Often when comparing two products side-by-side, the breakdown can sometimes appear with a David versus Goliath motif. Well, not this time. Comcast is one of the largest communications conglomerates in the world. It is a company that not only has exclusive rights agreements to broadcast the games of several professional sports franchises all over the country, but actually owns three teams (the Philadelphia 76ers(NBA), Philadelphia Flyers (NHL), Philadelphia Phantoms (AHL-minor league hockey)) outright, as well as the stadiums (the Wachovia Center & Wachovia Spectrum) they each play in.
Meanwhile, Time Warner is not doing all that shabby either, especially when considering the sheer diversity of their holdings. Under their corporate umbrella are names like Time Magazine, Warner Brothers Studios and America Online. They even own Superman and Batman via DC Comics. Therefore, it can be safely said that this battle is not exactly the local mom-and-pop shop fighting against Big Corporate.
Due to territorial boundaries being drawn, Philadelphia cable wise can be divided into two categories. Comcast Country (which is most of the city and the suburbs) and Time Warner (pretty much all of West Philadelphia). Comcast, which is headquartered in Philadelphia, has effectively dominated the region, but Time Warner (formerly known as Urban CableWorks) has carved a strong niche, especially considering West Philadelphia houses two major universities, the Ivy League University of Penn as well a engineering powerhouse Drexel University.
Each company offers very similar packages, including High-Speed cable Internet and On-Demand programming. Each offers similar channel listings and multiple premium channels. Each offers DVR as well as HDTV. Each has pay-per-view. When viewed as a complete package, Comcast and Time Warner are virtually identical. It can be truthfully said that neither service offers any item that the other does not match almost exactly. When it comes to the big picture, Comcast and Time Warner are twins, practically joined at the hip. However, like many things, where they differ is in the details.
The first area where they begin to diverge is in pricing. Comcast’s very popular initial package is the Digital Silver, which includes one premium channel of your choice, a digital on-screen guide, well over 200-plus channels and On-Demand programming. This package for one TV is $80.95.
Time Warner’s equivalent, the Digital Premium One-Pack, offers roughly the same thing as the Digital Silver, including the digital programming, On-Demand and the digital guide. However, Time Warner’s package sells for 69.95, $11 less than Comcast. In fact, Time Warner offers another package called the Digital Premium Value, which allows the customer to pick any of THREE premium stations for $81.95, only $1 than Comcast’s one premium offer and $14 less than Comcast’s next premium package, the Digital Gold, which at $95.95 only includes 2 premiums. People in Philadelphia and other markets have been complaining about Comcast’s “price-gouging” for years, and when you can view that comparison above, it is easy to see that the complaints have some merit. However, again, the difference is in the details.
Time Warner’s on-demand offer is certainly solid, but by comparison, Comcast’s version could be almost described as an embarrassment of riches. Time Warner has a small handful of options, mostly geared toward the premium offerings. If nothing on HBO’s list of movies or shows strikes your interest, you’re pretty much stuck unless you want to hit pay per view. Meanwhile, Comcast has On-Demand offerings from a plethora of sources, from Animal Planet to Comedy Central to the NFL Network and NBA TV. Comcast has multiple subsections of different things, from music to movies to edutainment to sports. They even offer advance trailers for movies not due out until next year. In virtually every way, Comcast’s On-Demand is far superior to anything Time Warner offers.
However, does this admittedly substantial gap make up for the price difference? I believe it does somewhat. The one advantage to having all those options is that it tends to reduce the amount of time people can say there is absolutely nothing on. Unless the customer is the type of person who would be okay just leaving a music video channel or ESPNews on all day long when nothing strikes their fancy, the On-Demand comes in handy. Moreover, Comcast often runs a number of specials during the year, which can massively cut the price. For example, right now Comcast has a special going for that Digital Silver package for up to 4 TVs at a price of just $29.99 total for 6 months. Comcast also has another web special for the Digital Silver package at $39.99 for three months. These offers far exceeds most of Time Warner’s specials, especially when considering that Time Warner also charges for installation upfront C.O.D., which can run to $40. The only equivalent deal is Time Warner’s college student discount, which is over 150 digital channels plus 11 HBO channels for $49.95, period.
Another area Comcast wins over Time Warner is service. Comcast is always open and their representatives either know how to handle the issue or they are perfectly willing to send a tech out to look at it. I’ve had some very good technicians; I’ve had some just okay ones. However, none were really bad or made me feel as if they did not know what they were doing. Contrasting that with Time Warner, where their office is only open pretty much during business hours and the representatives are very up and down. I have had some good experiences and some bad experiences on the phone with them. The technicians I’ve seen have been somewhat inconsistent as well. Contrasted with Comcast, often I’d felt like they sent the village idiot out to service my issue.
All in all, given the choice, I’d prefer Comcast. Granted, after the specials run out, you will pay a bit more money in the long run, but Comcast’s quality is far superior; to me, it explains the difference in price. Nevertheless, if Digital Cable is your best choice and money is an issue, Time Warner does offer enough to satisfy.