Big cable operators remain unable to shake the stigma of poor service and chronic rate hikes, once again turning in dismal scores for TV service on the American Customer Satisfaction Index that -- on average -- are lower than any other consumer sector.
Overall, consumers' satisfaction with pay TV television rose 3% over last year, to an all-time high of 68 on a 100-point scale.
But fiber-optic and satellite service, with a composite score of 72, pull up the average. Cable TV this year came in at 63 -- lower than the industry's average in 2001, and worse than the average scores of the 43 industries tracked by ACSI. The research firm attributed cable's poor showing to the same litany of complaints that have dogged MSOs for years: yearly price increases, subpar call center service and sporadic reliability.
The latest ACSI results come as the pay TV sector, for the first time, lost net subscribers on an annual basis -- dropping 80,000 for the 12-month period that ended in March 2013 -- with cable operators particularly hard hit.
Close to 90% of U.S. households pay for TV, and now the industry is starting to face competition from so-called over-the-top Internet video services.
Consumers are happiest with Verizon FiOS TV (with a score of 73), DirecTV (72), AT&T U-verse (71) and Dish Network (70). The four MSOs measured on the survey are significantly lower, led by Cox Communications (65), followed by Charter Communications (64), Comcast (63) and Time Warner Cable (60).
Meanwhile, Internet service providers, which include cable companies and telephone companies, fare even worse than pay TV on the ACSI survey with a customer satisfaction benchmark of 65.
Consumers are frustrated with broadband service, according to ACSI founder and chairman Claes Fornell. But, he said, "in a market even less competitive than subscription TV, there is little incentive for companies to improve."
Verizon's FiOS and smaller ISPs top the list of Internet providers with average scores of 71. They are followed by Cox at 68, AT&T U-verse and Charter at 65, CenturyLink at 64, Time Warner Cable at 63 and Comcast at 62.
The ACSI was founded at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business and was spun off as an independent research firm in 2009. The index is based on interviews with about 70,000 consumers annually.