By Harry McCracken | Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 2:56 pm
Comcast, the nation’s dominant provider of cable TV and broadband services, has apparently decided it doesn’t like its 40-year-old moniker. The company isn’t changing its corporate name, but it’s announced plans to rebrand its consumer services–TV, Internet access, and phone–as Xfinity. (The name has already been in use for the past six weeks for Comcast’s subscriber-only Internet TV service.) The Xfinity name will be rolled out to eleven cities next week, with more to come as the year progresses.
Why would you change one of the best-known brand names in America today? “This is about our product,” Comcast spokesperson Jennifer Khoury said in a statement. “It is about providing our customers with products that just keep getting better.”
I suspect that most Comcast customers don’t care whether the service is called Comcast or Xfinity or Irving. When I lived in the suburbs of Boston, the cable provider started out as Continental Cablevision, renamed itself MediaOne, and then was bought by and renamed after AT&T. Today, it’s Comcast–but Boston is one of the first eleven Xfinity areas, so it’ll change again next week. That’s five different names in fourteen years, and I don’t think any of the switches did a thing other than to provide work for branding consultants and signmakers.
(Of course, I still instinctively refer to the stadium where the San Francisco Giants play as “PacBell park,” and have been known to correct myself to to “SBC” before settling on the correct “AT&T.”)
The obvious temptation is to accuse Comcast of shedding its venerable name because consumers hold it in low regard. Could be. The company has historically fared poorly in satisfaction surveys (although it’s done a bit better recently). I’m not a Comcast hater on principle: The Internet service I have from it now is the best broadband I’ve ever had, and I’m impressed by its @comcastcares customer service on Twitter. But the user interface on the Comcast TV box I had was freakishly horrible to the point that it interfered with my ability to watch TV rather than aided it. (If I hadn’t swapped the box out for a TiVo, I swear I would have ended up flinging it through my living-room window in a fit of rage.) And my local Comcast office has a bit of a Department of Motor Vehicles feel to it, with long lines and a threadbare aesthetic.
In short, Comcast still feels like it’s operating under the misimpression that it’s a monopoly. Which it isn’t, thank heavens–even if it’s the only cable game in town in many places, it’s perfectly possible to be a happy, well-entertained, reasonably-informed person without ever turning a dollar over to it.
If the Xfinity name signals a new attitude towards customer satisfaction, swell. Me, I kind of wish that the dollars Comcast will pour into the rebranding effort had been spent on upgrades to set-top boxes, remote controls, and customer service–the stuff that means far more than the name on the bill. Maybe I’ll start calling it “Continental Cablevision” again until I see real improvement.