You can upset activists with killer whales in captivity, underpaid retail employees, or genetically modified seeds, but nothing seems to tick Americans off more than a poorly maintained cable television and Internet empire.
Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NASDAQ: CMCSK) took top honors earlier this year in Consumerist's annual Worst Company in America tournament, beating out fellow Final Four competitors SeaWorld, Wal-Mart, and Monsanto.
This isn't the first time that Comcast comes out on top by being at the bottom. It reclaims the throne it won back in 2010's tourney.
Anyone that's been a Comcast or XFINITY customer can probably relate. The outages are brutal, especially for those with bundled packages including cable, Internet, and phone. The ridiculous policy to only credit outages after inconvenienced customers call back twice (once to report the outage and then later once it's back up) is something out of the dark ages. Then you get to Comcast's less than sterling reputation to tackling service calls. I've been there. You have probably been there, too.
More than just a fat cable bill
All of the venom that Comcast gets is a shame because it's also an entertainment powerhouse at a time when content is king. Through NBCUniversal it watches over NBC, Telemundo, and several other cable network properties. Universal Studios includes the motion pictures and television production studios as well as the Universal Studios chain of international theme parks.
Financially speaking, Comcast is in pretty decent shape. Revenue has climbed 8.5% through the first half of the year. NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics in Sochi earlier this year helped boost ad revenue, but even if we back out the Olympics it still came through with a 5% uptick on the top line. The past down the income statement gets even kinder with operating income and adjusted earnings per share climbing 13% and 23%, respectively.
However, the venom directed at Comcast isn't really about the NBC fall lineup or the initial hiccups this summer at Universal Orlando during the Diagon Alley expansion at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It's ultimately all about the unflattering experiences suffered by many of Comcast's 26.775 million cable, Internet, and/or home phone service customers.
To XFINITY and beyond
We're living in an era of cautious cord cutting, and Comcast has suffered as cable television subscribers tire of overpaying for content that they're not watching. Comcast closed out the quarter ending in June with 22.457 million video customers, 162,000 fewer than it had a year earlier and 144,000 less than it had just three months before. Comcast's video accounts peaked at nearly 25 million seven years ago, and it's been on a gradual decline ever since.
Comcast suffered a ridiculous streak of 26 consecutive quarters of sequential declines in video customers that came to an end late last year. It then bounced back with upticks during last year's fourth quarter and the first quarter of this year, but then we saw it return to its backpedaling ways in the second quarter.
It's not just cord cutters eating away at Comcast's growth. Cheaper satellite and broadband television providers have gnawed away at the market of traditional cable providers. The number of pay TV customers in this country fell by 251,000 in 2013 according to industry tracker SNL Kagan -- the first full year of an aggregate decline -- but Comcast's 305,000 in net defections last year means that it single-handedly brought down the pay TV industry.
This is no dot-com darling
Comcast isn't just fumbling on the cable television front. It may be growing its Internet and home phone subscribers as a result of its bundled packages, but the trend of customers eliminating land lines since they're already paying wireless carriers plenty for their smartphones should eventually take its toll.
Comcast's XFINITY Internet service is growing in popularity, but it didn't win a lot of friends earlier this year when it decided to turn its leased residential routers in Houston into Wi-Fi hotspots that could be accessible to nearby XFINITY customers.
Comcast defended the move, arguing that the hotspots would be separate from a home's network, and that subscribers hosting the routers would be given additional bandwidth. Customers also had the ability to opt out of the plan altogether. However, given Comcast's standing as this year's Worst Company in America, perceptions are often more damaging than reality.
If you loathe Comcast, you're not alone.