DirecTV's Fuzzy Picture

By Roger Friedman
January 19, 2005

I read all The Motley Fool newsletters. It's my job.

Whether it's Philip Durell pounding the table about the importance of margin of safety in
Inside Value


or Mathew Emmert carrying on concerning his infatuation with dividends in his
newsletter


, I've learned that all of our analysts rely, to some extent, on their personal experience and their gut in making stock recommendations.

With these investment analysts as my guides and gurus, I will never invest in DirecTV
(NYSE: DTV)


.

Simon, where are you?
I'm not what you'd call an early adopter of the television realm. I wait for America to decide before jumping in -- I've been unwittingly sucked into too many crappy shows to continue down that path (Greatest American Hero, anyone?). My wife and I are watching the first season of Arrested Development now that we have finished with 24 -- the first time agent Jack Bauer saved the world -- thanks to our Netflix subscription. I have no problem being a couple years behind the latest fad.

But I'm a sucker for American Idol. I love the people who are convinced they can sing, even though all empirical evidence points to the contrary. So I flipped on the TV, bowl of popcorn cradled in my arm, and flipped to Fox. And then everything went bad.

The television image kept getting pixelated. It would freeze. Every five or so minutes, it would completely shut down, leaving me with snow and frustration, and no hint of the nastiness that Idol judge Simon Cowell was spewing toward the unwitting contestants.

I called my 1-800 number for DirecTV customer service -- and I use that term very loosely -- where a woman came on after 10 minutes on hold and asked if I had unplugged my receiver and plugged it back in. I use a computer, so of course that was my first step. She then told me she was sending me to the next level.

The next William Hung
As the phone rang and rang and rang in anticipation of the person at the next level, I would get glimpses of the show, including a teaser that promised to reveal this year's William Hung. Then the TV went snowy again. And all the while, the phone continued to ring. I never got to see the worst competitors (although, if last season was any indication, they'll be running those clips until the next William Hung haunts my nightmares).

And I never got to talk to the person at the next level. After one hour and four minutes, I gave up.

I used to like DirecTV. Long ago, a real live customer service representative would answer my phone call within five or so minutes. When my service screwed up, the people wasted no time in giving me things, like an extra couple months of HBO (I actually watched Curb Your Enthusiasm at the same time the rest of the world saw it). But DirecTV has changed. If we were in a relationship, this is the point where I would turn to DirecTV and say, "I don't even know who you are anymore," then storm off.

My experience last night leads me to two possible conclusions:

1. DirecTV has a whole lot of people calling to complain about the service; or

2. DirecTV only has three people working at that mystical next level.

So either it's a poor service with tons of bugs or management doesn't particularly care about customers. Either way, I'm not particularly keen to invest in this company.



On the other side
David Gardner gets many of his best investing ideas for
Rule Breakers


from what he sees in the course of his daily life. "Wow, that's a brilliant idea I had never considered. It's going to change my life," he might say, then he'll scurry off and research the financials.

Similarly, I have yet to have an awful experience in my local Home Depot
(NYSE: HD)


, which has, in part, convinced me to hold my shares even when Lowe's
(NYSE: LOW)


seemed poised to take over the home improvement business. Fortunately, that pick has worked out nicely for me.

I just want to watch my shows, enjoy my popcorn, spend minimal time on hold, and buy shares of the companies I believe in. Whether it's my peculiar infatuation with American Idol or my quest to talk to someone in customer service who can improve my life, I just want to get to the next level.

Roger Friedman is managing editor for The Motley Fool, and author of the new book
Nipple Confusion, Uncoordinated Pooping and Spittle: The Life of a Newborn's Father


. That last part isn't particularly relevant to the issue at hand, but he's trying to sell some books so he can afford next year's NFL Sunday Ticket on DirecTV... if he's still a customer. He owns shares of Home Depot.