Cutting Cable TV – It’s Personal (2018 Jun)


Barry A. Liebling

Recently The Wall Street Journal reported on an ongoing trend that is familiar to anyone who has experience with Cable TV. The cable suppliers are losing customers at a rapid rate as people are purchasing streaming video services – such as Netflix – and abandoning the bundled services. The article gives the impression that customers are leaving because they can get a better deal by ditching cable. And an implication is that the Cable TV giants can recover from the loss by providing better, more economical offerings to their customers.

Certainly the Cable TV behemoths will do better if they enhance the value of their services. But that is only part of their problem. Besides considering economic calculations, many customers are leaving Cable TV because they have developed intense antipathy for these providers.

I live in New York City – the largest domestic market – where three Cable TV suppliers are available. It is as though they are competing with one another to see how obnoxious they can be. I have experiences with all three companies because each has made me angry and encouraged me to switch. Finally, last year I cut the cord and decided to buy only the internet connection from my last supplier.

What are the Cable TV companies doing that elicits negative emotional responses? I’ll mention three blunders. First, they raise their prices constantly – at least once but usually several times each year. Of course every private company has the right to charge any amount it likes and customers can accept the fee or stop buying the service. (I recognize that since Cable TV companies have government-enforced monopolies an argument can be made that they are not bona fide private companies.) But notice that every time a Cable TV supplier raises prices it sends a clear signal to its customers – consider whether the higher price is worth it and look for a better alternative. In my experience each price hike made me wonder if I could get a more attractive deal from another company. Purely as a practical business policy, the Cable TV companies should minimize the frequency of increasing fees. Encouraging customers to shop around is not a clever business tactic. No wonder there is so much churning.

Second, the big firms are guilty of straight-out lying. I have learned first-hand that the Cable TV suppliers in New York City do not respect truth. Several years ago I switched to a new vendor and was assured that my bill would go up $10 a year for two years and then would never be raised again. Note that I did not ask for this deal. It was part of the sales pitch used to make me a customer. On the third year the invoice went up – much more than $10 – and when I called to complain I was assured that no such promise was made by the company. Of course, this ruined my relationship with the provider and I switched (to a company I had used previously).

Then I became “sophisticated” and learned that Cable TV suppliers cannot keep promises longer than one year at a time. So I agreed to one-year contracts – where I knew that at the end of twelve months I would get an invoice with a huge increase and would have the unpleasant options of accepting the new price, trying to get a better deal through Customer Retention, or giving my business to a different vendor. Last year I had one of these twelve month agreements and received an increase in my bill on the eighth month. When I called customer service I was assured that inflating the bill sooner than twelve months was justified because it was being done to all customers. I asked to speak with Customer Retention and was told that the company no longer had that department. This pushed me over the edge, and it was my impetus for getting rid of the cable box for good.

Of course, about one month after I gave up Cable TV I was called by someone who identified herself as Customer Retention and offered to give me my old bundle at the same price I had before it was increased. Too late – your company has turned me off forever. I have no desire to obtain TV services from you.

Third, Cable TV companies attempt to deceive their customers by sending misleading messages. Here the firms carefully avoid overt lying but do everything they can to trick people. When I bought TV services I would investigate how much it would cost me per month. I still get ads via e-mail and conventional mail urging me to be a customer. A typical pitch is something like “pay $29.99 for TV service” written in large letters. And next to the headline in very small print is “must bundle with phone and internet service” and “plus equipment, taxes, and other fees.” So there is no scenario where I will pay $29.99. The company pushes this number because they are hoping that some consumers will not do the arithmetic and will be persuaded by the (deceptive) low price. What the company executives responsible for this horrendous policy fail to understand is that savvy people will realize that the Cable TV company is attempting to fool them. Anyone who tries to fool me (even if they do not succeed) is on my do-not-trust list.

When I was shopping for TV service I would call the suppliers and ask what the total bill per month would be if I switched. They had to laboriously add up equipment, taxes, and other fees. One of the three vendors gave me a straight (perhaps truthful) answer. The other two customer representatives said they had no way of knowing the exact amount. I believe the employees were telling the truth. They did not know what my bill would be, because the company policy was to keep potential customers in the dark as long as possible. There is no excuse for this, and it is a formula for making customers resentful.

Less than a year ago I began getting all of my TV viewing by way of streaming services. In the last few weeks I received personal phone calls from the last company where I last purchased Cable TV. I was told they now offer streaming services that are a better deal than what I am currently purchasing. Even if the claim is true (it may or may not be) I have no intention in sending more money to a vendor that has earned my contempt. My former Cable TV supplier should realize that its odious policies have consequences.

*** See other entries at in “Monthly Columns.” ***

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