Once again we’re reminded of the Lily Tomlin line in her Saturday Night Live skit from the mid-70s:
“We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the phone company.”
Comcast in Atlanta and elsewhere socked it to customers by pulling Turner Classic Movies (TCM) from its basic subscription service on October 10. Subscribers claim they had no idea this was happening. They parked in front of their TVs and flipped to the TCM channel only to find TCM was there no more. If you planned to watch TCM’s weekend offerings such as A Place in the Sun, Giant and Clash by Night, you were out of luck.
American corporations like Comcast have to remain competitive which they often say means offering less to their customers. And forget about defining competitive to them.
Subscription Insider on Tuesday posted a story headlined “Comcast Upsets Turner Classic Fans with Bold Business Decision.” While we also muse over the definition of bold, the industry website quotes the Comcast line:
“Every month, Comcast pays programmers like networks, local TV station owners and others, for the ability to bring their programming to you. We regularly review our programming and sometimes make changes to ensure we’re offering a wide variety of programming at the best value. We look at a variety of factors, including customer viewership and programming costs when making these decisions,”wrote Comcast.
“Viewership of TCM is low, as over 90% of our customers watch less than two movies per month. Given this and contractual limitations on offering TCM a la carte, we decided to move TCM to the Sports Entertainment Package, which will help us manage programming costs that are passed on to our customers while continuing to make the channel available to those who want to watch it,” the cable company added.
Comcast says it notified customers over the summer of its decision to strip TCM from its basic service and move it to a new sports package available to those already paying for a 140+ channel tier. That new sports package, however, will cost another $9.99 monthly.
Naturally, customers were surprised by Comcast’s bold business decision, even if there had been notification of the TCM change on Comcast bills during the summer. As with most utility notices, eyes glaze over the bills and customers focus on what’s owed that month. Usually the mountain of minutia on the notices is regarded as just more legalese. Life is too short to scan the corporate mumbo-jumbo.
This subscriber did indeed receive notice of the TCM change but it was buried at the bottom of the August invoice, under “additional information.” Easily overlooked, especially with the tiny print — and not provided again in the September invoice as the October 10 programming change drew closer.
To her credit, Subscription Insider‘s Dana Neuts provides a comment at the end of her story which questions the boldness of Comcast’s business decision:
We understand that companies need to make business decisions to cover costs and to maximize revenue generation opportunities. However, in some cases, those decisions cause them to alienate and lose customers. Here it seems that Comcast was trying to take advantage of an opportunity to make more money, but maybe they didn’t think it all the way through. Most importantly, they were not putting the customer first.
Not only has there been public outcry online (e.g., social media and Comcast’s own customer forums) showing their customers’ disappointment, but their competitors offer TCM as part of their basic streaming bundles. Comcast is making it easy for their customers to cut the cord and try a streaming bundle instead. They also packaged TCM with programming that is not consistent with the types of shows TCM viewers watch. This may have been a very costly decision.
So there we have it from an industry insider who’s paid to observe corporate gouging.
In the story he filed for the AJC, Rodney Ho shared a reader’s disgust with Comcast, getting right to the heart of the matter:
I am livid over this shift. I don’t watch TV. The only thing I do watch is TCM.
Another chimed in:
Having the TCM channel bundled with a premium sports package makes no sense. I don’t watch sports, and lumping the two channels together forces me to pay for programming I don’t want or watch. Comcast is like Jessie James, without a visible gun, holding the customer hostage. I’m thinking of dumping my Comcast TV service altogether
Indeed there are viewers in Atlanta — no doubt thousands of them — who subscribe to Comcast just so they’ll get TCM. There are other quality channels in the package but not enough to make the 140-channel package a great value. Still, people pay for it out of convenience as they’d rather not stream for this and that or find a favored network on Sling or You Tube TV. Comcast doesn’t seem to take this into account. Greed kicks in and they fail to realize that in closing a sale, convenience is often a major factor. They also fail to realize they can’t keep pushing their customers around.
Instead Comcast, working the con, decides a channel with, as they described it, low viewership, should actually command a premium. So they bundle TCM with a collection of esoteric sports channels aimed at people who rarely see the sunshine.
Comcast’s con is reminiscent of what Georgia Power steamrolled through the state legislature and the state’s public service commission. That extra ten dollars you pay each month to Georgia Power is going for the completion of Plant Vogtle, a nuclear power plant that may never be completed. But in listening to the project’s defenders, one would think it’s our patriotic duty to fatten a private company’s coffers.
Lily Tomlin nailed it. When it comes to the essential utilities, the companies get their way. Everyone needs heat and light. However, everyone doesn’t need cable TV, even beloved channels. Comcast doesn’t keep us warm at nights or provide light when we’re reading — and,therefore, not watching TV. Maybe viewers can pressure them to drop the con and actually follow the basics of customer service.