If you read the comments on TV recaps, chances are pretty good you’ve seen a comment like this:
This was another hysterical episode of Louie. It was so funny, I watched it when it aired and then I watched it a second time at DISH Online. I only wish my wife felt the same way. The beginning was cute. I have daughters and I work nights at DISH so I appreciate what Louie does for his kids. The ending took the cake though! Louie is such a bold show. I cannot believe he actually accepted another date. After watching Louie for two years I suppose I should have expected it to happen.
It’s a unique species of Internet comment: It offers insightful commentary, personal reflection, and a plug for one of the many services provided by the DISH Network.
Such is the latest marketing strategy of the satellite service provider, whose comments we first noticed on Slate’s TV coverage last summer. Paying commenters to promote good PR is, of course, nothing new—everyone from multinational corporations to authoritarian governments have been accused of doing it—but these were something different.
After all, they’re not quite spam. These people aren’t bots—they’re humans! And they have real insights to offer into your favorite shows. Take this comment from our recap of a recent, much discussed episode of Girls:
I also hope that we get to see more of Glover and they further explore race issues because it is a little too naive to just say that race doesn’t exist. I can see how the Missy Elliott thing suggests a subconscious awareness of race, but they need to develop that more before it would really mean anything. I missed the show because I was working late at DISH last night, but fortunately I was able to catch up on the ride home. I use the DISH Remote Access App nearly every day on my train ride home to watch the programs that I recorded earlier that evening on my tablet. Catching up with all of my favorite Girls really makes the time fly.
SamB098 isn’t just promoting SamB098’s DISH Remote Access App. SamB098 is making a point about race in American culture and on Girls.
Our curiosity piqued, Slate reached out to DISH to ask them about the strategy, and they confirmed that they had “a team that spends a portion of its time posting DISH-related comments on public online conversations.” When we asked them a few follow-up questions, such as how much time members of the “team” spend doing this, they responded, “We are unable to disclose specific information related to our marketing strategies.”
It’s true that, as the DISH representative pointed out to us, these paid commenters always identify themselves as DISH employees. But they don’t usually announce this up front. They choose ordinary-looking commenter names, such as “MrBAnderson” and “JK71618,” and slip their employment status into their comment. They say, “I missed the show because I was working late at DISH last night, but fortunately I was able to catch up on the ride home,” or, “I have daughters and I work nights at DISH so I appreciate what Louie does for his kids.” Most often, they simply refer to “my coworker at DISH” who invariably has thoughts on the show under discussion.
Sometimes they even get existential.
I loved your comment about Louie creating an entire character from a single detail. Since I started working nights at DISH I have been taking the bus home and I often wonder what other people’s lives are like, but it has never occurred to me to write these ideas down. Granted, that is when I watch Louie on my DISH Remote Access app, but it would be nice to see what how much more complex my ideas I would be if I were to put them on paper.
We’re not the only ones to notice something fishy about DISH’s comments. In fact, some Slate commenters have begun mixing it up with DISH’s lackeys. After Titanius left the comment above, unpaid (as far as we know) Slate commenter Leond suggested that Titanius “flesh out [his or her] character more” and find a love interest, perhaps a woman who also has the DISH Remote Access app. Commenter jimmymack, on the other hand, responded with a bit of satire:
That poker game reminded me of the ones I have with my co-workers from DirecTV. One time we were playing Texas hold-em and the dealer turned up the cards 2, 4, and 8 in succession and it reminded me to tune to that channel because it was time for Louie. It is kind of embarrassing sometimes when I’m on the subway watching Louie on my DirecTV smartphone app and someone loudly offers Louie a blow job. I need to get some earbuds. Louie seems to get a lot of blow jobs.
DISH isn’t only targeting Slate. A quick search around the web showed that over the last several months, Titanius has left at least 71 comments at sites including Entertainment Weekly, Splitsider, Bloomberg, Business Week, Rolling Stone, Yahoo, Cinema Blend, and the A.V. Club. (Louie appears to be his favorite show, followed closely by Wilfred, which has aired back-to-back with Louie on FX.) Such comments are not limited to TV recaps, either: SamB098 also likes video games, superhero movies, and celebrity fashions (though not as much, it seems, as SamB098 likes SamB098’s DISH Remote Access App).
In the future Slate will be banning all such comments from DISH employees: When I spoke to our commenting guru about the ploy, he explained that our terms of service for commenting ban all commercial advertising and promotion. Part of me wishes the best for Titanius and his daughters, and I hope he does start to put his thoughts down on paper. What I won’t miss is hearing about his DISH Remote Access App.