OPINION

Why AT&T and Comcast Are Changing Their Brands

After giving a speech, I was asked a question that got me thinking. Many of you may be wondering about this too. AT&T and Comcast have two of the strongest brand names in the business — so why in the world are they both suddenly changing them? What are we, as customers and investors, not aware of?

AT&T’s new brand is “Rethink Possible” and Comcast’s is “Xfinity.” One is a brand remake, and the other is a master brand remake, which means changing the name and brand of the company in the consumer mind and marketplace. Over the years, I have worked with most of the competitors, and I have seen this happen before. Let me explain what is happening and whether it will work for both companies. I think my answer may surprise you.

First, a bit of history. One decade ago, some of the seven baby bells that are now AT&T, Verizon and Qwest (which is now merging with CenturyTel), started selling a television service called “Americast.” Imagine that, we thought, television from a phone company.

Writing on the Wall

The phone companies saw the writing on the wall back then. Americast put them into competition with the cable television companies, which at the time were many small companies. Then the baby bells started merging, so TV was put on hold.

Next, the cable television companies made their move. Seeing what the phone companies did, and after merging into fewer and larger companies like Comcast, Time Warner, Cox and Cablevision, they started offering VoIP telephone service over the Internet. That let them compete against the bells.

Recognizing that threat, phone companies recently started to offer their own IPTV television services, like AT&T U-verse and Verizon FiOS. After they ironed out the kinks in the first few months, the quality was excellent, and these services are becoming a real competitor to cable TV.

Then the cable television companies wanted to get into wireless and started reselling cellphones from Sprint. That was a flop. Next, they partnered with Sprint to bring Clearwire into existence, and now they sell a wireless Internet service.

So the new wave of competition in the marketplace has begun. The phone companies’ IPTV services and satellite television companies like DirecTV and DISH are competing with the cable television industry for the big all-or-nothing bundle.

It’s a battle for the whole consumer.

The space will change completely over the next several years, and this changing marketplace represents an incredible opportunity and threat for every competitor. The industry is turning into something very different — a place where every competitor offers everything, and where we choose one company and say goodbye to the rest.

This is the big battle we are watching unfold.

Making New Rules

I like what Comcast CEO Brian Roberts says when he talks about changing the company and the industry in customer’s mind and reaching out to them in new ways. He sounds like he understands the changing opportunities and threats to his business. He is trying to change the cable television side.

You may say competition seems healthy and strong, so why change the brand when things are so good?

To understand the reason you have to pull the camera back and look at the big-picture changes that are reshaping the industry. In the emerging new industry, these companies want to win the coming battle.

Customers, employees and investors don’t understand what is happening yet. They are confused, to put it mildly.

Going forward, each side will lose some customers, but each will enjoy increased earnings from those who remain and buy more services. The same thing is happening to phone companies, cable television companies and wireless companies.

This is a new marketplace where we choose one and say goodbye to the rest. That is the reason for this update in brand strategy.

The master brand today means many different things from 10 years ago, so this new thinking is correct. The question is how to bring the rest of the world up to speed.

The timing works better for some than for others. Let me explain.

First, realize the brand update taking place at AT&T and Comcast will likely occur at most competitors. This is just the start.

As with everything else — timing is key. AT&T and Comcast know the industry is changing, and they want to be first to create a new competitive framework in which they can lead. They figure other competitors will follow and play by the new rules they set up.

That’s their dream. That is the reason for the sudden launch of a rebranding war by these two companies.

However, to rebrand, timing has to be right — and at this point, timing looks better for AT&T than for Comcast, although the cable television company cannot wait.

Pushing a Boulder Uphill

Remember the comedian Lily Tomlin from the 1970s television show “Laugh-In”? She played Ernestine, the telephone company operator. She would say, “one-ringy-dingy, two-ringy-dingies, oh yes gracious me, to whom am I speaking?” Week after week, she would play on people’s disgust with their local phone companies’ full-of-themselves attitude. At that time, local phone companies had no competition, and the customer suffered.

However, since the early 1990s, the phone companies have reinvented themselves and built their new brand and have been continually improving the experience for customers. Because of that effort, they are now rewarded with a loyal customer base.

Now, cable television companies are starting to go through the same change.

In the mid 1990s, the “Seinfeld” television show had Kramer dealing with the cable company in the same way. He was upset with them not showing up, so when he set the next appointment for service, he never showed up, just to show them. That too was a comic way of relating to the way most customers in America feel.

During the last few years, cable television companies have seen competition coming, and they have finally been improving their service and repairing their image in the marketplace. They have made real progress.

We used to have to wait a week or two for a service call, then take the entire day off of work and sit around the house waiting. Today, they try and make an appointment for a specific time. Comcast even has television commercials saying how much they now care.

Comcast has realized the industry is changing, and it has to change with it in order to lead. It has started to make the right moves. However, customers don’t recognize improvements early on.

Changing the Comcast brand before the customer is ready to accept it is like pushing a boulder uphill. It is much slower and harder and may not work.

That is the difference between the two companies. I think AT&T and the phone companies in general have been doing this longer and have a better relationship with the customer and are pushing the brand-change boulder down the hill. Comcast and the cable television companies, on the other hand, are early in the process and are pushing uphill.

I would normally say the cable television companies should wait to change their brand. However if they do, they will miss this industry-changing opportunity to lead.

It is a tough position for Comcast to be in. The company itself caused the problem, however, by its treatment of the customer over the years. That needs to be improved on now. It simply takes time to change the mind of the customer.

So, like I said in answering the question after the speech, I would like to be wrong about this. Like everyone else, I want all competitors to be as successful as they can be as the industry continues to change. Healthy competition is good for customers, investors and workers.

However, it is important to swing the bat at just the right moment if you want to hit the ball out of the park. In today’s changing world, timing is everything — and that’s especially true for an industry undergoing transformation.


Jeff Kagan is an E-Commerce Times columnist and a wireless, telecom and technology analyst, author and consultant. Email him at jeff@jeffKAGAN.com.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

Related Stories

E-Commerce Times Channels

OPINION

Cryptocurrency as a Hedge Against the Declining Dollar

Bitcoin and the U.S. Dollar

Whether you want to embrace it or not, the money evolution is well underway. It’s taking us from paper bills to all sorts of digital currencies and bitcoins.

We didn’t just get to cryptocurrency and digital wallets overnight.

The digital transformation in finance started back in the 50’s when credit cards first came on the scene, allowing money to be transacted with the simple swipe of a piece of plastic.

Next, before we knew it, e-commerce solutions entered the marketplace. This not only heightened the ability to facilitate millions of dollars across online channels, but it created a platform for borderless transactions that now impact enterprises around the world.

Although society has engaged in digital finance for years now, there are still people who fear crypto and can’t quite let go of the traditional American dollar. For them, it’s the only tangible way to show the value of their money. However, regrettably, trends show that the monetary value of the precious dollar has now been declining for years.

Who could fathom the decline of the dollar and the rise of new currencies? During the pandemic the U.S. dollar was down 10 to 12 percent relative to America’s major trading partners; its weakest levels since early 2018. In addition to the pandemic other events contributed to the decline, such as the financial crisis and inflation. While the dollar remains the most stable currency in the world, its position is being challenged.

Cryptocurrency Advantages

As the dollar weakens, the rise of digital currencies seems to be accelerating. Early adopters of bitcoin have been reaping some of the benefits, despite the turbulence that the currency has had to endure over the years. Its pushback doesn’t seem to outweigh the benefits.

For example, consumers can enjoy little to no transaction fees when using crypto. Also, 160 countries around the world accept bitcoin, making it easy to send money overseas. Not to mention, thousands of crypto ATMs are starting to saturate the marketplace, making bitcoin transactions more accessible than ever with daily limits as high at $21,000 per day.

Regardless of all the buzz and activity around crypto, some demographics are still just not ready to veer away from what’s familiar. Even though there is apprehension, many still understand that things are changing and that they must get on board or be left behind.

Furthermore, since the industry is on the brink of a financial revolution, it’s imperative that consumers are provided with knowledge and training from cryptocurrency providers. No one should be exempt from reaping the benefits that the world of digital monetization has to offer.

Once many see how accessible and user-friendly it is, they’ll be more excited to get on board. There are many innovative companies changing the way financial activity is conducted. It’s vitally important that consumers seek them out, as well as research the best digital currency providers and products that fit their risk level and financial needs.

For those who are not prepared for the paradigm money shift, it could result in a harsh wake up call. Especially if they believe that the dollar is the world’s only premier global currency. With the current yearly decrease in the value of the dollar, it’s only wise to be proactive in securing financial health.

With this in mind, here are some ways to move to digital money:

Start by Making a Small Investment

Bitcoin is taking a commanding presence. It’s a financial asset that is buzzing and for good reason. It has become the world’s most popular cryptocurrency, with currently over 81 million users and over 270,000 transactions per day. Out of those users, there’s a huge population enthusiastic as a result of unthinkable profits.

Investing small amounts is a nominal risk that could yield large gains in the future. The dollar passes from hand to hand never knowing who had it last. Every bitcoin, on the other hand, has its entire history visible on the blockchain. This means funds can be tracked. Additionally, strong cryptography makes it virtually impossible to manipulate this ledger.

In short, the Bitcoin blockchain is one of the most secure systems on the planet, if not the most secure.

Get Familiar With Crypto Platforms

Knowledge is power. When it comes to the digital space, it’s power to profit.

There are a variety of platforms which allow you to store and trade cryptocurrencies. Understanding each is critical to aid in discovering the best and most secure for you or your business.

When making the decision, there are key factors to consider. For example, how frequently you’ll be trading or how much money you want to secure. By answering these questions, you gain insight into what platform best suits your needs.

Talk to Others, Hire a Coach

Becoming educated about the fundamentals of digital currency will help to set your mind at ease. There’s a lot to learn, and crypto is continuously evolving.

Sitting down with someone who has purchased, used, and even traded cryptocurrency will help accelerate your progress. Those that have walked the road before you may have made mistakes they learned from. You won’t have to repeat the same mistakes, so you’ll be a step ahead.

Recently, many of us experienced a financial shakeup we didn’t see coming as a result of the pandemic. Proven to be resilient, the world is dusting off its shoulders from the fall. Moreover, we are slowly watching the redefinition of the dollar take place before our eyes.

This is the time for us all to prepare for the new financial movement that is about to transform the world. Thankfully, there are innovative companies positioned properly in the digital-currency space. They are here to help as we all transition into the future of money.

It’s important to relinquish fear of the unknown and become knowledgeable. There are numerous ways to do so. Whether that’s talking to a friend, doing your own research, or starting small with wise investments.

Everyone has the opportunity to ensure their financial stability in the future. Don’t wait for the fall. Make sure you have a variety of financial assets and capabilities in place in case the dollar does come crashing down.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network. Investing involves risk. Please consult with your attorney, accountant, and/or tax advisor for advice concerning your particular circumstances.

Lee Hansen is CEO at Byte Federal, a fintech provider of crypto ATMs with a network of thousands of kiosks. As an entrepreneur he has launched companies, acquired millions in funding, developed software, authored patents, and innovated several business solutions.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

Related Stories
OPINION

4 Industries on the Brink of Technological Disruption

One of the stories told in management classes as an example of a recurring mistake companies make when their industry is transitioning focuses on buggy makers at the turn of the last century.

Those that figured out they were in the personal transportation business pivoted to cars. Most of the others that thought they were only in the buggy business became extinct because their market moved to cars, and they didn’t.

Seems obvious after the fact, but clearly at the time it didn’t seem obvious at all because most buggy makers and those that sold horses and did blacksmithing went out of business.

In the case of autonomous cars, we are looking at moving from car ownership to a service like Uber that will provide a car just when we need it.

But, going further, initially with services like Zoom and eventually with the metaverse extending the concept of holoportation — coupled with drone delivery and the pandemic — will we even need cars as much, or at all, in the future?

Holoportation, or the use of avatars to travel virtually, is not considered personal transportation today. But if it is successful, it could eliminate most personal transportation in the future, and in turn put existing car makers in the same category as those buggy makers were a century ago.

Should holoportation be considered part of the transportation industry, or should existing personal transportation be considered part of old school collaboration, social networking, and shopping?

Let’s talk about a some of these big coming technology disruptions. Then we’ll close with my product of the week, a head-mounted display from TCL called the Nxtwear Air that could become this year’s must-have gadget.

Personal Transportation

Before the pandemic, personal transportation was mostly focused on cars with air transport, human powered transport, and even motorcycles largely falling into different classes. But with the increased use of video conferencing and collaboration products like Zoom, Teams, and Webex, the need for business travel has taken a significant hit.

Among the cool stuff at CES this yearPortl and La Vitre demonstrated a way to visit family and friends virtually, while a solution from ARHT Media called Holopresence showed how you can speak at any remote event without ever leaving your home, yet appear to actually be there.

While we are currently still habit-bound to travel, the pandemic is forcing us to reconsider our safety and aggressively consider not traveling. We don’t really need to go to the store anymore as delivery options have expanded. Because of Covid, our doctors increasingly meet with us remotely, and we’ve been able to use services like Amazon and eBay to get around our need to go to malls and department stores.

When cars become truly autonomous, why will we need to own one for the few times we have to leave our homes? Just contact the car service and an automated vehicle will appear at your door and function pretty much like an elevator in a high rise. You don’t need to own an elevator, so why would you need to own a car?

At CES, a lot of the car designs looked more like rolling living rooms than cars, and several of them were rather ugly. But so are elevators, and we don’t seem to mind that much what they look like any more than we used to care about those old yellow cabs or buses.

Plus, we haven’t even begun to talk about flying cars and people-carrying drones, both of which are advancing very quickly. Once vehicles are autonomous, we won’t need professional drivers or driver’s licenses because humans won’t be driving.

Film and Television

In video games, we have a concept called NPC, which is a non-player character that follows a set script. But isn’t that what actors and extras do? Soon, it might be far easier to program an NPC to appear in a movie and convert a script to a realistic representation of the character far easier, and far less expensively than hiring a person.

Actors can get sick, they can have behavioral issues, they can get into trouble off screen resulting in their termination, and they get more expensive every subsequent time you use them. Movies today are largely filmed with computer graphics anyway and it is much easier for a rendered character to operate on a virtual stage than it is for a human.

Now, it isn’t just the acting. Script writing can now be done using AI. You don’t need catering or recruitment for virtual players, and with a digital movie-making engine, you can more easily rewrite the script and digitally reshoot the scene when fine tuning the result with digital characters than with humans.

Studios like Dust are already creating relatively high-quality content using far cheaper digital tools, and an increasing number of movies today use rendered people as extras for scenes that previously would have required humans in those roles.

So, do we replace directors, writers, actors, extras, camera people, and all the rest of the movie staff with a few programmers and advanced artificial intelligence? The result is still a movie — and services like Netflix and Amazon have a never-ending appetite for content today. It seems to me like video game studios might well displace movie studios before this trend is over.

Farming

Traditional farming methods are becoming largely obsolete due to climate change. We are moving to warehouse farms which produce more food in much less space and can exist a lot closer to customers located in cities.

Farms such as these are increasingly tended by robots and autonomous equipment to reduce cost and contamination and operate at a scale that traditional farms generally can’t match.

In addition, for ranchers, we are developing healthier, tasty alternatives to beef, chicken, and other animal protein sources.

These changes should be not only more reliable during times of rapid weather change, but also potentially more beneficial for the environment because you don’t need to clear rain forests and you no longer need to eat other animals. Some of the animals we eat are huge producers of methane gas which contribute significantly to climate change.

Does this mean farming will become like manufacturing, particularly when we start 3D printing food? The farm of the future could simply be another factory.

Manufacturing

Warehouses and factories are changing with the increased use of robots and reduced need for human workers. Factories effectively evolve into huge 3D printers that can produce both cookie cutter products at volume, and far less expensive custom offerings thanks to increased automation.

Are factories still factories once they are fully automated? Or are they just huge appliances that 3D print the products we want on-demand and ship them using the increasing variety of autonomous vehicles and package-carrying drones?

Fully automated 3D printing factories should have fewer shutdowns, be less impacted by inflation slowing their growth, and be more able to meet transitory demand using a just-in-time manufacturing model. Also, because these automated factories will use 3D printing as part of their process, they can be smaller, more localized, and probably more resistant to logistics disruption.

Wrapping Up: Tip of the Iceberg

I could go on for pages about the massive disruption of electrics replacing internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, personal robots, military drones (we may not need military pilots or drivers in a few years), fast food robots turning fast food restaurants into large food vending machines, and satellite-based data and voice services — and we already have advanced coffee vending machines that make a better cup of coffee than Starbucks.

Is personal transportation actually personal, or is it becoming part of the communications market? Are restaurants, factories and 3D printers merging to become part of the technology market? Are movies and video games going to merge and provide different experiences but use the same creation tools and back-end. If so, what do we call the result?

PCs and smartphones are merging at a rapid pace, but is the result an enhanced smartphone or a more portable PC? These are all things that will be addressed in the next decade and those companies that figure out what new segment they are in will likely survive. Those that don’t anticipate these changes and evolve with the times probably won’t.

But one thing is for sure, this decade is going to be known for both an unprecedented amount of change and a lot of companies and people suddenly discovering that the road they were on dead-ended. You’ve been warned.

Rob Enderle's Technology Product of the Week

TCL Nxtwear Air Wearable Display Glasses

One of the coming disruptions are head-mounted displays which are finally reaching a price and performance level that makes them viable. The TCL Nxtwear Air head mounted display is powered by the smartphone or PC it is connected to and it projects a HD image into the glasses that is like watching a 140-inch screen from four meters away.

TCL Nxtwear Air Wearable Display Glasses

While this is mostly for movie watching rather than a monitor for work or gaming, it is a significant step toward that latter category and, eventually, head-mounted displays will force a major shift between PCs and smartphones, particularly when coupled with cloud services like Windows 365.

Once they are in wide use, the need for monitors, laptops with screens, and even personal TVs may become a thing of the past. We may decide that even when we are sitting together, using our own screens which can be adjusted for our eyesight and unique problems (like colorblindness) will be a better solution than the large screen experiences we have today.

What makes these latest TCL glasses interesting is that they are 30 percent lighter than previous generations and they don’t look dorky. The glasses provide decent detail (though I expect the 4K glasses that will eventually follow will be better), deep colors and surprisingly deep blacks. They have built in speakers that sound pretty good and mean you can often leave the headphones at home (I’d still use headphones on planes or when near others, however).

Expected to cost just under $700, these glasses are competitively priced when you consider that 140-inch display likely costs more than any car you’ve ever purchased, making them potentially a true value — and my product of the week.

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

Rob Enderle has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has an MBA in human resources, marketing and computer science. He is also a certified management accountant. Enderle currently is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, a consultancy that serves the technology industry. He formerly served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester. Email Rob.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

Related Stories