Comcast Story Shows Lasting Reputation Damage

Sky bidder Comcast labelled ‘worst company in America’

Experts urge closer scrutiny over regulatory breaches, customer service and pricing concerns

I do not agree with everything published by the Guardian, which is the kind of business that used to be called a newspaper but is now a 21st century digital infotainment mash-up that presents a little news alongside a lot of opinion via multiple fronts globally. However, if you do not understand how avoidable mistakes will hurt a business then take a look at their story about US cable operator Comcast’s proposed GBP22bn (USD31bn) takeover of British broadcaster-cum-telco Sky. The Guardian loathes rival publisher Rupert Murdoch and would undoubtedly like to see him fail with his attempt to use 21st Century Fox, a business he owns, to take full control of Sky, a business he founded. However, writer Mark Sweeney still dishes the dirt on Comcast, which is either trying to pinch Sky from Murdoch or else trying to force Murdoch to overspend to achieve his goals. Without repeating every tedious detail, Sweeney uses the following words when describing Comcast:

  • “shoddy customer service and pricing”
  • “involved in regulatory transgressions which legal experts believe means its plan to take over Sky should be closely scrutinised by watchdogs”
  • “announced a $300m plan to spruce up customer service… to little avail so far”
  • “fined more than $2m”
  • “one of it leading presenters was involved in a sex scandal”
  • “…allegations it added charges to customers’ bills for unordered services…”
  • “already been in regulatory hot water in the UK with a string of breaches of the broadcasting code”

And it goes on. It really does.

This makes me wonder how many telcos will be haunted by past complacency. Too often the attitude was ‘take it or leave it’. They thought that internet and phone customers had little choice, and that all the alternatives were just as bad, so it did not matter if customers were overbilled, ignored, or cheated. But now these telcos increasingly swim in the same waters as media businesses like the Guardian, who have a much better understanding of how to appeal to public sympathies.

In terms of revenues and value, the Guardian is no bigger than a boil compared to Comcast’s bulbous backside. However, the Guardian’s audience reach gives them the opportunity to inflict plenty of pain. Murdoch gravitated from the relatively small but influential world of newspaper publishing to the big leagues of modern media, taking stakes in broadcasting and networks too, whilst always remaining conscious that content is king, and political influence is useful. Telcos are moving towards media content having started on the opposite side of the divide between creativity and distribution. Their poor relationships with customers and the public mean they can no longer afford to adopt a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude.

Even if telcos want to improve, there will be many seeking to obstruct these new entrants to the media marketplace. Commentators will lever the worst aspects of a business’ reputation for maximum effect. That makes me wonder if the stupid decisions that led to the billing of unordered services or inadequate customer service will ultimately cost Comcast a lot more than would have been spent on implementing some decent revenue assurance controls or hiring extra staff for their call center.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is a recognized expert on communications risk and assurance. He was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and others.

Eric was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He was a member of Qatar's National Committee for Internet Safety and the first leader of the TM Forum's Enterprise Risk Management team. Eric currently sits on the committee of the Risk & Assurance Group. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.

Commsrisk is edited by Eric. Look here for more about Eric's history as editor.