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WOW! Lays Foundation to Ditch Selling Cable TV; Starts Offering Streaming Alternatives

Cable system overbuilder WideOpenWest, better known to customers as WOW!, has begun offering its customers subscriptions to streaming video competitors fuboTV, Philo, Sling, and YouTube TV, in what could be a gradual move away from selling its own video packages.

WOW!, like every cable operator, is losing cable television customers to cord-cutting. As of the end of 2019, the company had just 381,000 video subscribers remaining, down another 6,300 in the last three months. Because of its small size, WOW! does not qualify for the steep volume discounts offered to cable television and satellite TV companies that have tens of millions of video customers. As a result, it either has to continue to raise prices or watch its cable television packages become unprofitable. WOW! has apparently decided it is smarter to partner with nationwide video streaming providers, if only to keep its broadband and television customers from switching to a competitor.

“WOW! has always put a high value on offering choices to consumers,” said WOW! CEO Teresa Elder. “This is one more way we’re empowering customers to determine when, where and how they consume information and entertainment. Our robust broadband network is the natural choice for high-speed data customers […] who want to access streaming services on their terms.”

WOW! specializes in providing service in communities already served by another cable operator. Many of its systems are in the Midwest, where it competes with Charter Spectrum, Cox, or Comcast.

WOW! will offer customers one free Amazon Fire TV Stick and a $25 rebate that can be used to buy other set-top boxes that will support streaming TV alternatives.

If successful, it may not be too long before WOW! stops selling cable television altogether, to focus on its broadband business.

Cable Companies See Big Growth in Broadband and Wireless, Big Losses in TV

Most analysts are predicting this past year will be the worst yet for video customer losses, with nearly two million cable TV customers cutting the cord in 2019, up from 1.26 million in 2018. Business is even worse for satellite TV operators, which lost 1.2 million customers in 2018 and are expected to have shed another 3.25 million customers in 2019 — mostly because of mass customer defections at AT&T’s DirecTV. Altogether, over five million Americans are estimated to have cut the cord over the past year.

Investors have largely stopped worrying about video subscriber losses, and cable operators have boldly told Wall Street they have stopped chasing video customers threatening to cancel service, claiming many are no longer profitable enough to keep. Their key competitors, online streaming video services like Sling TV, AT&T TV Now, and Hulu with Live TV are also seeing subscriber gains slowing, most likely because of price increases. One analyst predicted these online cable TV replacements would add a combined 804,000 customers in 2019, less than half of the 2.3 million they added in 2018.

Cable companies seem unfazed, in part because of record-breaking gains they are expected to have made in internet and wireless customers in the last year. One analyst suggests that most of those gains are coming directly at the expense of phone companies.

Comcast and Charter are the two largest cable companies in the United States.

“Cable’s clear speed advantage in roughly half the U.S. is driving continued strong share performance,” Jayant told clients in a research note. Jayant expects some of the biggest gains will come from ex-DSL customers in Comcast and Charter Spectrum’s service areas.

Nationwide, cable operators likely added 3.1 million new broadband customers in 2019, up 15% over last year. Phone companies are predicted to have lost at least 402,000 internet customers, up from 342,000 in 2018. Most of those departing customers are not served by fiber broadband.

Both Comcast and Charter Spectrum are also successfully attracting a growing number of mobile customers, as is Altice USA. Charter and Comcast offer their broadband customers the option of signing up for wireless mobile service, powered by Verizon Wireless. Altice USA resells Sprint service at cut-rate prices.

Comcast is estimated to have added 778,000 wireless customers in 2019 and analysts predict that the company will add another 909,000 in 2020. Charter Spectrum is expected to have gained 923,000 wireless customers in 2019, with another 1.04 million likely to sign up in 2020. Altice USA’s deal with Sprint in its Cablevision/Optimum service area has already attracted about 80,000 customers, with 550,000 more likely to follow in 2020.

Another Cable Company Drops Cable TV

Phillip Dampier January 23, 2020 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

Another independent cable company is dropping cable television service.

Rainbow Communications of Everest, which serves customers in northeastern Kansas, has set a “TV End” date for customers of June 30, 2020, after which it will only sell broadband and phone service:

As your local communications provider, we strive to bring innovative solutions for both entertainment and business purposes. Now a high-quality and less-expensive technology exists for watching TV by using an internet connection. In fact, most of our customers have chosen this route because watching video now accounts for 80% of our internet network traffic. Therefore, we have decided to focus our efforts on delivering the best internet experience possible, and end our TV service offering.

Rainbow TV service will end on June 30, 2020.

Rainbow, like many smaller cable operators, faces spiraling costs for video programming without the benefit of the volume discounts large national cable companies routinely receive. As streaming live TV video providers expand, they can now out-compete many independent cable companies by delivering a lower cost lineup of video channels. As a result, a growing number of small cable companies are deciding to exit the video business, concentrating on selling broadband and, to a lesser extent, phone service to their customers.

Rainbow claims customers will save up to $600 a year dropping its cable TV service in favor of a streaming video package from providers like YouTube TV or Sling. As large streaming providers continue to add local over the air channels to their lineups, many consumers can get the same or better lineup from a streaming provider at a lower cost.

The move will also allow Rainbow to dedicate all of its cable bandwidth towards data services, including digital phone service. That could allow the company to boost broadband speeds.

Spectrum Salesperson Lies to Customers About the Competition: “We Bought Them”

Phillip Dampier January 21, 2020 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News, Video No Comments

This Spectrum door-to-door salesperson tells a Bath, N.Y. customer the cable company bought the competition.

A Spectrum door-to-door sales representative has a new trick up his sleeve to win back customers who switched to a competitor: lie and tell them Spectrum bought out the competition and sooner or later customers will once again be dealing with the cable company.

Spectrum Rep: “To get you guys back on board with our service, we’re going to lock your price in for two years.”

A Bath, N.Y., customer of Empire Access, a competing fiber to the home provider offering service in the Southern Tier of New York: “I’m not interested.”

Spectrum Rep: “We just bought Empire, you know, so sooner or later you’re going to be with us.”

Customer: “So you’re going to raise up your rates?”

Spectrum Rep: “No, we’re just going to get everybody switched over, so whenever you’re ready. The official switchover is in March, so sooner or later you’ll be on board with us or you’ll be on satellite for internet. Right now we’re offering you a deal to get on board early.”

The “deal” was $50 a month for 100 Mbps internet, which is hardly a deal at all considering new Spectrum customers in competitive service areas can often sign up for 400 Mbps service for $29.99 a month for two years. More importantly, the salesperson openly lied to make a sale.

Empire Access marketing director Bob VanDelinder says Empire Access did not sell to Spectrum and has no plans to sell itself to anyone.

“Our company is locally owned and operated, and deeply rooted in the communities we serve,” VanDelinder said. “We can keep our customers based on our service, our price. We’re very competitive and play fair. We think that’s extremely important to play fair and keep it a level playing field and be honest to our customers.”

The customer captured most of the conversation on his Ring video doorbell and shared it with Empire Access. At least one other Empire Access customer said he experienced a similar encounter with the deceptive salesperson.

“The content of the video is not accurate and we’re investigating these apparent comments by the sales representative,” responds a Spectrum spokesperson.

Spectrum typically contracts out its door-to-door marketing to third party companies, with employees typically earning a commission or bonus based on each successful sign-up.

Empire Access is requesting customers who have experienced similar misleading claims to contact the company at: 1-800-338-3300.

Spectrum representative lies about the competition.

WENY-TV in Elmira, N.Y. reports on a Spectrum door-to-door salesperson using dirty tricks to try and fool customers to switch back to the cable operator. (2:32)

Comcast/NBC’s Peacock Launches This Spring – Free for Comcast & Cox Video Customers

Comcast video customers will be the first to get Comcast/NBCUniversal’s new streaming platform, dubbed “Peacock,” featuring over 400 TV series and 600 movies, mostly from the library of Universal Studios, beginning this spring.

“This is a very exciting time for our company, as we chart the future of entertainment,” NBCUniversal chairman Steve Burke said at an event this afternoon announcing details about the service to Comcast’s investors. “We have one of the most enviable collections of media brands and the strongest ad sales track record in the business. Capitalizing on these key strengths, we are taking a unique approach to streaming that brings value to customers, advertisers and shareholders.”

Peacock will feature multiple tiers of service, at least two available for free:

  • Peacock Free: This ad-supported tier (promised to include only five minutes of ads per hour) will be available to all and will feature about half of Peacock’s content library (7,500 hours). Similar to Hulu’s basic service, this free tier will offer next-day access to currently airing NBC TV series, entire seasons of selected older shows, selected movies, news, and sports programming. Some of Peacock’s original series will also be available on the free tier, along with a selection of clips and shows highlighting NBC content like Saturday Night Live, Family Movie Night, and the Olympics.
  • Peacock for Authenticated TV Subscribers (free): If you are a current Comcast or Cox cable TV subscriber, you can get Peacock’s Premium offering with a complete selection of Peacock content at no charge. This tier offers 15,000 hours of live/on-demand content, but has advertising. You can get rid of the ads by paying an extra $5 a month.
  • Peacock Premium: If you are a cord-cutter or do not subscribe to a TV package with a Comcast-partnered provider, you can subscribe directly to Peacock’s premium, ad-free version for $10 a month. This unlocks the complete lineup of Peacock content.

NBCUniversal officials also used today’s event to announce more original programming deals beyond those already announced, including new original comedies from Tina Fey, Sky Studios, Mindy Kaling and Amy Poehler. Almost all of Dick Wolf’s ubiquitous Law & Order (and its various spinoff series) will also be available for streaming, as will his current roster of Chicago-based series Fire, P.D., and Med. Peacock Premium customers will also be able to stream NBC’s late-night shows before they air on NBC. The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon will be available as early as 8 p.m. ET and Late Night with Seth Meyers will be available by 9 p.m.

Peacock will enter a very crowded field of streaming services, and is the last previously announced streaming service to launch, likely shortly after AT&T launches HBO Max. The fact there will be a free version may make the service more palatable to consumers weary of subscribing to yet another paid streaming service, on top of Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, and a range of specialty streaming services featuring international programming, sports, movies, and documentaries.

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