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Charter Spectrum May Want to Rethink Its Digital Pay-TV Service

By Jeff Kagan
May 14, 2018 11:11 AM PT
charter spectrum digital pay tv service lags the competition in customer satisfaction

Cable television companies have been rushing to introduce new digital pay-TV products. Traditional cable TV has been on the decline in the midst of a growing wave of new competition and new technologies. The new offerings reflect forward thinking and are a step in the right direction, but too many providers still don't offer good quality digital pay-TV.

Charter Spectrum is a great example of what might be a good company with a bad service. It offers consumer and business versions of its pay-TV, VoIP phone and high-speed Internet. Soon it will offer Spectrum Wireless service.

Charter Spectrum is the pay-TV provider at my place at the beach. I was happy with its traditional analog cable TV service for more than a decade. It upgraded to digital pay-TV several years ago, and I tried it. I didn't like it, so I reverted back to its traditional analog pay-TV and was happy with that.

Sure, I would have liked the digital features, but I didn't want lousy service as part of the mix. So, I made my choice and I was satisfied... until now.

Charter Spectrum has started requiring users to make the shift to digital pay-TV. The word is that it plans to turn off its analog service. OK -- I'm being forced into the company's poor quality digital pay-TV service. It has been several years, though, so it must have worked all the bugs out of the system by now, right? The service should be as good, reliable and easy to use as my Comcast Xfinity service at home, right?

Wrong. Wrong by a long shot. My new Charter Spectrum digital pay-TV service is all hooked up and I've been using it. The truth is, the service is as bad as it was when the company first introduced it several years ago. I have new equipment installed, and it has more problems than you can imagine.

In fact, I have almost thrown the remote control at the wall several times in the last several days, just trying to get the dang thing to work. Charter should understand the problems it has been causing for its users -- and ultimately for the company -- as the marketplace is more competitive than ever.

What follows are just a few of the painful details.

That's Not Entertainment

When you pick up the remote control, you want to watch TV. You don't want to go through painful delays and confusing mistakes that aggravate you before a program even begins.

The remote control is supposed to turn on your TV and your Spectrum box with one push of a button. It only works sometimes. When it does work, the TV often turns on, but the Spectrum service says, "please wait" while it goes through some kind of process.

Several minutes later -- no kidding, several minutes later -- the TV service finally displays on screen. Meanwhile, you've been sitting there waiting, getting angrier and angrier.

But OK, the TV is on, finally. Then, as you surf through the channels, you realize the new remote control is more confusing than ever. It's full of buttons and controls. There are dozens of buttons on the device.

I generally only use a few, like volume, channel, mute, last and favorites. Those are the most common buttons and should be in one section and larger than the others. That would enable the user to remember where they are, so you wouldn't have to think twice after grabbing the remote.

If it's night time, forget about it. You either have to turn on the lights in the room, or press the "light" key to see the keypad. It appears there are thousands of buttons -- but at least you can almost see what they say.

Stiff Pay-TV Competition

Charter is still operating the way the cable television industry used to operate. In the past, cable companies never had to worry about losing customers, so they never really cared about making their services easy to use or easy to understand, or about improving customer relationships.

Things have changed. An increasing number of pay-TV competitors really have been turning up the heat on traditional cable TV companies like Charter Spectrum. That means cable TV competitors must up their game in order to remain competitive and not lose market share.

For example, AT&T acquired DirecTV. Since that time, it has created DirecTV NOW and mobile TV, or wireless TV. These options let users get all sorts of digital programming at home, at the office, or anywhere in the U.S. using their smartphones or tablets and the AT&T Mobility network.

The Pay-TV Transformation

AT&T's transformative move has been causing all sorts of reactions in the industry. Verizon has indicated that it wants to follow its competitor's successful path. T-Mobile has acquired a pay-TV provider and wants to follow. Comcast Xfinity started delivering its digital pay-TV offering years ago, and their Xfinity Mobile wireless service one year ago.

Add to this group younger and newer players like Netflix, Hulu, Facebook TV, YouTube TV, Amazon TV and more -- and you can see that we are just in the early stages of a new TV revolution.

Competitive Pressure

Cable TV companies are under incredible pressure. That's why Charter Spectrum needs to make changes. That's why it needs to move to a digital pay-TV service. That's why it needs to start offering wireless with Spectrum Mobile.

More than that, it is why Charter Spectrum needs to serve its customers better. Users must find the service easy to use and have a great experience. They must become closer to Charter -- or they will leave and go to one of its new competitors.

This should be front and center on the Charter Spectrum agenda. Why isn't it? That's the important question. On one hand, the company seems to understand the threat -- but on the other hand, it has not yet improved the user's service experience.

In its television advertising, its talks a great talk. Charter Spectrum points to all the areas that need improving and essentially admits that it didn't care about the customer in the past. It emphasizes all the new features it now offers. That's all great -- but it doesn't match the customer experience.

Poor Execution

The problem is, new services must be more than innovative. They must be enjoyable and satisfying to the user. The older analog TV offered by Charter was simpler and easier to use. The remote control had limited buttons, making the entire experience easy and enjoyable.

Charter never had to worry about user satisfaction when it had no competition, but those days are over. Customers now can switch to any of a variety of new providers. So, Charter now must consider making the customer happy -- something it never had to worry about before. It has been moving too slowly on that score, which is a concern.

There are many new services available, including on-demand and pay-per-view services that offer the user more options. That's good. Generally speaking, I like the direction the company has been heading.

Making the Market Adjustment

Every step forward should be easier and less complicated -- and offer more. While Charter does offer more, it has proven to be more complicated and less reliable, and that makes the service less enjoyable.

This is a critical mistake the company must correct. It must realize that it faces stiff competition. It must demonstrate more care for the customer, which is something this customer does not yet feel.

Charter didn't have to worry about competition before. It didn't have to be concerned with making the experience easier for the customer. There were no other choices, and its market share was secure. However, things have changed. That marketplace no longer exists.

In today's volatile and rapidly growing and changing marketplace, Charter must pay attention to the user or suffer losses. It must create a positive and strong brand relationship with the user -- and it must do so quickly, or risk losing customers to its competitors.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.


Jeff Kagan has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2010. His focus is on the wireless and telecom industries. He is an independent analyst, consultant and speaker. Email Jeff.


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