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Of Cable, Congress and Cockroaches

Digital antenna maker Mohu released a consumer satisfaction study Wednesday that seems to fly in the face of industry efforts to improve customer service, with respondents putting their cable company just a step ahead of Congress and disease-carrying vermin.

According to the survey, 50% of respondents said they held an unfavorable view toward their cable company, compared to 72% that said they had an unfavorable opinion of Congress and 92% that said they did not enjoy the company of cockroaches. No word on where rats, ringworm, or the Senate ranked in the study.

Mohu, which has a deal to provide digital antennas to Cablevision Systems customers who opt for that operator's cord cutter package, obviously took a tongue in cheek approach to the survey, which they commissioned in partnership with Public Polling Policy, who interviewed 1,236 American TV watchers via phone on Feb. 2 and Feb. 3. Public Polling Policy has taken a humorous look at some of its survey subjects in the past. In 2013, it found that Congress was less popular than cockroaches, traffic jams and the often vilified rock band Nickelback.

In the TV survey, not surprisingly, respondents seemed most favorable to over-the-air and over-the-top TV, with 44% favorable to using an antenna to get over-the-air broadcasts and 52% giving the thumbs-up to OTT services like Netflix and Hulu.

Price seemed to be the main reason for the animosity toward pay TV, with 41% saying they paid between $50 and $100 per month for service and another 41% paying between $100 and $200 monthly.

In a statement, Mohu CEO Mark Buff said the study findings proved that “cable and satellite companies are out of touch with consumer demand,” and that the high cost of pay TV is “a far cry from delivering a service that fits the needs of today’s savvy, digitally oriented consumers.”

Whether you consider over-the-air cutting edge or not, the survey does touch on something that has been a problem in the cable industry since the beginning – customer perception. Customers ever since the days of Community Antenna TV have chafed at having to pay for something they think they should be getting for free. In the Mohu survey, 54% of the respondents said they considered getting rid of pay TV service. But the twist is that of those people, 40% say they didn't drop cable because video was bundled with Internet or phone service.

And that’s where the perception change is most evident. People are paying $50 to $75 per month for 100-200 channels they don’t think they watch. But broadband service, which depending on the speed can cost as much or more, is considered well worth the price. Broadband, and the growng amount of online content, has grown into cable’s go-to product. Many operators now have more high-speed data customers than video subscribers, and that trend will likely continue. But it is funny how the company that provides both services can be perceived so differently. Customers love their broadband provider but despise their cable company, not realizing – or perhaps not caring – that they are often one in the same.

Cable operators have made a concerted effort to improve customer service, and they have come a long way from the days of techs never showing up for appointments and frequent outages. The advent of technology, which allows customers to solve their own problems remotely also has helped. Today, in spite of the increased pressure from OTT, cable operators are enjoying some of their best video customer growth in nearly a decade. And yet, practically every survey shows that cable subscribers are dissatisfied with their provider and want to switch.

Perhaps it will just take a little more time. One of my favorite lines in 1983 teen apocalypse movie War Games is when Dr. Falken says that life will start over again after the human race annihilates itself in World War III, probably with the bees. Maybe cable’s rebirth starts with the cockroaches.