There are two mediums used by companies to deliver television service: cable and satellite. Oftentimes, a service provider's commercials are mostly dedicated on discrediting the quality of the other variety of service.
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 locks you into unreasonable contracts. And phone companies, which stream TV networks over a DSL internet connection note , show commercials about both.
These commercials are usually seen as cheesy, low-budget, and filled with Bad "Bad Acting", even though they come from big-name companies such as Comcast or Spectrum 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.)
Cable companies don't go after each other, however. 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.note 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.
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.note 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 dishesnote 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. This last point has changed in the U.S. since DirecTV was bought by AT&T in 2015.
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 (usually cheaper and more convenient) 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. (For example, partnering with cable and satellite TV networks to provide apps for phones and devices like the Roku that require logging in via the cable or satellite provider (and therefore a subscription to the cable or satellite provider. Or encouraging them to add on services like Internet and phone, or DVR service, which also usually comes with an additional fee.) Additionally, while satellite TV subscriptions have begun to dramatically decline, both DirecTV and Dish operate "cord-cutting" services (DirecTV Now/AT&T TV Now for the former, Sling TV for the latter) to keep up with the changing marketplace.
- A '70s percursor to those cable/satelite ads: "pay TV"note vs "free TV"note . It was a Scare Campaign which urged people to sign a petition to ban "pay TV", as people shouldn't pay for what they already had for free and it would be another place where monsters appeared. With shades of New Media Are Evil, as well as the added bonus the ad was run in movie theaters.note According to some commentaries, this bilge was successful in some communities up until the day local governments discovered "pay TV" could be taxed.
- In the early 2000s, Dish Network ran ads showing a CGI "cable snake" that would give you low quality TV signals and steal your money.
- Around October 2011, Buckeye Cable of northwest Ohio (and parts of southern Michigan) was running two different commercial campaigns. The first one involved a pair of Dish Network salesmen trying and failing to sell existing Buckeye customers satellite TV. The second one involved 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 Slowskies) 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.
- 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").
- A run of radio ads from the late 2000s 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 mentioning "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. Keep in mind that at the time, Comcast was offering speeds as slow as 3mbps in some markets, which isn't much better than the DSL speeds of the time.
- The latest Xfinity ad featuring the Slowskies has Mr. and Mrs. Slowsky receiving an invitation to a Y2K party via the postal service...in 2019. The mail man in question is an actual snail, naturally enough. Their son is an Xfinity customer and immediately lampshades the ridiculousness of the situation.
- DSL. Let's look at DSL. It's medium speed Internet over phone lines. Faster than dial-up but much slower than broadband. Given a choice, nobody would buy DSL if they can get broadband, either as fiber or via a cable modem. The only two reasons anyone today seriously takes DSL for Internet are (1) they cannot get broadband or anything faster, or (2) they can't afford high-speed broadband. The cheapest DSL is maybe 400kbps at about $20 a month vs. about $60 for 15mbps broadband (cable modem or fiber), about 30x as fast as DSL. Cable companies talking about those taking DSL as a bad idea (and trying to get them to switch from DSL to broadband) are only targeting three classes of customers: (1) extremely price-conscious residential customers for whom the $40 is important (no serious commercial business that requires Internet service is going to be concerned about the $40 extra for Cable modem broadband vs DSL), (2) rural areas that can't get cable Internet, or (3) customers (typically older) who use the Internet sparingly and don't want to pay for a service they're not really using all that much. So the anti-DSL commercials are targeting people who either can't get, can't afford, or simply aren't interested in Cable Internet anyway!
- 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 U-verse is too slow and is touting its watch-anywhere-in-the-house portable equipment.
- 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...
- 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 Charter) operates there - do a similar thing.
- Sling TV, a Dish Network-owned service that provides around 20 popular cable channels (including holy grail ESPN) for Internet streaming, has gotten into the game with commercials that portray thinly-veiled Comcast employees as bullying schoolchildren, forcing you to give them your lunch money — that is, pay for 400 cable channels you don't want — and making fun of you to their friends when you try to call customer support.
- 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 (as of 2015 owned by Charter under the new Spectrum branding) 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 DirecTV, and started being targeted at AT&T UVerse after the DirecTV/AT&T merger.
- 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.
- Some guy put up a "completely awesome version" on YouTube where the awesome Verizon installer guy blows up.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- An ad campaign for DirecTV started in the fall of 2014 features Rob Lowe as himself, owning DirecTV, and a less cooler version of himself with cable. Each ad in the series depicts a different one: so far there's been Far Less Attractive Rob Lowe, Super Creepy Rob Lowe, Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe, Crazy Hairy Rob Lowe, Scrawny Arms Rob Lowe, Overly Paranoid Rob Lowe, Meat Head Rob Lowe, Peaked in High School Rob Lowe, and Poor Decision Making Rob Lowe. The ads ran the same basic formula: Cool Rob Lowe would talk about some selling point of DirectTV (e.g., 99% signal reliability), while the not-Cool Rob Lowe would talk about how cable measures up (Super Creepy Rob Lowe's cable's out, so he's down at the rec center watching people swim with binoculars). The ads concluded with Rob Lowe saying, "Don't be like this me.". Later, NFL stars like Tony Romo, the Mannings, and Randy Moss did similar commercials (Arts-&-Craftsy Tony Romo, Bad Comedian Eli Manning, Petite Randy Moss, and High-Pitched Voice Peyton Manning).
- Around 2014, Time Warner Cable was looking to hit AT&T U-verse on the fact that their service at the time could "only" show live TV on four different devices at once. So they made up a bizarre scenario where a kid couldn't watch cartoons on a rainy day because four different other family members were watching four different live streams at once. That is, until a Time Warner rep showed up and saved the day. Presumably the family didn't have any cartoons DVR'd, or TWC just didn't want to admit that U-verse could do more devices at once if some were watching DVR'd content.
- During the 2015 holiday season a Time Warner Cable ad featured a family that wanted more from their home Internet named —The Moores!
- In the mid-2000s, Time Warner ran a series of black-and-white ads featuring the Hardways, a family dressed in 1950s attire and using corded dial phones, record players, and a mid-80s MS-DOS computer. By the final commercial, the Hardways have switched to Time Warner and are now wearing contemporary clothes and using modern equipment, in glorious color.
- As of TWC's new face as Spectrum, they aren't even being subtle about selling themselves as better than satellite television, having slogans such as "DirectTV Bad, Spectrum Good".
- A series of commercials in summer 2016 show an average family whose Internet provided by the cable company has just gone down. Apparently first thing after it went down the cable company went as far as to lock the family in their houses a-la Big Brother because rather than use the time the Internet is down to go out and have some family time away from technology, the family is left panicking at home and with nothing to do, even going as far as to spy on the neighbors using their working Internet.
- A September 2017 ad by DirectTV (yep, them again) re-assured viewers that there were still people who enjoyed cable, just like how there are people that enjoy unpleasant things like banging their heads into a low ceiling, drinking sour milk, or getting a paper cut. With appropriately horrifying imagery. And now they're showing cable users enjoying other unpleasant things like wet shopping bags and bad haircuts.
- In 2018, after Comcast unexpectedly dropped Big Ten Network outside of Big Ten conference markets, Dish Network began to counter with a commercial showing a frustrated college football fan unable to watch his game (clearly not prominent enough to be on a major channel), promoting that Dish carried "every" Division I football game.
- A series of ads in 2021 for AT&T Fiber Internet point out that if you can't get something done because you have cable internet, then you're not a bad person and you just have bad Internet such as AT&T Fiber. note
- 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.
- 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.
- This was averted in the UK, at least for a time. Cable was slow to spread in the country, not getting big until the 90s. When Sky debuted its' Astra-based service in February 1989, they found themselves in a war with the government-backed satellite company BSB. However, due to equipment problems and other issues, BSB's start was delayed until March of 1990. They found themselves in a war of words (both sides constantly flinging insults at each other in marketing and the press), and a war of attrition, as both Sky and BSB lost money by the truckload (thanks to getting into bidding wars regarding rights to movies and sports, as well as people waiting to see which side won out). Ultimately, both companies merged into one British Sky Broadcasting to save themselves, thus leaving Sky unopposed in the satellite realm until the emergence of Freesat in the late 2000s (though strictly-speaking Astra was an open platform, with Sky scrambling channels intended for only UK viewers to see). However, when digital terrestrial came along later in the decade, Sky (after being kicked out of the original group for competition reasons) pretty much did everything they could to sabotage OnDigital (later renamed ITV Digital), including hiring hackers to crack the DTT encryption system (despite having many technical and programming advantages over On/ITV Digital). Sky won that duel when ITV Digital went bust, with Freeview coming along shortly afterwards (subscription DTT services were attempted afterwards, but largely failed).
- At one point in The '90s, a local UK branch of Comcast basically had a slot in their channel line-up reserved 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. This somewhat foreshadowed the Sky vs. Virgin Media spat, though Sky 2 had long since ceased to exist by the time of the Virgin dispute.
- LivingTV was a bit more subtle in some of the promos for Charmed that aired while the series was running on Channel 5 - "Hi, I'm Rose McGowan and you are watching LivingTV, the real home of Charmed." (Justified in this case as Living has shown the entire run numerous times, whereas Five let the final season go to Channel 4.)
- 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.
- Nowadays it has evolved into an all-out bashing campaign from yoo (a Triple-Play service) against everyonenote 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, but their ads are still disliked because the main networks spam them during 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 5; 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.
- 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) has started building a fiber-optic network to get better speeds, so soon enough the ads will be going the other direction.
- 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 (such as Sky1) 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", i.e. 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.
- 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 local programming, 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 Canadian television. The ad campaign only died when the government tabled the decision.
- The over-the-top dramatic nature of the ads, especially the Stop the TV Tax side with their ads of various everyday people on the street being asked their opinion on the "TV tax", was parodied on The Rick Mercer Report.
Man: This is not a world in which I would want to raise a child. I'm glad I'm sterile. I'M GLAD I'M STERILE!
- The over-the-top dramatic nature of the ads, especially the Stop the TV Tax side with their ads of various everyday people on the street being asked their opinion on the "TV tax", was parodied on The Rick Mercer Report.
- Since Australian pay TV is practically just Foxtel, the mudslinging is between them and broadcast networks. Fox Sports' AFL channel is advertised as being completely "ad-break free siren to siren", and even the bug in the corner constantly brags about it. Meanwhile, almost all OTA sports broadcasts contain logos next to their bugs similarly bragging that it's "live and free".