his name is, where he was abducted, when he was abducted, who the abductor is, what vehicle they're driving in, where they were last seen... nothing. According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (a group with every reason to exaggerate their reported numbers, but that's another issue), a child is abducted every forty seconds. So, during the two hours that message was up there, a hundred and eighty children were abducted. Based on those numbers, the message might as well be up there all the time--since we're not giving any information about specific children in a specific area, why not keep people on alert? And for that matter, could we have a channel that carries the superimposed message LIGHTNING STRIKE, since that occurs somewhere in the country every eleven seconds?

I called Comcast. Apparently, while there is someone somewhere who knows how to turn on the message, he goes home after having done so, his work done. They assured me that there was no one there who knew how to turn off the message. (So I guess it must have a natural life span of only two hours, since it just sort of went away on its own after that time...)

In the meantime, the process of sending the message so fouled up Comcast's system that they lost NBC-HD in the Marietta area for the better part of an hour, meaning that the HD season finale of ER went unseen by lots of viewers. Great work, guys! (These are, I should point out, the same Einsteins who run their EBS tests during prime time, even though they could run them at any time of the day or night...)

Hope they find the child safe and sound... but I'll bet you that a 9:54 pm television message about the kidnapping will in no way contribute to the recovery.

1 comment:

Jason said...

Even better, Comcast has also yet to learn how to make the abduction message beep and then scroll... instead the entire time its scrolling, most people get horrific speaker busting static at 2 or 3 times the volume level of the show they were watching. Instead of a DVR, I've got a homemade PVR (PC with TV tuners in it) so I don't get knocked off, but I did miss about 3 minutes of dialog from every show I was recording. Looks like I've going to have to torrent those shows.