The power of competition

I recently cut my cable service – something I’ve wanted to do for a while. I bought a few HD antennas and a couple Rokus. I’ll miss some football games, but I can go find a local restaurant or bar for those. The rest…I don’t think I’ll miss.

This morning, I went to drop off the cable boxes at one of Comcast’s retail locations. The place looks like the DMV with bulletproof glass. It is small. It has ropes for waiting in line. It isn’t well lit or inviting at all. However, it is in a very nice shopping center in a very nice town. In the same shopping center, there is at least 1 cell phone retailer. Nobody would confuse one for the other. The cell retailer has a beautiful, modern, well-thought-out interior, proactive sales people and an air of friendliness.

Let’s take a step back for a minute. Cell phones are nearly ubiquitous in the US. A quick Google search suggests the average cell phone user pays $50/mo for service (with the major carriers getting up to $125). Cable TV costs about the same – maybe 20-30% more. They have many more things in common too – they’re both dominated by large companies. They’re both considered near necessities in the US.

Here’s the difference. Until VERY recently, I had 1 choice in my neighborhood for cable. I now have 2. I suppose I could get satellite from the 2 companies that offer it and then get high speed internet separately. But, I’d probably be back here in a few months talking about cancelling that service.

It’s good to be king and to have no real competition. You no longer have to care about your customers. You don’t have to make their retail experiences positive. You don’t have to spend money on things like good lighting and nice retail stores. You can keep raising prices without improving your product. Cell service providers have competitors. Cell retailers have even more competition. They have to compete to win and keep customers.

For consumers, further consolidation of the cable/Satellite industry will only make this worse.  For politicians, monopolies/oligopolies pay well. For lobbyists, monopolies/oligopolies pay even better.

What can we do? Well, in this case, we can protest with our wallets – buy an antenna and get a Roku (or one of their competitors). Or, maybe go out more or read more. When the big game is on, spend a little of the savings from cable to visit a restaurant to watch the game.

We can remind our politicians and government that they work for us. They should be fighting for Net Neutrality (a slight variance of this same issue), fighting to enforce anti-trust rules against allowing these giants from merging. Let them know.

As a business, in an era of information access, even when you can afford the best lobbyists (and get lucky with a non-tech-literate Supreme Court ruling against Aereo), the market will usually catch up to you. Cable companies – it’s time to start paying attention and treating your customers well. Competition is coming for you and they don’t look or act anything like you. They’ll sneak up

16 thoughts on “The power of competition”

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