Thursday, April 16, 2009


Increasing competition among cable, satellite, and broadband suppliers, combined with slower growth in consumer uptake because the industries have reached maturity, is leading to aggressive marketing efforts to wrestle market share from other companies.

If the leading companies followed classic marketing strategies, they would be offering consumers better arrays of networks and services, better customer service, and/or better prices in efforts to attract more customers.

Instead, many of the largest competitors have been engaging in acts that harm customers and consumers by using illegal and deceptive marketing practices and strategies designed to unwittingly wring greater revenue from their customers. Although the companies apparently think there are benefits in behaving badly, their marketing practices are increasingly getting them into trouble.

Aggressive telemarketing—which has always offended consumers—has landed a number of leading firms in hot water. Comcast and Direct TV have just admitted charges and are paying fines to the Federal Trade Commission for violating telemarketing rules by ignoring the federal do-not-call list. The FTC has also filed a suit against Dish Networks for similar violations.

Companies tend to advertise heavily when competition is high and ads for cable, satellite, and broadband services have helped the revenues of thousands of television stations, newspapers, and magazines across the U.S. Unfortunately, the veracity of advertising claims in cable, satellite, and broadband services has been widely questioned by consumer groups, governments, and other competitors. In recent months Bright House Networks filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission about the practices of AT&T, the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureau chastised Cablevision for advertising claims after complaints from Verizon, and Verizon itself has been sued for misleading claims by NJ Division of Consumer Affairs.

The industry also sought to market different levels of broadband Internet services to customers and planned to charge different rates for users—a strategy that would allow them to advertise a low price even when many customers would have to pay a higher price based on usage. Plans by Time Warner, Comcast, Frontier Communications and other firms to offer tiered service plans have now been dropped after complaints by customers and legislators.

Cable and satellite firms have traditionally been mavericks and rogues in the media industries and many Internet service firms followed their example. Even though the industries have matured and the number of players has been significantly reduced through mergers and acquisitions, the wild and woolly world they created is still evident in their marketing practices.

We can only hope they will learn to become good corporate citizens—or at least firms concerned about their own reputations.