No matter the company that provides your television service, at some point they will run commercials advertising themselves. The problem is, a fair majority of these commercials are aimed at discrediting the other format.
Cable companies air commercials about how satellite dishes lose their signal when it rains. Satellite companies air commercials about how cable has limited availability, costs too much, and gives you strange contracts. And phone companies, which began providing TV service in The New Tens, show commercials about both.
These commercials are usually seen as cheesy and filled with bad acting, even though they come from big-name companies such as Comcast or Time Warner Cable that should be able to afford better production values. An example is a Time Warner commercial that showed pictures of a cheetah, rabbit and snail and told you to "pick the fast one". Apparently, rabbits are faster than cheetahs. (At least at doing one thing.)
One of the things Americans don't notice, of course, is that cable companies don't go after each other. That's because cable companies will not wire an area if there's an existing cable operator, almost like a mob staying out of another's territory. This is why the City of Los Angeles has 11 companies licensed to provide service anywhere in the city, but none of them operates in any area where there already is a cable company operating. So why step on the toes of someone who isn't actually a competitor? (The bigger cities have some competition, but the "overbuilders" are much smaller companies.)
Previously, the two major American satellite companies, DirecTV and Dish Network, tended not to target each other. Perhaps they figured that as long as there are people who still have cable, those are the ones that they should pursue. The two companies have considered merging at least twice, but both times plans have fallen through. In 2010, Dish declared open season on DirecTV, proclaiming that Dish is the cheaper satellite company. DirecTV responded with ads claiming better channels in their basic package and more HD programming.
Cable is not an option for residents of rural areas not serviced by any cable company, rendering those ads pointless for them. The same is true of satellite ads shown to people renting from a landlord who doesn't allow satellite dishes or who have no clear view of the southern sky. Some markets require additional dishes to receive local stations or HD programming, presenting an additional hassle for satellite customers. Finally, satellite TV providers cannot provide phone and internet service the way phone and cable companies can, making it impossible for their customers to take advantage of triple-play bundles.
The development of "triple-play" — phone, TV and data in a cable connection — might turn the tables on this practice sooner or later. Satellite has historically been far more expensive and less efficient for data and phone than wired services, at least in urban areas. Something else that has also begun to change the playing field is online viewing through services such as Hulu, Amazon Instant Video / Prime, and Netflix, leading many to ditch either cable or satellite entirely. Of course, this may just mean that the cable / satellite providers pursue the remaining market all the more aggressively.
In Canada, Bell and Rogers both claim to have the most HD content. Rogers had an egregious ad in which the satellite company's picture for a hockey game is shown as blurry and distorted. In reality, the two services are quite similar for HD content.
Ironically, not only was the banner at on the top AND bottom of this page for Bell's service, but it was part of their "couch" campaign. Rogers and Bell have been using identical attack ads showing a couch with company-related colour coding split down the middle in an empty room and showing various permutations of the couch to symbolically represent the contrast in service.
As of October 2011, Buckeye Cable of NW Ohio (and parts of S Michigan) is currently running two different commercial campaigns. The first one involves a pair of Dish Network salesmen trying and failing to sell existing Buckeye customers satellite TV. The second one involves talking computers that are so happy with Buckeye's internet speed because of how quickly they can load up games or hit shopping websites (the latter includes a trio of computers that all sound like Sassy Black Women). A couple other campaigns were less subtle about decrying the problems of satellite TV and included such things as a list of dish complaints set to 'March of the Toreadors' and a man's plight with rain and his dish set to Ominous Latin Chanting.
Comcast does the same thing, recasting Clean-Cut Verizon Guy as a whiny, intrusive pest who harasses customers with breaking-and-entering, disturbingly-specific personal information ("I'll just start signing your name here, Doris...") and, of course, Verizon's Blatant Lies about the Comcast Master Race. In a later ad, Clean-Cut Verizon Guy is caught clutching the paw of a basset hound with pen in hand. ("I'm afraid the dog signed the contract, ma'am.")
Comcast runs a series of ads in which DSL customers (who happen to be turtles, named the Slowskys) constantly talk about how great their slow speeds are, since it gives them time to relax and unwind. A later commercial shows one of the turtles having a "nightmare" in which a hot blond cable executive got him to switch to cable.
More painful are the badly done "intervention" ads. If only all real-life intervention meetings were that boring.
"Shaq's Got Your Back"
The family who switched from satellite TV to Comcast because 1) movies took too long to load and 2) there was nothing on satellite to watch so they went to bed early every night. For 1), you could just, you know, do something else while the movie is loading. For 2), if your only nighttime options are television or bed, you're too far gone to be saved. It doesn't help just how bad the acting is; in one of the ads, the mother pronounces the word "meatball" in the single most unnatural way ever ("let's have a Meet-Bahhl").
The U-verse pile-of-cord creature ads.
A run of radio ads repeatedly compared Comcast's "blindingly fast speeds with Xfinity" to the "slow, plodding service" provided by "the phone company" and how largely unnamed national studies prove that the Comcast service is faster. You're lucky if the term "DSL" is directly mentioned in anything but the fast-speak at the end, since that's what it's ACTUALLY being compared to, despite the unstated implication being a direct Xfinity-to-FIOS comparison.
Comcast later started mentions "DSL" in their commercials, but only ever as "slow DSL". It's repeated so often as to be a bald-faced attempt to link the two words together in public consciousness.
Comcast and AT&T go after each other all the time. AT&T U-verse talks about how it doesn't bundle like cable and you can record four shows at once on the DVR. Comcast says Uverse is too slow and is touting its watch-anywhere-in-the-house portable equipment.
At one point in The Nineties, a local UK branch of Comcast basically had a slot in their channel line-up for the then emerging Sky 2 channel, but all you got was a message saying that they couldn't show it because they couldn't shell out for the high fees Sky required to show it on their service.note Which was very annoying if, for example, you were wanting to see Xena: Warrior Princess but couldn't, as it was only being shown on Sky 2 at the time. This somewhat foreshadowed the Sky vs. Virgin Media spat described below.
The local Cox Communications (cable/phone/internet) runs continuous replays of a local news program on one of their channels. This channel is also overloaded with ads for Cox Communications, badmouthing rivals Qwest Communications and DirecTV. Excuse me, but the only way to see this channel is to have Cox service already, so what's the point?
DirecTV has a series of ads with celebs describing amazing sports moments, just to have the screen black out - "you missed it, because you have cable". This despite the fact that that people could catch them over and over in a less time-consuming distillation on ESPN's Sportscenter... at 9pm, 10pm, 11pm, 12am, 1am, 2am... That's what NFL Network is for. Combined with the basic cable channels, all of the games every week are easily accessible. In the great DirecTV vs Viacom dispute of Summer 2012, several different channels that were dropped temporarily on DirecTV, (all 26 were run by Viacom) took to air waves and internet space to warn the viewers on other broadcasters that DirecTV was taking their channels away. When the block did go into effect, several advised switching at the end of these advertisements. All of these commercials were made by Viacom and pinned the blame for the drop directly on DirecTV. The satellite wars have intensified, with DirecTV running ads attacking cable and Dish Network at the same time, using the format of To Tell the Truth. Dish Network has apparently responded with ads claiming that they have more HD channels, which only works if On Demand feeds of single movies count as "channels". DirecTV responded by noting that these aren't really "channels" and that many of Dish Network's other HD channels are only HD part of the time. They are also airing ads noting that they have exclusive commercial-free broadcasts of programs such as Friday Night Lights and Damages that Dish Network does not. DirecTV is running a series of Slippery Slope Fallacy commercials in which, because you have cable, one bad thing after another triggers a cascade failure of ridiculous proportions. Like how your cable goes out, so you start watching the neighborhood, you see a crime take place, you have to run and hide your identity, and fake your own death to keep the mafia from finding you. "So don't do that, switch to DirecTV." Another ad has a woman who is upset about her shows not being able to record on cable because they're conflicting with her boyfriend or husband's shows and says that it feels like the cable is seeing her naked. The commercial urges viewers to ditch "cable's conflict box" and switch to DirecTV, which lets you record up to five shows at once.
Even small companies in barely-relevant regions get to have this, as Alaska's two locals, GCI (primarily the cable company) and ACS (the privatized version of formerly-public phone utility company ATU, merged with Internet Alaska, the first non-AOL ISP in the state) both regularly trash each other in various commercials - ACS largely on price (they resell Dish Network as well), while GCI goes on and on about DS Snail - while using one of the cast of Frasier and his pet snail. And yes, GCI also uses the same reliability accusations that many national cable companies use - in spite of ACS being proven more reliable by studies by independents and funded by both companies... In spite of both using the same phone network.
ACS takes this further when talking about their cellphones, not just trumpeting their proven-superior network and team of testing vehicles for helping to keep things that way, but also by running Verizon's nationwide ads - because ACS' network also happens to be the Verizon network in Alaska, and ACS gets the Verizon-exclusive phones), in spite of them being fully separate companies. Naturally, AT&T is the primary target of these ones, in part because GCI's cellular division has essentially given up, instead getting a deal with the State of Alaska to offer unlimited calling and texting to individuals who qualify for specific welfare-type plans for $1/month.
News 12 Long Island, an all-news channel in New York on Cablevision channel 12, uses the phrase "Never on FiOS, Never on Satellite" after every traffic and weather report and has commercials where people arrive late for work or get caught in the rain because they couldn't watch News 12.
The other News 12 Networks (everywhere else in the NYC/Tri-State Area, except Manhattan, as Time Warner (and soon Comcast) operates there) do a similar thing.
Mexico has the SKY vs. cable ads. Since SKY has a virtual monopoly over satellite TV in Mexico after purchasing DirecTV, the cable companies play on the satellite TV's ridiculously high prices, while SKY plays on the cable's limited availability and their lack of blacked-out soccer matches. Later on, the triple-play technologies started giving the cable companies the upper hand.
It has evolved nowadays in an all-out bashing campaign from yoo (a Triple-Play service) against everyonenote their main target is Telmex, Mexico's largest phone and internet provider, which can't offer cable TV services due to strange legal circumstances, except Sky (since both have deals with the same company), which backfired spectacularly for the same reasons as the I'm A Mac ads. They learned from that mistake, however their ads are still disliked but due to the fact the main networks spam them in every commercial break.
Sky1 LOVED to point out in promos for their series that they would show up years before coming to terrestrial, most notably in one for Law & Order which specifically mentioned the series' FTA home Channel Five; this one was narrated by Steven Zirnkilton... who, for those who don't know, is the fellow who provides the opening voiceover for all the L&O shows.
Suddenlink features a commercial where an elderly man bluntly states "I like Suddenlink because it's not satellite." Without once even bothering to say why Suddenlink is better in any way than any satellite provider.
Time Warner Cable has a series of ads where the clean-cut, good looking cable guy happens to run into the satellite guy, whose service just got cancelled. The customer occasionally stands between the two and compares their services. They eventually upgraded to the satellite guy stalking the TWC guy.
A Time Warner TV spot featured Mike O'Malley holding a small puppy, saying that since cable cost less than satellite, the money could be used to buy things like dog food, and that puppies love dog food, so that the simple conclusion must be that satellite ''hates'' puppies. The ad execs themselves seem to have realized such strawman tactics were crossing some sort of line, as one hardly if ever sees this particular commercial any more. This advertisement resurfaced; it was originally targeted at Direc TV and started being targeted at AT&T UVerse, which is the TV/phone/DSL bundle package for Direc TV AT&T.
This type of commercial started coming to The Netherlands, where UPC and Ziggo control over 90% of the market when it comes to cable. They've been knocking KPN / TELE2 for the quality of their digital TV offering and DSL in general for their lack of speed. Of course, KPN (who owns the telecom network) is started building a fiber-optic network to get better speeds so soon enough the ads will be going the other direction.
Verizon FiOS has inverted this. While they do tell you about how their main competitor Comcast is inferior, one commercial has Michael Bay parodying himself and his over-the-top standards for special effects, claiming throughout the commercial that he needs things to be 'awesome,' and ending with him talking to the awesome Verizon installer guy. This could have easily been played straight with Bay saying how Comcast wasn't awesome.
Verizon has been heavily bashing cable in general in their ads by having a good looking guy help new customers with their FiOS equipment while a not so good looking cable guy is either trying to prove his service is better or trying to show the Verizon guy that cable is all he needs.
In the UK, there was a brief but bitter war between Virgin Media and Sky, after a falling out meant that Sky withdrew some of their channels that had previously been available on Virgin. So instead of saying "You can watch this on our service", Sky's ads for the next few months all said "You can't watch this on their service". ie- their LOST poster read "Answers are coming... but not to Virgin Media".
Meanwhile the EPG spaces where their channels used to be were replaced with Puns on the actual channel names.
Also with Virgin, they used to run adverts claiming that their internet connections were better than ADSL, despite their network having huge issues with latency and overselling of capacity, and the 50mbit service they advertised having very low national availability. The Advertising Standards Agency later told them they can not run the adverts again in the same form.
Even The Weather Channel has gotten involved in service bashing. In 2013, The Weather Channel decided to raise the per-subscriber rate it charges the cable or satellite operator from about 13 cents to 14 cents, while DirecTV felt that TWC was only worth 10 cents, so DirecTV decided to drop it in favor of WeatherNation, a competing TV weather service that does not charge subscriber fees. So The Weather Channel started running ads (on itself, of course, it doesn't want to pay competing stations to run ads) bashing DirecTV either parodying DirecTV's ad campaign bashing cable companies, or complaining about how DirecTV has taken it off despite the fact that Nobody on DirecTV can see the ads because their channel isn't on DirecTV.
They've also taken to flooding their own Facebook page with posts asking followers to petition DirecTV to bring back The Weather Channel.
A cable TV company in the Northeast US ran a series of direct mail ads that had Santa Claus telling two small children "Santa can't land on your house because you have a satellite dish".
Prime example of the Idiot Ball trope, commercial where there are a red team and a blue team competing on a TV Game Show called "You Might Think DirecTV Has More HD Than Comcast But You're Wrong". Despite being the name of the game show they're in, when the red team is asked which has more HD programming in some city (and a voice over announcer repeating sotto voce the fact that they should know this), they still get it wrong!
A trend is for cable companies to trash phone companies which want to provide TV services. Suddenlink Communications ran one in which "customers" knock the phone company for wishing to provide TV service while pointing out how allegedly poor they are at providing Internet service. Without any irony whatsoever, the commercial then points out that Suddenlink is providing phone service just moments after asking viewers why one would ever want TV from a phone company. A lot of these used to focus on that the phone company wasn't actually the one providing the service. Instead, the phone company is usually partnering with a satellite provider to give the TV service. We also used to see the back-and-forth about "dedicated connections" vs. "availability" and "speed." Satellite/phone/DSL bundles would claim that they provided "dedicated connections" to customers, while the cable companies' customers had "shared connections." Of course, they didn't mention that these "dedicated connections" are not to each home, but (at best) to each street. The cable companies have responded with the fact that DSL's highest speeds aren't even available to most phone customers. They happen to be right about that, but they've made some fairly over-the-top commercials regarding download speeds. Cox Communications advertises their "PowerBoost" technology vs. the ability to take "power naps" during DSL downloads.
This started shifting to fighting internet-based services like Netflix. If a movie is offered pay-per-view, the satellite or cable company must remind you every other sentence exactly how many days earlier you can watch it with them instead of seeing it on Netflix. Sometimes they might also mention Redbox, which offers DVD/Blu-ray through vending machines.
Through most of 2009, Canadians got to witness a variation of this where cable carriers and over-the-air broadcasters were in a propaganda war over proposed new government regulations changing the relationship between OTA broadcasters and cable. Broadcasters, trying to convince the public that the new fees cable companies would have to pay could be used to fund "local TV" and without it smaller centres would lose their affiliates, started a "Save Local TV" ad campaign. Cable companies, insisting that they would pass this cost onto their consumers at the behest of government policy (this is less scary, of course, when you remember the entire industry is highly regulated) started a "Stop the TV tax" ad campaign. For most of the year, this was the majority of the ads aired on television. The ad campaign only died when the government tabled the decision.
An ad for Time Warner cable in the summer of 2014 featured a woman who got home to find her husband had purchased not only the couch they were needing to buy, but a whole living room of tables, chairs, and lamps. The husband claims he needed to buy everything shown in the room to get the best deal on the couch leaving his wife to fathom WHY somebody would want to do that when they only need one thing. Cue the announcer who walks in saying Time Warner DOES provide such a deal—if all you want to buy is internet you can buy it and pay for it cheap without needing to buy extra things you don't want.