Cable and satellite providers> are duking it out on air and online, flinging insults about everything from fake HD channels and poor customer service to overpriced plans and missing channels.
At heart, the mud-slinging is about grabbing market share, with providers trying to undercut one another to lure customers away from competitors. Fueling cable and satellite hate is the latest salvo in the provider wars and a key way companies try to get users to switch. Since prices have gone up only over the last several years, this battle is good for consumers who want to switch and take advantage of generous new-customer deals and for those who just want a price break from their current provider.
They ve clearly hit a nerve. Consumers have long been frustrated by expensive and confusing plans and poor customer service. Recently the frustration of long appointment windows and no-show technicians led New York City to require Time Warner Cable (TWC)
Of course, some of the claims providers make are nothing but static such as promises of fewer weather-related service problems, more NFL network coverage and better picture quality with a grain of salt, says Miro Copic, the principal at BottomLine Marketing, a consulting firm. For example, many ad campaigns tout top customer satisfaction ratings, but neglect to mention that the awards were regional or excluded certain types of providers, he says.
But if you want to get a good deal on cable, fiber optic or satellite service these days, this battle and the underlying price war is good for you.
For starters, it s spawned a handful of price comparison programs designed to help you cut through the clutter of claims and offers. WhiteFence offers a list of options in your area based on your address, and includes details on new-subscriber deals. A new tool from BillShrink also factors in preferred channels, number of household TVs and installation fees to hunt down the best plans that you re eligible for. Updates are sent regularly.
Using those tools to streamline selection also makes negotiating easier if you want to avoid the hassle of starting fresh with a new provider like four-hour windows for installation and long lines to return your old equipment. Even if you don t spot a better deal, it s worth calling your current provider to ask for a better rate, says Gail Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the National Federation for Credit Counseling.
There s a lot going on, and they want to keep your business, she says. Simply point out the better price or service you ve found, and ask if they can match it. No luck? Then ask what other incentives they can offer to keep you as a customer, says Cunningham.
Most consumers suffer from inertia, says Michael Belch, a marketing professor at San Diego State University. You have got to have something really good to get people to move. Playing on cable-hate can entice consumers who wouldn t move just for a new-subscriber deal.