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Cable T.V. and Customer Retention

Recently, I decided to test the waters for a less expensive television experience. I have been a loyal cable subscriber for thirty-five years, but friends have told me that other systems, especially satellite, are cheaper. I went online to DirectTV.com to check their packages. We have been spending about $112 a month. The equivalent package from DirectTV appeared to be about $81 a month. I was shocked at the size of the price difference. DirectTV was more than 25% less expensive than Comcast, my cable supplier.

Given the size of these price differences, I did some investigation in what is happening in the market. Today there are four potential television service suppliers: cable, telephone companies, such as AT&T and Verizon, satellite and internet companies, such as Netflix and Hulu. The cable companies command 60% of the market. Phone companies have less than 15% of the market. The satellite firms, including DirectTV and Dish, control most of the rest. The internet firms are still small, though they may become larger in the future. Over the years, the cable companies have held a high price umbrella over the satellite companies. Now the phone companies are getting under this umbrella as well. The cable companies lost two million subscribers last year. The phone companies picked up most of that loss, while the satellite firms picked up a bit. The combination of the phone and satellite companies took virtually all the growth there was in the market.

Customer retention is a big deal. Even in fast-growing markets, you would like to be able to retain your customers when competitors seek them out. The cable companies have sought to retain customers by emphasizing more services to higher spending customers. These customers tend to be less price-sensitive. It appears that the cable companies are going to have to alter their courses. They simply can not afford to let their competitors take away their market share. Eventually, the competition will be as big and as strong as they are. They will lose the market leverage that a leader enjoys. For examples see GM in autos, IBM in the PC market and U.S. Steel in the steel market.

The T.V. market is speaking in clear tones. The phone and satellite companies offer a better value proposition. The cable companies have to listen soon.

Posted 5/4/11

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