Cable Operators Choose Marketing Over Imagination

During his brief tenure at the helm of Comcast’s sports properties, Dick Ebersol spoke about putting the venerable NBC Sports brand on the company’s slew of regional sports networks (RSNs). The uninspiring Comcast SportsNet or CSN moniker would be gone, giving NBC Sports a powerful local presence.

"Something like 'NBC Sports Philadelphia,' 'NBC Sports Chicago,' etc.," said Ebersol, the longtime head of NBC Sports.

Nearly two years into the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger, the Comcast SportsNet (followed by a city or region) name continues. On the surface, it doesn't make sense. Why remind people settling in to watch their beloved NBA and Major League Baseball team of the local cable company, that popular punching bag?

Yet, as an industry executive pointed out recently, it’s no accident that Ebersol’s vision has apparently been jettisoned. It’s not as if the NBCU sports team hasn’t gotten around to making a change yet. How long would it take? The Peacock symbol is now part of the logo.



It’s paradoxical marketing, where the clunkier brand is viewed as having more of an advantage than one as steeped and recognizable as NBC Sports. Comcast wants to tie itself closely to the Celtics or Phillies. It wants to plaster its brand on the screens of AT&T, Verizon, DirecTV and Dish Network subscribers. It's an easy way to enter their homes.

If anything, there might be an Xfinity Sports Chicago or something close before NBC Sports joins the topline. Actually, it’s a bit surprising that Comcast hasn’t put its new Xfinity brand on the RSNs. Maybe it wants to make absolutely clear to a Verizon or DirecTV viewer whom to call to switch.

Time Warner Cable (TWC) chose the workmanlike (boring) path with its two new RSNs, which carry Los Angeles Lakers games in Southern California. The new channels are the English-language Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Spanish-language Time Warner Cable Deportes.

TWC COO Rob Marcus said Monday those offer an intangible benefit, where “we think that that's a net positive for Time Warner Cable in the Lakers markets,” which stretches from Las Vegas to Hawaii.

In 2010, there were reports Time Warner Cable was considering changing its name from one that has roots in a newsmagazine founded in 1923. Forget "Time," Advertising Age reported the company evaluated whether to remove “Cable” from its name. Broadband was becoming key to its future. But it ultimately opted to make changes to its logo and image, but not its mouthful name.

Why it didn't at least go with TWC is a mystery?

Time Warner Cable has since spent a lot on marketing. The year began with an “Enjoy Better” tagline with a Super Bowl spot with Ricky Gervais. More recently, New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz has been on display.  

Yet, the investment required to introduce an entirely new brand -- even TWC -- might have been more. And, who knows how much the new brand would stick? How many Cablevision customers say they have Optimum? Charter CEO Tom Rutledge, who oversaw the Cablevision-Optimum reflagging, keeps getting asked about a rebrand, but seems a bit reticent.

Xfinity, which dates back to 2010, may have struggled to catch on, but could get a boost because of the Xfinity-branded TV Everywhere portal. FiOS seems to have caught on as people get excited about ditching the cable company.

It’s remarkable how far ahead AT&T may have been 13 years ago as the country's largest cable operator, but using an AT&T Broadband name. The term broadband connoted power and, intentionally or not, the company may have realized Internet connectivity would become a huge portion of the cable-operator identity.

AT&T made the huge mistake of selling AT&T Broadband to Comcast. The AT&T brand was out of the video business until the U-verse brand started up many years later.

Google, which connotes innovation and quality, is potentially the top brand in video distribution. Google Fiber is an emerging service in the Kansas City area. It’s challenging TWC there, but not expected to expand into other markets.

So it won't be carrying an RSN with a competitor's banal brand any time soon.





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