Industry Voices — Ring: The cable comeback? Survey suggests 51% ‘not at all frustrated’

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According to Ring Digital research, cable TV subscribers are relatively happy. (Getty/FS-Stock)
Brian Ring Industry Voices

I spent the first part of my TV tech career falling in love with TiVo and pleading with cable operators to improve their user experience.

Then Comcast came along with Xfinity and X1, a phenomenal TV service. Expensive, but phenomenal. So, I spent the next leg of my career trying to get other operators to build systems with innovative features like the ability to watch sports highlights off a DVR -- just like X1.

By 2018, streaming entered the TV big leagues and I could (finally) watch 10 fast-moving NBA playoff stars in stunning picture quality with no buffering – over the open web. And the advanced user experience that streaming enables? Transformative.

With YouTube TV’s price hike of last week, we now see that streaming TV has fully arrived – including free, ad-free and a more traditional subscription of live and linear content. The pay TV mix of ad-based, ad-free and time-shifted content that we call “the bundle” is now finally available to many operators using streaming-first infrastructures that are dead-simple to deploy.

RELATED: YouTube TV raises prices after adding Viacom channels

But YouTube TV’s price hike gives cable operators breathing room to run the next big TV race, which in my personal view, will be fought and won on the TV user experience battleground.

And today, cable operators are in as good a position as they’ve been in for years. How can I say that amid the pay TV carnage? Here are a few points to consider.

First, vast amounts of TV carnage can be laid at the doorstep of ill-advised corporate strategy in satellite and telco TV. At FierceVideo’s Streaming Research Summit, TDG presented a chart that broke out the legacy TV losses into two buckets: Cable and DBS/Telco. Cable has declined from 52 million homes in Q4 2016 to 48 million homes in Q1 2020. Not great. But DBS/Telco has declined from 45 million to 33 million, a much worse record that can in many cases be linked to dormant and/or confusing product investments.

Second, according to my latest survey in which we asked 1,101 video and TV viewing respondents to air out their frustrations about their primary video service, nearly half chose not to. Forty-eight percent opted for “Not at all Frustrated” and indeed the cross-tabs revealed that the pay TV cohort was even more satisfied: 51% selected “Not at all Frustrated.”

Really? Can’t we all hate cable again?

I was so surprised at this answer that I did some homework and found the most recent American Customer Satisfaction Index C-Sat data on Subscription TV. Lo and behold – while satellite is decidedly down, minus 3% each for DirecTV and Dish – the overall satisfaction of subscription TV services is up 3.2%. And it’s being pulled up by … cable? Yes, cable.

Mediacom? Up. Xfinity? Up. Spectrum? Up. Optimum? You get the idea.

One year is not a trend. But all this data says something to me.

Cable has the opportunity to bundle service with internet access – a service we all love and need. Cable has the best content rights including to local sports and broadcast re-transmissions.

And as disaffected pay TV subscribers cut or shave the cord, the subscribers remaining are generally on better, improving infrastructures -- and they’re generally more satisfied as well.

I’m not saying this is all good news. Obviously. Pay TV has been declining for years. But at some point, losses will flatten. The next big question? Can cable reverse the trend?


Ever the optimist, I believe it can, but only by staking ground in the next new battlefield, TV UX. My latest consumer survey suggests many people like multitasking with TV on in the background. If you’re a service provider, why not tailor a suite of features in your video service that are directed to that sub-segment? What kind of multi-tasking are they doing? Do they dip in and out of content? Other survey responses point toward the importance of a satisfying and responsive remote control and interest in co-watching features (particularly for sports).

This data and more will be discussed during Ring Digital’s first-ever live webinar on Wednesday, July 22.

Brian Ring is Principal Analyst at Ring Digital llc, a revenue growth agency that uses consumer surveys to understand viewing behaviors, inform client product strategies and execute go-to-market thought leadership for vendors serving TV providers, networks, studios, streamers and broadcasters around the world.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceVideo staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceVideo.