Satellite, Telcos Beat Cable On TV Satisfaction: J.D. Power

Most major cable operators continue to fall short on customer satisfaction compared with satellite and phone company TV services, according to J.D. Power and Associates' 2009 television service satisfaction survey.

AT&T's U-verse TV had the top score in the West and South regions for the second year in a row, and Verizon's FiOS TV took the crown in the East, also for a second consecutive year. Overbuilder WideOpenWest ranked highest in the North Central region.

By contrast, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications turned in below-average scores in all four regions.

Overall, customer satisfaction with television service providers in 2009 increased considerably over last year, J.D. Power found. Average satisfaction nationwide was 632 on a 1,000-point scale -- up 23 points from 609 last year, which was the lowest industry average during the past five years. The research firm said the increase was the result of fewer outages and improvements in problem resolution.

"In the wake of receding satisfaction scores in 2008, improvements in product performance and the service surrounding it this year suggest that providers are eager to better position themselves to retain and grow their customer bases," said Frank Perazzini, J.D. Power's director of telecommunications.

According to the survey, average time on hold required to resolve a customer's most recent problem declined 13% year over year, to 9 minutes and 5 seconds this year. J.D. Power also found that fewer customers are experiencing outages: 11% reported an outage this year versus 15% in 2008.

Across each geographical region, telco and satellite TV by and large outperformed cable.

In the East, Verizon FiOS was No. 1 with a score of 714, followed by DirecTV (684), Dish Network (669), Cablevision Systems (649) and Cox Communications (644). Below the East's average of 635 were TWC, RCN, Comcast and Charter.

WOW led the North Central region with 724, followed by AT&T U-verse (715), Verizon FiOS (712), DirecTV (674), Insight Communications (672), Cox (652) and Dish (650). Falling below the region's 625 average score were Bright House Networks, TWC, Comcast, Charter and Mediacom Communications.

In the South, U-verse (718) was followed by Verizon FiOS (702), DirecTV (685), Bright House (674), Insight (658), Dish (654) and Cox (641). The average score in the South was 635, with Cable One, Suddenlink Communications, TWC, Comcast, Charter and Mediacom below the mark.

Finally, in the West, AT&T U-verse (721) and FiOS (682) led the pack, followed by DirecTV and Dish (both with 664), Cox (646) and Cable One (635). Providers under the West average of 632 were TWC, Comcast, Mediacom and Charter.

According to J.D. Power, cable customers are far less likely to recommend their provider than satellite TV customers.

Of satellite subscribers, 78% said they "definitely will" or "probably will" recommend their provider to others, an increase of six percentage points from 2008. About 60% of cable customers said the same, up from 55% in 2008.

Meanwhile, the percentage of cable customers who affirmed their loyalty to their provider declined to 25% in 2009, down from 27% last year. DirecTV and Dish Network also saw a drop on loyalty, down four percentage points to 40% in 2009.

"Given the current state of the economy, customers generally want to keep their options open, even if they are satisfied with their current provider," Perazzini noted.

J.D. Power found there was belt-tightening in some areas of video services. The percentage of cable customers who subscribe to additional premium channels fell to 29% in 2009, down three points from 32% in 2008. Video-on-demand and pay-per-view use also moderately declined, with 33% reporting VOD usage this year (compared with 35% in 2008) and 16% reporting a PPV order (compared with 18% in 2008).

The study is based on responses from 28,118 U.S. consumers who evaluated their cable, satellite or telco provider. It was fielded in January, March and July 2009.

J.D. Power's TV service survey measures customer satisfaction on five factors: performance and reliability; customer service; cost of service; billing; and offerings and promotions.