Comcast’s Oscar Fail

Though the problem seemed to begin on Friday with our Comcast cable TV service, we didn’t much care until the family sat down to watch the 82nd Academy Awards and the video stuttering and audio dropouts were so horrifically bad that it was almost unwatchable.

Rebooting the device during a commercial break was a mistake since it took forever and didn’t fix the problem, so I grabbed my iPhone and did a search on Twitter for the word “comcast” to see if it could possibly be a network issue others were experiencing rather than my cable DVR failing.

I was stunned to see that there were dozens of people tweeting about the “stuttering” and “pixelation” of video and audio and it appeared that most of the problem was in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul and the surrounding metro area (see SheilaBird; KeinKernMusic; DFRevert; CSWebGrl).

But in further investigation this morning, I’ve discovered that many of the people tweeting were in Illinois (e.g., JoshMeans) so this might’ve been a regional problem. During the Oscar telecast I reached out to Frank Eliason via Twitter (@ComcastCares and he’s Comcast’s “Twitter man” according to BusinessWeek) and he was, with his typical Johnny-on-the-spot follow up, checking into the issues but nothing has come of it yet. I’ve reached out to him this morning to ask for a statement about what went wrong, what Comcast did and is doing about it and he responded by asking for a DM with my email, so we’ll see what Comcast says about the issue and I’ll update this post if-and-when I receive something.

I suspect that this sort of “fail” is going to become more frequent rather than less so. Especially with more and more of us maximizing the use of our wired and wireless internet connections and with the cable companies trying to shove more services down a pipe that — while admittedly fat and robust with seemingly high capacity — is still a finite resource.

UPDATE 4:07pm: This morning’s post was one that’s received a fair amount of traffic today and in it I promised I’d update you, so here you go.

Mary Beth Schubert, VP of Corporate Affairs, Comcast

Mary Beth Schubert, VP of Corporate Affairs, Comcast

Moments ago I got off the phone with Mary Beth Schubert, Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Comcast in Minnesota. While pleased to receive an apology and that my squeaky wheel was getting greased, essentially there’s no identified cause and I came away from the call not knowing anymore than I did before receiving it.

The particular incident that you mentioned I can confirm and that it was in isolated spots in Minneapolis and the southwestern suburbs and was intermittent. We cover 111 different cities — and you’d mentioned Chicago or something — but it was isolated to small areas of the Twin Cities,” said Ms. Schubert. She then mentioned feedback she’d received from Comcast engineering staff and that, “It appears the problem was first identified at approximately 8:15pm (CST). We immediately began researching the cause of the interference and it appears that it cleared itself about 11:15pm late last evening. We continue to look in to the cause of it.

The anecdotes I, and others on Twitter, had about this stuttering and video pixelation going on for at least two days wasn’t formally acknowledged and not addressed. “Again, we have recognized, our engineering area, that the interference was identified approximately 8:15pm on Sunday and gone late that evening.

Perhaps it was record viewing of this year’s 82nd Annual Academy Awards, too many people tangling up the series of tubes by sending their internets, or some internal infrastructure fail as Comcast does away with analog signals over cable so the tubes don’t get filled up (you know, like with trucks), I received no hard data on why the Oscar telecast was a disaster for so many of us and what they’re doing to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Ms. Schubert was very gracious and listened patiently to my additional concerns — and I do appreciate her reaching out — but I think Comcast needs a blog to talk to customers, some transparency, and especially system updates that tell us what’s going on and what they’re doing to fix technical issues since it’s highly likely we’ll see more of them. Maybe (and since they’re literally across the river from the upcoming light rail depot in downtown St. Paul) they’ll be able to easily catch the Cluetrain.

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  1. Steve Kickert on March 8, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Thanks for posting Steve. I did not watch the Oscars but noticed this weekend the same issue with my Comcast cable TV service. I also have been having trouble with my internet. It is much slower than normal. Are you having any issues with your internet also?

  2. Steve Borsch on March 8, 2010 at 9:01 am

    Hi Steve!

    Wait…you didn’t watch the Oscars? What….you a Commie or something? (Kidding. Get the same reaction when I tell people I didn’t watch the Vikings game).

    Actually my internet is rock-solid and just as fast as always so don’t know why we had the TV issue while the ‘net was running fast and fine.

  3. nrupaw on March 8, 2010 at 10:34 am

    yup, i am in st. louis park and had the same problem. it started on last friday and has progressively gotten worse. was online with comcast’s tech support who pinged the machine on my end and of course it was working. kept trying to explain to her that pixelization is a signal problem. called in for a tech to come in this wednesday. lets see how it goes. i have had HD with comcast since the last 1.5 years and in the start it was beautiful but the quality of HD has gone down now. i think their lines can’t handle the high amount of data coming in.

  4. Adam Zucchi on March 8, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    I experienced the pixelation and the audio drop-outs in the Loring Park neighborhood of Minneapolis throughout the entire Academy Awards. My main issue with this is that nothing more is known now than what was last night. Steven, did they give you any word on whether or not they plan to discount their customer’s bills until this issue is resolved?



  5. Steve Borsch on March 8, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Adam, you should definitely ping Comcast and tell them you want a discount!

  6. Andy on March 8, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    You could keep a low cost indoor HDTV antenna around as a backup. Assuming you have an HD-tuner in your television (purchased within the last few years), over the air HD is generally described as higher quality than HD cable anyway, due to compression the cable company does on the signal you get sent. I have been running OTA HD for 3 years in Minneapolis (I live in the city) and am very happy with the quality.

  7. Steve Borsch on March 8, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    Been seriously tempted to do that, especially since the Mac mini I have connected to my HDTV (with Boxee, etc.) gives me access to so much content.

  8. Bill K on March 8, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    We also had this problem in South Minneapolis. It was on a number of channels besides ABC as well. I think it might have been more widespread than the company is letting on.

  9. Mike on March 9, 2010 at 7:08 am

    We have standard cable in Eden Prairie. The video seemed to be ok 99% of the time, but the audio was definately having major problems during the awards show. I think I noticed the same audio problem earlier in the weekend on the golf channel, but not nearly as annoying as during the oscars.

  10. Steve Borsch on March 10, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Hi Jerry and thanks for reading!

    Yesterday a guy from Comcast’s escalation group (the “XOC”) called me and let me know that engineering is actively working on the issue. He then gave me a phone number asking me to call *if* I saw this pixelation/audio stuttering problem occurring so they could see it in real-time.

    Like you, I was experiencing the same issue, which occurred during the Oscars, last night so I called. After explaining which channel I was watching and where I lived he said, “Oh yeah. We’re all over that and it’s happening throughout your area.”

    I think we all deserve something for compensation from our pals at Comcast, heh? One guy I know whined and received 3 months of his choice of a pay channel (I’d take HBO).

  11. Petebar on March 11, 2010 at 10:56 am

    Because I had to work Sunday evening, I recorded the Oscars on glorious VHS tape. The signal was routed through my Comcast box on channel 5 to the VCR (did not use the VCR tuner). Watching the tape the next night I noticed some pixelation, similar to the effect of lightning in the area. Then, as Sigourney Weaver was about to award an Oscar, the audio went out. It never came back for the rest of the show.

    I live in the middle of south Minneapolis. After reading this blog and a short report in the Strib, I’ll be giving Comcast a call.

    Thanks for making this “fail” known.

  12. David Erickson on March 14, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Interesting posts from Minnesota communications bloggers for the week ending 03/14/10. Culled from the Minnesota Social Media Bloggers FriendFeed room.
    Steve Borsch comments on Comcast customer service in the wake of Oscar night service outages, then comments on the Minnesota Science & Tech Committee findings, and later examines the FCC broadband plan
    Andy Giefer snapped some shots of Target Field’s 3D billboards
    Ken Kadet is rethinking online communications
    Marketing Edge Podcast: How to Implement The New Rules of Marketing and PR [MP3]
    Ed Kohler lists the top six social media campaigns you haven’t heard about
    Graeme Thickins interviews the founders of [MP3]
    Doug Pollei posts a video of why Best Buy loves mobile
    Lee Odden interviews Ford’s Scott Monty
    Desarae Veit has some thoughts on un-marketing then takes a look at social media metrics
    Jon Gordon reports on Ars Technica’s complaints about ad-busting technology then takes a look at 3D TV’s prospects [MP3s]
    Kristin Gast can’t imagine doing her job without social media
    David Brauer reports that MPR has cancelled The Loop then reports that KSTP is going hyper-local online
    Julio Ojeda-Zapata provides a Tweetie update then reports that Google Maps is adding Twin Cities bike trails
    Kakie Fitzsimmons thinks Congress needs hashtags
    Marketing Edge Podcast: Albert Maruggi podcasts about devices, gradgets & drives on the way to SXSW [MP3]
    Mykl Roventine posts a really cool font
    Scott Hjulberg takes a look at some augmented reality applications
    Angie King talks about getting personal in your Web copy
    Garrick Van Buren has a proposal for an open source community news platform
    Jason Douglas’ mom joined Tweeter
    Jorg lists five things he looks for in entry-level hires
    Dusty Trice provides some political Twitter advice
    Greg Swan reports from SXSW and again on Day 2 and Day 3
    Robert Stanke recommends 10 podcasts
    Gregg Litman launches his blog with an argument for journalists’ use of Twitter
    Minnov8 Podcast: Talking with Meg Canada & Rick Mahn at SXSW [MP3]
    Rick Mahn checks in from the bloggers lounge at SXSW
    Marketing Edge podcast: Three ingredients for your social media pantry [MP3]
    I posted a  brief screencast demonstrating Twitter’s new geo-location feature; a video of Temple Grandin discussing how her autistic mind works; and admonished people to follow their data

    Similar Posts:
    Minnesota Monday – Communications Bloggers Posts From Last Week
    Minnesota Monday – Communications Bloggers Posts From Last Week
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    Minnesota Monday – Communications Bloggers Posts From Last Week

    Tagged as:
    internet marketing,
    Minnesota Social Media,
    Social Media Marketing

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About Steve Borsch

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.