Customer service leads complaints against cable TV

September 02, 1991|By San Francisco Chronicle

Cable bashing is one of our most popular participatory sports. easy to play, you don't have to buy rackets or bats, and it's really entertaining.

Consumer Reports magazine rejoins the game in this month's issue. It plays fairly, printing the results of cable survey responses from more than 200,000 readers.

The magazine found substantial consumer problems with cable bills and even higher public dudgeon over trying to communicate with cable companies.

Many Americans are convinced that it's easier to phone Mars than to reach their local cable company.

A third of the respondents complained that "too many of the channels look alike." A third wanted particular cable channels that they couldn't get. A sixth said their cable system didn't offer enough channels.

For all that, the Consumer Reports readers rated most cable channels higher in program quality than the commercial networks. Bashing ABC, CBS and NBC apparently is even more fun than bashing cable.

On a scale of zero to 100, the Discovery Channel had the highest satisfaction rating, a relatively resounding 77. (Considering how much they say they like it, not that many people actually watch it.)

Then came CNN and PBS (76 each), the Disney Channel and CNN Headline News (74 each), ESPN (70), Arts and Entertainment (69), the Weather Channel and American Movie Classics (66 each), TNT (65), the Learning Channel (64), the Family Channel, TBS and Nickelodeon (62 each), WGN, Lifetime, Home Box Office and Showtime (61 each), Cinemax, the Movie Channel and the USA Network (60 each), and so on.

NBC (57), ABC (56) and CBS (53) were further down the list. The lowest consumer ratings went to MTV (40) and Black Entertainment Television (39).

By and large, the message seemed to be that consumers value the national cable programming services but grit their teeth over dealing with their local cable operators.

Peggy Keegan, vice president for public affairs at the California Cable Television Association, said, "operators have made big investments in customer service" over the past three years, and "people are beginning to see that now."

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