In January 2007 I signed up with Australian electronic program guide (EPG) provider icetv.com.au based on a recommendation from a friend and bought an Elgato EyeTV HD DTT USB stick tuner from them so I could watch HD TV via my MacBook Pro.
It worked perfectly until August 2008, when it suddenly failed, and I received the error message “Device could not be initiailized.” Thinking it was a random error, I waited a couple of days for it to fix itself. It didn’t.
I entered a support email into icetv’s website and did the same with product manufacturer Elgato. I was in touch with icetv quite quickly, whereas Elgato took a whole week to respond to me. By that time I had the situation mostly resolved.
icetv and the Australian distributor of Elgato products, Conexus, are both aware that the “Device could not be initiailized” error is a commonly reported problem with the stick and other Elgato products. Elgato is also aware but doesn’t know how to fix it.
Normally, this would result in a replacement under the 12 month warranty. The problem was that my device was out of warranty. icetv and Conexus were reluctant to help me further until I did some research about consumer law and the responsibilities of Australian retailers.
Retailers owe consumers a number of things as determined by the Trade Practices Act. One of the statutory conditions of the Trade Practices Act is that goods sold must be of “merchantable quality”.
According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, this means “they must meet a basic level of quality and performance, taking into account their price and description. They also should be free from defects that were not obvious to you at the time of purchase.”
According to Consumer Affairs Victoria, “Manufacturers need to ensure that the goods they supply are not faulty in design or construction. Both manufacturers and retailers must ensure that customers are advised of any defects prior to purchase.”
I was not informed that there was a common fault with the Elgato stick prior to purchasing it, so I believed I was protected by the Trade Practices Act and was entitled to a replacement of the faulty product regardless of the warranty period.
The “Device could not be initiailized” error has been experienced by new and old devices. The problem is apparently not one caused by age but by a random error. I asked icetv and Conexus again for a replacement, and they kindly agreed to provide one.
Elgato, Connexus and icetv don’t have comprehensive current information about the problem on their websites. When Elgato eventually responded to me, they did so with help instructions that they do not provide in their FAQ or Help pages. I replied asking them to explain this omission and have received no response. Elgato’s ‘see no evil’ policy of hiding the evidence of a common problem until someone makes a big fuss about it is poor customer service.
Consumers are expressing their frustrations about Elgato’s products and customer service in forums at TUAW, in Elgato’s own forum, in Apple’s online store forum and at Whirlpool (where they also complain about the poor quality of Elgato’s software).
Fortunately for me, icetv and Conexus have been very helpful in responding to the situation and providing me with a replacement Elgato stick (the new Deluxe model). They are in a difficult situation as they are not responsible for the quality of the devices, though they may need to do more in future to warn Australian customers about potential problems with Elgato products.
I love the icetv EPG more and more as the programming on the commercial HD channels and ABC2 diversifies. The remote programming from work via my online account (which syncs back to my mac) is another fantastic feature I use a lot.
icetv have struggled to provide their unique service due to antiquated laws that protect commercial broadcasters from competition. Nine recently won an appeal in its case to stop icetv reproducing the Nine program guide in its EPG. Joshua Gans (professor of Economics at Melbourne Business School) argues that such restrictions cripple innovation.
icetv is not denying that Nine created the content, but thinks it should be able to reuse it within the fair use provisions of the Copyright Act. There’s further comment from Joellen Riley (professor, Faculty of Law, UNSW).
The whole thing is complicated by a case between icetv and two ex employees, but basically it is about who can resuse and republish guide information (for profit – I doubt the case would be fought if icetv was giving away the data that the stations provide online and in print for free). The common view is that Nine’s victory is bad for consumers.
Given how much I have been annoyed and disappointed by crap faux innovations by Nine (the mess that is its implementation of Hiro), Ten’s failure to honour its F1 broadcasting commitments and even the ABC’s inconsistent approach to digital distribution, I want icetv to be a success. They clearly know what a growing number of consumers want, and the networks are certainly not providing it.
The interactive aspect of the icetv website is exactly what I recently suggested that the ABC should develop – social recommendations platform for media content. The ABC should be paying particular attention to icetv because some of its programs are at or near the top of the icetv popularity rankings.
It will take more than the promise of more channels, more content and a clearer picture to drive people to adopt digital television. The functions and social features that services like icetv provide may be significant in encouraging the transition to digital tv.
Thanks icetv for your customer service and for delivering to consumers when the networks can’t or won’t!