by Jerry A. Sierra | 8/28/21
In the beginning was the cable. And soon we learned that fiber was good for you.
In time we were guided by a higher consciousness to cut the cord. And we did, in the name of civilization, bravely facing the waves of replacement options and complications.
The first thing you need is a good, strong, fast, Internet connection. Then you need a streaming device or a streaming-ready TV.
If you want live news, CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, etc., you mostly have a choice between HULU and SLING.
Let me tell you about the days of high adventure…
I don’t know why I picked HULU. The options appeared clear enough, but this seemed like a situation in which you had to learn by doing. All the reviews I saw bragged about the HULU streaming service. You live. You learn.
You should know that HULU is not only the most expensive streaming service available, but the only streaming service for which I’ve had to make dozens of help calls for a problem that was never fixed.
It comes and goes unexpectedly. No live picture, no audio. Nothing. A black screen where a live stream should be; No CNN, no MSNBC, no CBS News… no picture, no sound.
There’s no rhyme or reason for when or why the live stream fails… everything else works… you log into HULU, select your live channel, and… nothing but a black screen where a live stream should be.
All other streaming services, Netflix, Prime, YouTube, HBO/Max, etc. work just fine.
It really works, sometimes...
After logging off, turning off the tv, turning it back on, logging back into HULU and seeing that it still doesn’t work, I will usually:
A little cursing may help. But only emotionally. It won’t solve the problem.
When these fun and friendly-not steps fail to work, the only recourse is to visit the HULU Help Center. Of all the burdensome steps required, this was my least favorite. The help comes sometimes by chat, sometimes by phone. There’s usually a waiting period, after which the HULU Rep tells me the problem is likely to be at my end at instructs me to redo all the steps mentioned earlier (that already didn’t work). After this doesn’t work, again, comes the dreaded “let me put you on hold for a minute.”
At this point I must embrace the fact that different peoples and cultures across time and space have vastly different ideas about what constitutes an actual “minute.”
At the other end of that minute (however long) comes the suspicion that I’m being conned… “we’ll work on your problem and try to have it fixed within a day or so… try it again tomorrow… let me give you a case number.” No offer to call back or send an email… and when/if I call back tomorrow, the “case number” will not prevent having to redo all the steps again.
Sadly, due to some unresolved psychological quirks, I continued to pay for the service, month after month, like an abused partner… (I know that this will stop, and one day, soon, I will get the service I’ve been paying for.)
On two occasions I received a 3-day grace period (after insisting on not paying for the service while it’s not working), so my next payment date was moved up by 3 days. This didn’t help in the long run, as I was still paying for a full-time service that took lots of days off… with pay.
I’m not a young man. I’ve streamed Netflix since before they stopped sending out disks. I’ve never had to call in a Netflix Help ticket.
I’ve been with Prime for a bit longer, and I never had to call in a streaming-related Prime Help ticket.
I’ve used HBO/Max since the Wonder Woman ’84 movie came out last year… and I’ve never had to call HBO/Max for Help.
I’ve used YouTube (though not always on my TV) since the smart ape threw that bone up in the air and it turned into an orbiting space station… and I’ve never had to call YouTube for Help.
If I continue to pay for something that doesn’t work, why should they fix it? The fact is that in all the time reporting this problem (close to a year), they’ve NEVER fixed it. It relapsed persistently.
I’m also not a technophobe. I use technology for fun and for work. I love digital technology and the promises it makes. But there’s no 21st century Ralph Nader out there to help us navigate the options and avoid the snake-oil. And we need one badly. One that’s not dependent on advertising.
My relationship with HULU started crashing rapidly when I reported the problem for the last time on 8/17/21. The black-screen problem had been more pronounced over the previous weeks.
On the phone, a helpful HULU agent named “Janet” (not the real name) informed me during a lengthy session that they “would try to fix the problem.” When I told her that I shouldn’t be charged for the time the service was not working ($71.90 per month) and pay the lower fee for the part that was working ($12.95), she told me that I’d have to continue paying the usual rates, just as if the problem did not exist.
Janet was competent and sympathetic (more than any other HULU agent I ever spoke to) and she took lots of notes on my case. I never felt any doubt that she wanted to help, although I never felt the same about her employer.
But there was no help to be found. When I tried to cancel “right now,” she responded in a gentle and sober manner that they could not refund my unused amount… even without a live stream. Essentially, I’d have to stay paid until the end of the month.
(Imagine that you order a steak and salad, but only get the salad because… they’re out of steaks. But when the bill comes, they insist that you pay for the steak, because “it is what you ordered.” Would you think you’ve awakened in The Twilight Zone?)
She offered a list of options, all of which were written in HULU’s favor and in which I just keep paying (as if nothing is wrong) and they promise to “try” and fix “my” problem.
I settled for a “pending cancel” option effective on August 28 (when the next month payment is due – you always pay HULU in advance, like so many things that happen and stay in Vegas.) This means that my account would be cancelled completely on August 28.
According to our agreement, I could withdraw the “pending cancel” at any time and continue paying. Sometimes it’s always easier to stay in a bad relationship.
On Thursday, 8/19/21 the HULU streaming service worked. I was able to watch CNN and NBC.
The next day (8/20) I was able to watch a couple of hours of live news, but on 8/21 the black screen reappeared. No point calling it in. I checked at various times during the day and no cigar. On 8/23 the live picture was back… but then, for no reason, that afternoon it was gone.
This is the pattern; it works, then it doesn’t, then it does again, and then. It. Doesn’t. Now I wasn’t sure if the countless hours on Help calls and chats had done anything at all. The black screen with no audio seems to come and go on its own. I wondered if this isn’t just “the way it is.”
Over the next five days my live stream was on an off. I checked at least once a day but didn’t make any new help calls. HULU stopped my service altogether on 8/26, two days ahead of the agreed deadline.
I logged in one more time to make sure that I wasn’t charged again.
What bothers me most about HULU is not that problems exist… I work with technology, and I know that nothing is perfect, but that they expected me to keep paying the highest fees, even as the problem persisted.