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The Media Merger that Wasn’t

Posted On  February 29, 2016

I’ve learned a lot from savvy media consumers as a result of attending many focus groups over the years. (I’ve also eaten a lot of M&Ms.) Case in point, I’ve grown accustomed to calling my TV service provider to renegotiate the price of my bundle after the inevitable creep in costs. And when that doesn’t work, I switch. So far, I’ve had Dish, Time Warner Cable and AT&T U-verse. I’m well versed in all of their corporate structures, offerings, and other details that inform their pricing.

As a market researcher, it has always mystified me that service providers offer great deals to new subscribers but continue to jack up pricing for loyal subscribers unless they complain, which is what I did when my U-verse bill jumped 40% in a single month. To AT&T’s credit, it took only one attempt to get to a customer retention specialist, who tried her best to be helpful. Indeed, she hooked me up with a much less expensive package, preserving my super-fast Internet and landline (‘cause I’m old) but switching my TV service to DIRECTV. She said it would be seamless, because AT&T and DIRECTV are now one company. The install date was to be Sunday, February 28th. I later realized that was the day of the Oscars, which was probably the first harbinger of things to come.

Morris the installer showed up early, a good sign I thought, until I noticed that his uniform said DIRECTV and, despite the merger, was absent any AT&T branding whatsoever. That turned out to the second bad sign. After all, the customer retention specialist had promised me the best of both worlds. When I showed him my receivers and router and asked him to minimize the rewiring of my Los Angeles home – which will surely survive the big one thanks to the crisscross of coax covering the exterior – he demurred, saying he’d need to start from scratch. And when I asked him if my mega-fast Internet might get messed up in the process, he was noncommittal, saying that AT&T might need to come back to fix that. This new ‘bundle’ was hardly a package deal. Needless to say, Morris and I parted ways, and I watched the Academy Awards via my very expensive U-verse video.

Why am I writing this? Just to vent? Not really. In the humble opinion of this market researcher, retention should be a service provider’s top priority; it’s way cheaper to keep high value customers than it is to get new ones, particularly in today’s ecosystem, where viable alternatives to cable will continue to tempt even TV addicts like me to cut the cord. I get why AT&T wants to shift U-verse subscribers to DIRECTV; the move reduces programming costs and frees up bandwidth for high-speed Internet. But they’ll need to make it easy for consumers by providing consistency in operations, customer service, and value… unless, of course, they’re ready to follow in the footsteps of another seemingly synergistic media merger that shall remain nameless.


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