Hundreds of Washington area residents who signed up for Super TV during November, the company's first month of operation, didn't get what they paid for because of a computer problem, company officials said yesterday.
They said the problem now is solved and customers of the service, the latest entry in this area's pay TV market, will be given credit for the specially coded broadcasts of movies, sports events or specials that they missed. Letters explaining the credit will be mailed this week to Super TV subscribers, these officials said.
"There may be a residue of problems, but there should be very few of them," said Thomas C. Thompson, president of Subscription Television of Greater Washington, which is being marketed as Super TV (STV) and which broadcasts each night over UHF Channel 50 to about 5,000 subscribers living within a 50-mile radius of the Northwest Washington transmitting facilities.
To receive the movies, a customer must have a special decoder installed on his television set to unscramble the signals.
STV, which has launched a $1.4 million advertising blitz here to attract customers, is competing with two other types of local pay service. One is a microwave service called Marquee, which feeds movies, sports and specials to customers -- mostly in apartments and condominiums -- within a 40-mile radius of Washington. The other is cable television, which now is available in Arlington and Alexandria and is scheduled for other jurisdictions in future months.
Those vying for the consumer's pay television dollar say they aren't afraid of the new competition.
"It fills a void, since cable television is not yet prevalent in the Washington area," said Dolores Early, executive director of the Cable Television Commission in Prince George's County. But cable, once it is in place in a community, will offer consumers more television, she said.
"Cable is a communications highway that can carry 70 to 80 to 100 channels of material -- news, data, entertainment, even two-way communication," Early said. "But with subscription television, you just get one channel of entertainment only."
STV costs consumers $20 to $25 each month, roughly the same as cable television, Early said.
Officials of Marquee, which costs $7 to $15 a month, agree that cable and subscription television are different -- but they don't agree that cable is better. Marquee vice president Ed Yoe said that many consumers want only the entertainment programs, which are available on subscription television as well as on cable.
No one disagreed, however, on the response that STV has had from Washington area subscribers -- and the problems that the response has produced.
"Rather than 5,000 customer installations at this point, we expected 2,500," Thompson said. "And instead of 7,000 scheduled for installation, we expected 3,000 to 4,000 to be scheduled for installation."
To handle this extra business, STV brought in installers from various parts of the country and ordered additional decoders. The installer attaches an antenna to the customer's roof and runs a cable connection from the antenna to the television set and the decoder.
The computer problem, which switched off decoders that should have been on, affected about 1,000 customers -- roughly 20 percent of the subscribers, company officials said. Unhappy viewers who tried to call STV to report the scrambling then ran into another technical difficulty: jammed telephone lines that delayed company response to the computer problem for at least a week, officials said.