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How to Choose a Satellite TV Provider

Last updated on November 29th, 2012 by George Levint

When it comes to satellite TV, the terminology can get a bit confusing at times, so first things first. A provider is the company that broadcasts satellite TV to your home and gives you the equipment necessary to decrypt their signal. Obviously, the top 2 providers are DIRECTV and DISH. The biggest confusion lies with the term retailer. Effectively, a retailer is the middle-man that generates your order and gets your satellite TV system installed. After your dish is installed, the retailer’s responsibility ends and the provider takes over. OK, now that that’s cleared up, how do you decide whether to go with DIRECTV or DISH. They each have their relative merits, but only one’s gonna win your business. After quite a few experiences (both on a personal level and as a guide of sorts) here’s what we look for when choosing a provider.

Shop around for the best price

Duh, right? Well, it’s not always so straight forward. Both companies tout the lowest price in town but it really all depends on the type of programming you’ll be getting (movies, sports, etc, etc). Each provider has 5-6 core programming packages, ranging in price from $25/mo to well over $110/mo (both are promotional rates). Jump over to our satellite TV pricing page for a complete breakdown.

Are you a new customer?

If you’ve ever subscribed to DIRECTV or DISH under your name, you almost definitely won’t qualify for the promo rates (they’ll spot your name in their database). Since you don’t want to miss out on the substantial discounts, that may be your cue to go with the other provider. Option B is to ask someone in your household (who’s never ordered), to create the account. The take-home message here is never order new satellite TV service without the introductory specials. They generally apply for two complete years, so don’t leave money on the table.

Sports junkies need their fix

If you’re a sports nut, just about every decision you make takes into account HOW it’ll impact your ability to watch X team (hey, I’m right there with ya :)). When it comes to satellite TV, there’s not much debate about which provider reigns supreme. For over a decade, DIRECTV has heavily invested in a bunch of exclusive sports channels (NFL Sunday Ticket, NASCAR hotpass, etc). DISH has a fair amount of sports packs, but they really can’t stack up to DIRECTV. Click here for a side-by-side sports comparison.

Oh, that tree? You may have line-of-sight issues

This one’s much more obscure than the rest and pretty much out of your hands. Basically, the location in the sky of DIRECTV and DISH’s satellites differ. If your installer finds obstacles in play (large tree, building, etc.) and they can’t reasonably move the location of your dish to get a strong enough signal, you’re probably out of luck. In such cases, consider it fate and call up the other provider. Most of the time, there’ll be a big enough difference in degrees that you’ll be golden. If you’re game, some installers are also willing to get pretty creative with clamps and building offsets to get a clear line-of-sight.

In the end…

The factors above are just a starting point, every decision is a bit different. Consult everyone in your household (if it’s just you, even better!), and you’ll never regret the decision…well, at least for a couple years. Finally, just as with phone and internet service, the best part is you can pit the providers against each other. Mention you might be switching towards the end of your satellite contract and you just might get some extra perks. Your mileage may vary.



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