Triple Play or Infield Fly?
Businesses want us to think they have our backs and are practically giving away their goods and services. We entertain this fiction (or sometimes actually believe it) and take advantage of freebies because we’re receiving some sort of benefit, and the wheels of commerce continue to turn.
This was on my mind a while back when I signed up for TV and internet service in my then-new apartment. The best offers were all triple plays, the common term for a package deal of broadband internet, TV, and landline phone. I can’t be productive or sane without the internet, and television is a good thing to have, but a wired telephone? I have neither the desire nor the need for such archaic devices; the only time they’re useful nowadays is if there’s a power failure and you happen to have a phone that’s simple and/or old enough that it can be powered via the landline alone. Yet no matter how I tried to configure the package, it was actually cheaper to have all three services than to have the two I wanted alone. I’m sure most of you have experienced this.
I hate waste. I was the kid who was happy to turn off the lights when he left the room, once it was explained to me that electricity wasn’t free. If there’s an amount of food left that’s too small to save and nobody else seems to want, I will eat it because I can’t stand the idea of throwing it out. Likewise, it was driving me crazy that I was receiving a service I would never, ever use and couldn’t even give away to somebody else. I don’t like to waste money either, so I had to choose one or the other. I chose to save the money, but I needed to figure out why we had this state of affairs in the first place.
There’s a saying you may be familiar with: “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.” In other words, our interaction with the business is creating revenue some other way, at levels greater than they’d achieve by charging us directly, so they’re happy to foot the bill. Sometimes the business benefit is apparent to us consumers—companies get our personal data or our page views or suchlike—but in other cases it’s not so clear. I figured that was the case with triple plays; it turns out that’s not exactly it.
It should have been clear to me from the start. First of all, the idea of phone, TV, and internet providers selling our data is deeply unsettling to most brain-having individuals. Granted, some of those same individuals are also the ones who narrate their lives on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, but at least those are opt-in services as opposed to de facto public utilities. As far as I know, it would actually be illegal for bandwidth providers to do that. Second, to adapt Hanlon’s Razor, never attribute to dishonesty that which can be adequately explained by laziness.
Turns out that the services are prepackaged not as a marketing gimmick but as a labor-saving method. The connections are provisioned in bulk, with all services connected. The lowered price is just a way to keep them from having to reconfigure individual accounts—apparently that amount of work and the associated recordkeeping is worth $30 per customer per month. Cable and phone companies are paying us so they don’t have to work. Ain’t it sweet?
To be fair, the phantom landline does seem to serve one purpose. According to my account data, there are about a hundred missed calls and messages logged by the voicemail (which I never configured) for my wired phone number (which I’ve never shared and don’t even know). Those callers, obviously solicitors, are impotently knocking on a door that will never be answered, rather than finding the phone number I actually use. I hope Verizon never finds out, or they might start billing me for the spam filter.
Marshall Lager is a senior analyst in Ovum’s Customer Engagement practice, if you know where to find him. Hint: try email@example.com or www.twitter.com/Lager.