Time Warner Cable To Change 'Free HD' Claim After AT&T Complaint
Todd Spangler -- Multichannel News, 3/4/2010 6:16:17 PM
Time Warner Cable said it will "curtail" the use of the word "free" in advertising its HD service and stopped running ads claiming that AT&T requires U-verse customers to sign long-term contracts, following the telco's complaint to the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus recommended that Time Warner Cable discontinue claims to offer "free HD" service. The NAD said the cable company has been promoting "free HD" for nearly two years and that what had been the discounted price has become the actual price for the entire purchase of both its regular service and HDTV -- and as such, HD can no longer be considered "free."
In a statement, the No. 2 cable operator said, "in the spirit of industry self-regulation and consistent with NAD's recommendations, TWC will revise its advertising to curtail use of the word ‘free' and take NAD's recommendations into consideration in future advertising."
AT&T had objected to a TWC ad featuring a character named "Ed" portraying a U-verse TV customer who has declined to take advantage of TWC's "free HDTV."
The character in the TV spot said, "Sure, U-verse hits me up with an HD surcharge every month but, no big deal, I've found ways to make extra cash... ."
One version of the TWC ad included the message "Don't Be Ed ...Don't Accept HD Surcharges" and other versions ended with the message, "Don't Accept Less. Get Digital Cable with Free HD [from Time Warner Cable]."
AT&T charges $10 per month for HD channels for all programming tiers except for the top U450 programming package with 360 channels.
Another TWC spot said that AT&T "plays ‘dirty ball' ... they say they give you fast Internet, but it's not as fast as Road Runner High-Speed Online" and that "then they make you sign a long-term contract." However, NAD said, the claim that AT&T's service requires that customers sign a long-term contract "was unsupported and appreciated the advertiser's voluntary discontinuance of this claim."
Finally, AT&T took issue with the cable operator's spots asserting that the simultaneous use of U-verse Internet service and HDTV results in a "collision" of signals, causing Internet service to "slow down significantly."
TWC backed up those claims by pointing to AT&T's terms of service, which state: "In order to provide a consistently high-quality video service, AT&T U-verse high speed Internet throughput speeds may be temporarily reduced when a customer is using other U-verse services in a manner that requires high bandwidth. This could occur more often with higher-speed Internet access products."
NAD rejected that argument, noting in its decision that the AT&T TOS also states: "In order to enhance reliability and consistency of performance, some broadband access lines may be provisioned at less than maximum speed capability but within the range of speed purchased."
In addition, NAD said AT&T's evidence demonstrated no degradation of Internet speeds for 96.5% of all U-verse customers viewing one HDTV; no degradation of Internet speeds for 92% of its U-verse customers viewing two HDTVs; and no decrease in average streaming speed during a YouTube test for any U-verse customers. NAD therefore recommended TWC discontinue the ad claims that simultaneous use of U-verse HDTV and Internet service typically causes the latter to stop or significantly slow down.
TWC said it "appreciates NAD's thorough review of its advertising claims" and will "take into consideration NAD's suggestions in all future advertising."