Are consumers happy with their pay-TV services? Survey says… No

Shoot a 66 at the golf course and your buddies are likely to give you a hard time for scoring so well (and, possibly offer to bankroll you on your way to the PGA). But score a 66 out of 100 on a consumer satisfaction survey? Ah, not so good.

Yet, for the third year in a row, that's where the pay-TV industry came in on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) released today by the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

In fact, the pay-TV industry as a whole, ranked ahead of only the penultimate laggard, the airline industry, which scored a 65 ACSI, and the worst-of-the-worst newspaper industry, which scored 64.

Among the 47 industries that had better customer satisfaction scores in the most recent surveys (that would be 44 of them if you're counting): Department and discount stores, 76; Gas stations, 74; Health and personal care stores, 76; Specialty retail stores, 79; Internet brokerages, 76; Internet retailers, 81; Co-op utilities, 81; Health care, 78.5; and even banks, with an ACSI of 75, scored better... but the recent news out of J.P. Morgan could knock those numbers down.

In the overall Information category, which includes that 64 from newspapers and thus saves pay-TV from last place, the ACSI ranked segments this way: Computer software, 77; Motion pictures, 76; Cellular telephones, 74; Network and cable news, 74 percent; Fixed-line phone service, 70; Wireless service, 70; Subscription television services, 66; and, Newspapers, 64.

Here's the breakdown for service providers:

For the third year in a row, Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and its FiOS TV service, which recorded a 74 ACSI rating, was at the top of the heap. And, it improved from 72 a year ago;

  • Dish Networks (Nasdaq: DISH) came in second at 69, up from 67;
  • The "All others" category ranked third at 68, down from 69;
  • AT&T (NYSE: T) scored 68 for the second year in a row;
  • DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV) earned an ACSI of 68, down from 69;
  • Cox tumbled to 63, from a less-than-stellar 67 a year ago;
  • Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) earned a rating of 63, up from 59;
  • Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) inched up to 61 from 59; and,
  • The worst pay-TV service in the ACSI goes to Charter Communications (Nasdaq: CHTR), which earned a 59 for the second consecutive year.

Only two power companies and an airline scored as badly as Charter. Delta Air Lines has the worst rating on the list, with a 56 ACSI, which I can, as a frequent flier with them, sadly, attest to.

Even the beleaguered U.S. Postal Service outscored every pay-TV provider, with an ACSI of 74, but that could be a pity vote. And, if you're planning on jumping on the upcoming Facebook IPO, take note: The social-networking site's ACSI rating is a decidedly pay-TV-ish 66.

ACSI points out that service providers are, on the whole, offering more services than ever before. But, reliability and rising costs continue to be consumers' primary concerns.

Verizon and its FiOS TV product, ACSI founder Claes Fornell points out, has maintained relatively high levels of customer satisfaction, and managed to continue growing subscriber numbers. The four largest cable TV companies ACSI tracks are well below the fiber optic and satellite TV providers for customer satisfaction.

Cox Communications, Fornell said, may have suffered most as "higher rates and fees for many Cox customers are sapping customer satisfaction."

The lack of satisfaction Americans feel with their pay-TV services isn't new. Since 2001, the sector has never scored higher than the 66 it's seen for the past three years.

But for service providers who are spending big bucks to offer over-the-top services, and who are making their content available on more devices, and laying out huge sums for programming, the lack of satisfaction has to be causing them to be scratching their heads in wonder.-Jim