Maybe DirecTV let this Genie out of the bottle too soon

Fer Gregory/Shutterstock
Fer Gregory/Shutterstock
Steve Lipscomb upgrades to a DirecTV Genie set-top box. But it doesn’t work right, and now the company won’t let him out of his contract or allow him to downgrade to his old box. What now?

Question: I was a satisfied customer of DirecTV for years. Then I upgraded to a new service called the Genie. I’ve had nothing but problems since then. The picture freezes and recorded shows jump forward by 30 minutes when you try to fast-forward through commercials.

When I called DirecTV, a representative asked me to start “logging” my problems. I’ve been doing this for six weeks now. They call every week and I read my log of incidents and they say, “Continue to log the incidents.”

Here’s my beef: I had a perfectly working system before I upgraded. To me, upgrade means moving to a better system. I have had nothing but problems. Their own people have told me they had issues with the system since it came out, and yet they continue to advertise it as an upgrade and required me to commit to a two-year agreement to get this upgrade.

This is deceptive. They should have to tell people there are problems with the system before they sell it to you and they should damn well not call it an upgrade.

I have asked for my old system back. They said they would have to charge me a fee to do this. I have asked them to just let me out of my two-year agreement signed at the time of my upgrade and they say I will have to pay a stiff penalty for early exit. I knew this when I signed up, but my point is I had already fulfilled my two-year agreement with them and would not have signed up for another commitment had they told me the system I was upgrading to had bugs they can’t seem to work out. Can you please help me? — Steve Lipscomb, Topeka, Kan.

Answer: DirecTV should have given you a working Genie, a set-top box which, according to the company, allows you to “enjoy a full HD DVR experience on every TV in your home, without seeing a box in every room.” If it doesn’t work, your two-year contract with the company is null and void. After all, they didn’t deliver a working Genie.

It isn’t too difficult to find other complaints about DirecTV’s Genie online. It’s unclear if the owners of those devices were stuck with a non-working device or were able to revert to an older set-top box which worked.

It’s always a good idea to do a little research before accepting any “upgrade” from DirecTV. Knowing what I do now, I probably would have.

I think it’s reasonable for DirecTV to ask you to log your Genie problems for a few days. But by the time you contacted me, this nonsense had gone on too long. I might have appealed your case to someone higher up. Here’s a list of current executives. The email convention is

The takeaway? Newer isn’t necessarily better. Always do your homework before buying the latest and greatest gadget. Sometimes, tried-and-true is all you need for your entertainment needs.

I contacted DirecTV on your behalf. Your wish was its command. It installed a new Genie system and it offered you a 100 percent credit for the two months you were having viewing problems.

Did DirecTV do enough for Steve Lipscomb?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Rebecca

    I think what the OP was offered was fair and reasonable. He now has working TV service, and he doesn’t have to pay for the two months that it didn’t work.

    My question is why DirecTV didn’t replace the unit much sooner? If it didn’t work, why just make him keep “logging” the issues? They basically used him as an unpaid contractor doing beta testing.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I had a Comcast DVR that basically did the same thing. They replaced it twice and it just refused to work. Fortunately it was just a rental so I just cancelled and made a mad dash to Tivo. Haven’t looked back since.

  • Sam Varshavchik

    A helpful explanation: basically what was happening is that every time he called them up to complain, the response of “keep logging” was simply a scripted answer whose only purpose is to get this customer off the phone.

    That’s it.

    Dish’s own receivers are notoriously flaky. They typically last for 2-3 years, before they break down and must be replaced. Each time one of my receivers starts getting wonky, and it obviously went bad, I just refuse to play similar games. When I call them up, I just tell them the unit keeps restarting (which isn’t a far stretch from the truth). This is the fastest way to nudge them onto the script where they get to order a replacement unit to be shipped.

    Dunno about DirectTV’s customer service scripts, but I would’ve just told the phone droid the same thing. There’s no need to waste time with the phone droids, with a detailed explanation of the troubles you’re having. Just tell them the unit keeps restarting. It’s not like they can verify much. This would’ve probably gotten his receiver replaced the first time he called.

  • sirwired

    It’s disturbing when companies think long-term contracts only work one way. They seem to forget that in return for ETF’s and their monthly charges, they are actually supposed to do what the contract is paying them to do.

  • BillCCC

    I voted no. If they had made this offer when he first reported that the system did not work I would have voted yes. If takes someone like Chris to get them to pay attention then they have failed.

  • John Baker

    Why is it the cable/satellite TV providers think that its ok to not provide the service they are contracted for and still charge the same amount? That’s right… They’re almost always monopolies in their areas…

    Sorry DirectTV earned this public shaming. What they did for recovery was the bare minimum. Imagine that …. Not charging him for a service they didn’t deliver and fixing it. How about something beyond that for the time he spent being your service tech?

  • Charles B

    All that was said was that he now has a new Genie, not that it was working any better than the old one. If the whole product line is flaky, and the other reports online sound like it is, this is just going to drag the complaint out that much longer.

    I’ve been debating upgrading my own 7+year old DTV DVR system. Thanks to this article, I’ll be looking elsewhere than the Genie system.

  • EdB

    “and it offered you a 100 percent credit for the two months you were having viewing problems.”

    Better check you contract expiration date. Along with these two months of credits, they may have extended the contract by two months.

  • EdB

    Cell carriers are also known for not providing service paid for.

  • EdB

    But if you read those contracts, they have a little clause in there that doesn’t guarantee quality of service. ;)

  • JewelEyed

    I feel like it should have offered something more as a mea culpa for all the time they left the OP twisting for SO LONG. Perhaps a year of a premium channel of the customer’s choice?

  • Dane Carpenter

    I feel like they knew a replacement was going to have the same problem. The fact they were having him log issues and calling for updates makes the Genie sound like it is part of a beta program that are selling as finalized release.

  • Dirk Pitt

    We had DirectTV for several years and as long as things were going well it wasn’t a problem except during storms. Unfortunately, anytime there was a problem that required their customer service to do anything beyond read from their script of “logging” trouble or sending a reset signal from their cushy chair it became a huge hassle and they wanted to start throwing fees and charges at you galore even though it was their system with the issue. Additionally, the on-site technicians that would be sent out to troubleshoot were sub-contractors that in some cases seemed to be annoyed that you reported an issue or that you got a very uneasy feeling with them in your home. After one particular event we had enough and cancelled the service outright and then it was a battle about who owned the equipment. Bottom line, when a company burns you as a consumer, you learn to not use or promote their service and warn anyone thinking of taking the plunge of the inherent dangers they face.

  • Tygar

    Yes BUT….it shouldn’t have taken your intervention to fix it. (if it is fixed) If the “Genie” system is not working & the person wants the old system back, that should be a no brainer.

  • Christopher Elliott

    I agree, it would have been nice to have DirecTV fix this without my involvement. I always try to give the company every chance to do that before I jump in.

  • EdB

    I agree that it sounds like the system was rushed out before it was ready. They probably did that because of Dish Network’s Hopper and they were losing markwt share to it.

  • EdB

    The moment an advocate like Chris is needed, for myself, the answer to if the company has done enough, even if the original request/problem is resolved is always NO. No customer should have to be put through this type of frustration to get what’s due to them.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Certain models of the comcast (or cox) DVR are just bad and sometimes they just swap bad units at the shop to another customer. I would have suggested you go and get a newer model but if you have TIVO, that works too. The newer models are usually Motorola and NOT scientific Atlanta or Cisco.

  • John Baker

    I give mobile phone providers a small pass since the product is … mobile. Providing service is literally a moving target.

    Pay TV providers know where they’re providing service to… Last time I checked, my house hasn’t moved since it was build. Especially cable TV since they provide a wired connection to the house

  • PolishKnightUSA

    A weeks worth of issues should have been sufficient to either swap out the unit or revert to the previous DVR. He was effectively doing their beta testing for them.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    That was pat of the problem. My hard drive model was so so. When it failed, they “upgraded” me to a solid state one. It was the newest they claimed. All a lad of crap.

  • emanon256

    I vote yes, as long as the new Genie works. I understand that every once in a while a defective unit comes along, I don’t understand why companies don’t simply replace it.

    I upgraded my TiVo recently and the new one was defective. The audio constantly clicked and cut out. They gave me the run around at first, then they offered to replace my brand new TiVo with a refurbished one which I though was ridiculous. I finally brought up the 30 days no questions asked return policy and they stopped asking questions and let me return it. I am now back to using my 6 year old TiVo which is still working just fine. I just don’t have the fancy new features.

  • emanon256

    Hoppa’ Hoppa’ Hoppa’

    I love those commercials.

  • EdB

    Lucky for me, my hoppa skips past those ads.

  • Charles

    I have Genie and love it! Yes, there are problems with it. The commercial skipping behavior he speaks about is a bug in the software that they should fix. But, if you do a search for 30SKIP, it will change the mode for the 30 second button to skip instead of fast forwarding and the 15/30 minute skip problem goes away. The only problem we still have is that it will sometime freeze when you skip all of the way up to real time, but changing channels or a short amount of rewind will get it playing again.

    The problems are not with the Genie box, they are with the remote receiver box. It’s the really new component and it seems to be a bit buggy. Should DirecTV fix it? Sure, but I’m willing to live with these issues for now for the great advantages of Genie. I’m an early adopter and sometimes have to deal with issues for a while in any new technology. But, I sure would not want to go back to the previous system.

  • John Colman

    I am always fascinated by how reluctant companies/corporations are to provide the services or products that they sell to an acceptable standard. I am thankful that some of the archaic laws in the UK still stand, as they almost wholly protect the consumer, and are too complex to amend or rewrite.

  • Dane Carpenter

    Lucky for you, you don’t need to watch those adds since you have the hopper.


    I have been with DirecTV for over 17 years. Customer Service used to be top notch. Now It has gone the way of many companies, where scripts rule the day and the reps on the phone can no longer actually work to solve the problem and offer a credit when things go wrong.
    When I am upgrading or changing my service I always ask them to record the conversation and tell them I am doing the same thing and get consent for that as well. It has eliminated the he said/she said problems I encountered 2 years ago.
    Companies, especially those telecom/internet/TV services need to re-emphasize customer service. If we are committing to a contract then we should receive what we are paying for. If the service is not working it should be repaired, new equipment provided or a refund given. Simple, easy and few companies are willing to do it anymore.

  • John Baker

    “Simple, easy and few companies are willing to do it anymore.”

    That’s because customer service costs money and as Americans we’ve shown that we don’t care. We go for the lowest bidder every time regardless of the customer service involved.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Too bad they couldn’t take better care of him sooner, but good that Chris got them to be rational. I would have never thought to research an upgrade from a company whose products I’d been satisfied with for years, so now I will.

  • GrantRitchie

    Standard operating procedure for DirecTV… do as little as you possibly can for the customer.

  • LadyLightTravel

    If you want to be an early adopter that is your choice. But products need to be labeled under those conditions. DirectTV offered the OP an “upgrade” with the implication that he was getting a fully working system. The fact that they continue to sell a unit with known problems and no disclosure of those problems borders on fraud. Worse – trying to charge termination fees on a product that doesn’t work. Maybe it’s time for the state regulatory agencies to get involved.

  • Rebecca

    The way I understood it, his new system is working. If not, then he should be switched back to his old system. I would think if the OP was still having problems, that would have been explained in the article.

  • Rebecca

    This is exactly why I haven’t had cable/satellite for several years. Comcast made me so angry, I lost my patience with the rep and told her to just shut off my cable. I wasn’t intending to cancel the service, but they gave me the runaround one too many times (with a snotty, condescending attitude). To top off the issue, they sent me to two more reps to try to change my mind after that. All of a sudden, they care about my problem when they’re not getting my money anymore. And then called, emailed and snail mailed me to get me to “come back.”

  • Rebecca

    I switched to a prepaid plan, which has been great. It literally costs less than half of what I was paying under contract for the exact same plan. Even paying cash for a phone, instead of having it subsidized over a two year contract, it’s still significantly cheaper. My husband is one that just needs a brand new, fancy phone, and we found getting one used at a pawn shop is a great deal. Much cheaper than anything posted on craigslist, Ebay, etc. Plus, you can play with the phones to make sure it’s what you want and there’s no issues with it.

  • OzJohnno

    You people should never want to live in Australia where we only have one Cable provider, Foxtell. With their monopoly you get what you get and no matter how long you complain you still only get what you get. The only recourse is to cancel your contract and pay the fees. There is no one else to go to. There are hundreds of pages of complaints on our consumer sites down here and nothing ever changes. They just don’t have to and when you try to talk to someone about your problems all you get is someone on the sub-continent that barely understands you and you barely understand him. You people actually have it very good.

  • mbods

    I voted “no” only because they didn’t do the right thing until you got involved….

  • Bill___A

    WE don’t know if they did enough, depends if it works now or not..

  • Bill___A

    What’s the problem, are the pictures upside down? Since you live in a democracy, contact your elected representatives, enable change.

  • OzJohnno

    Even if we we’ren’t in election mode down here I’m afraid problems with our only cable provider wouldn’t rate high with our elected members. Think of everything you’ve seen written about problems with cable TV providers in your part of the world and we have the same down here. The only difference is we have no freedom of choice. It’s Foxtel or nothing. Mr Murdoch at his best.

  • Bill___A

    My cable works fine. If I don’t like them, I can switch to the phone company, which has deployed IPTV (which gets good reviews) or I can use a satellite provider. Of course, I don’t live in the United States. I have a better than “Comcastic” experience. My faster than 150 megabit internet isn’t too bad either. I had troubles with a problematic “new” cable box too. They sent someone out to address it and when that fix didn’t work, they diverted the next available technican to take care of it since I had already waited. This was at the same time that the cable company was dealing with a couple of hundred thousand people knocked out due to flooding. They were giving out help, flashlights, gloves, face masks, food and water. They told anyone who needed help to just look for a vehicle with their logo on it, and they would help with whatever was needed – and they turned on their extensive wi-fi network for everyone to use. That’s right, my cable company has thousands of Wi-Fi hot spots I can use all over the places.

    You Aussies deserve better.

  • Chester P. Chucklebutt

    That would have been the appropriate solution two months ago. After his hassle he deserves more.

  • Daniepwils

    Tivo is wonderful until it breaks down and you have to buy everything again. I had a tivo unit and paid for the lifetime subscription. When my DVR messed up, they told me it would cost over $700 to get a new one with a new subscription. Your lifetime subscription is only lifetime for the life of that DVR you have, not a new one. I said goodbye after that.

  • CVG_Traveler

    The sad thing is – a good portion of the monthly “DVR Service Fee” is purportedly for continual software improvement, according to a Directv supervisor last week. This bug is well known and should be easily caught and corrected if they are doing real development. I signed up in January for a supposed “guaranteed for two years” rate and “free” Genie DVR. On the January and February bills, no problem, the $20 monthly DVR service fee was offset by $20 per month credits for 24 months. In March, Directv raised the price of their monthly DVR service to $25, and stealthily created another $5 credit to offset the increase, but only made it valid for 4 months. Since we are past the 4 month period, now I am being charged $5 extra a month for my “free” Genie DVR. The supervisor seemed to be reading from a prepared statement. Directv is playing games of semantics saying that the “free Genie” only meant the price of the receiver, and not the monthly DVR service fee and the price guarantee only applies to the programming itself. It is “coincidental” that the monthly DVR service fee was fully rebated for January and February and they were “doing me a favor” by providing a $5 credit for 4 months to “cover their increased software development costs to bring you great DVR features”. Rubbish – this is deceptive marketing, pure and simple. As soon as my contract is up or a competitor offers to pay the ETF, they are dumped.

  • JewelEyed

    I totally agree.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I have an advantage, I read the fine print for a living so I knew that. I just pay monthly. I figure I’ll get a new one before I recoup my investment in lifetime. And like you said, they will break down.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Is the savings on a cheaper prepaid plan really $350 over two years?

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Chris, I’m glad people have you to turn to at time such as this. I can’t help but feel had the OP not contacted you, he’d still be spinning his wheel with DirecTV.

    I believe most companies want to make it as difficult as possible for as long as possible in the hopes you’ll give up and go away.

  • TMMao

    Current Verizon 2-yr contract price for my spouse’s iphone is $110/mth. A prepaid plan with similar voice/text/data limits is $45/mth. Granted, some of that $65 difference goes toward subsidizing the price of the phone but it should be no more than $400 (plus the $200 down payment = $600 cost of the phone.) That leaves $1160 as the difference over two years, or $580/yr! The 2-yr contract is up next April and we are definitely switching to prepaid.

  • TMMao

    With the recent $200 Costco cash card offer, it was almost like getting DirecTV for only $100 for the first year. Only drawback was when the tech came to do the installation, he said the wireless remote boxes are on hold, so he installed wired boxes at the additional locations. They are working fine so far, and so is the Genie. It’s just too bad it can’t skip over commercials during live TV but that would likely involve some time shift tech that is not yet available.