Watch This: Comcast and DirecTV Square Off

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Remember when “Must See TV” referred to appointment television? If it was Thursday night in the '90s, you were most likely parked in front of your TV watching “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” or any other show fortunate enough to score a slot on NBC's coveted lineup. There's been a dramatic shift in network dominance since the days of Rachel, Monica, Jerry, and George. NBC, once on top, consistently struggles in the ratings battle. But the more notable change in television is the way viewers consume their content in 2013.

Scroll through the guide on your TV and you'll see scores of channels that you may never watch and countless shows that you never knew existed. The quantity of content out there is astounding (and at times, a little horrifying). Now consider the fact that you can watch your shows on your time, on your terms, on-demand, and on the device of your choice.  You may still enjoy sitting in front of that box in your living room—but you can also tune in to your tablet or smartphone and watch just about anything from just about anywhere.

Whatever you consider to be “must see,” there's no shortage of options in digital entertainment. You also have a choice when it comes to picking the company that provides that content. Some have a preference for cable; others may prefer satellite.  Either way, XFINITY by Comcast and DirecTV offer consumers similar services.  XFINITY (Comcast's name for its rebranded triple-play services) and DirecTV both provide an impressive list of channels, as well as high-speed Internet, telephone services, and bundles that combine all three.

From a marketing perspective, both companies do some things very well—in other areas, there is plenty of room for improvement. So, how do Comcast and DirecTV stack up against each other? Here's a quick look at how both companies fare across various marketing channels.

Facebook

XFINITY's main Facebook page has more than 4 million likes and features impressive video content, polls, contests, job info, support services, and tie-ins to other social media.  In addition to the main page, local markets support their own pages. XFINITY Latino also maintains a very active Facebook presence. Every page is similar in structure and visually beautiful.

More than 2.7 Facebook users like DirecTV, which also maintains a beautiful page. The most notable difference is that DirecTV's page, like the company itself, is very sports-centric. The page features a variety of sports and allows viewers to watch online.  DirecTV also does quite a bit of polling, provides support, and allows users to refer a friend. Although DirecTV's Facebook numbers may be lower than XFINITY's, the DirecTV audience tends to be loyal and follows the page very closely. This one's a tie.

Twitter

Both companies also support successful Twitter strategies. Comcast maintains various feeds including @XFINITY, @XFINITY_TV, @XFINITYSports, @XFINITYDeals and @XFINITYLive. DirecTV also has various feeds, but ultimately focuses on its main feed @DirecTV.

XFINITY and DirecTV both use Twitter to drive discussions about shows and promote deals. Staying in character, DirecTV's feed features a strong sports angle. The fact that sports are ingrained into DirecTV's DNA explains its active and largely male-dominated fan base. Score this one a tie, too.

LinkedIn

XFINITY by Comcast and DirecTV both fall short on LinkedIn. The Comcast group has more than 57,000 members, while DirecTV has just over 21,000. These are low numbers for big companies that happen to be in the business of connecting people.

Comcast and DirecTV's company pages have very little content and tend to be jobs-focused. And neither company utilizes some of LinkedIn's core features (like the ability to embed rich media or maintain message boards), which would enhance their pages.

Comcast offers services to businesses, so its lackluster LinkedIn strategy is surprising.  Still, Comcast's presence is better than DirecTV's, so the edge goes to Comcast.

YouTube

XFINITY by Comcast has a decent presence on YouTube, but it can improve dramatically by following DirecTV's example. Both companies feature how-to content, sample episodes and commercials.  DirecTV just does it all better.

DirecTV maintains multiple YouTube channels and keeps its content very well organized. Much of the company's YouTube content is sports-centric, which makes it a nice complement to DirecTV'S offerings on TV and its presence on social media.

DirecTV is the clear winner here, but Comcast can narrow the gap by paying attention to what its viewers want and by creating micro-communities where viewers can easily find videos they care about.

Pinterest

This one's no contest, partly because I couldn't find an official pinboard for XFINITY and largely because DirecTV's images and infographics are vibrant, beautiful, and well-organized. DirecTV maintains 32 boards, has more than 220,000 pins, and actively utilizes Pinterest as another effective extension of its brand.

Google+

Comcast doesn't seem to have a presence on Google+, so DirecTV gets an easy win in this category. DirecTV generates multiple daily posts, which feature special offers, entertainment blurbs, and community outreach. Even more impressive is the way DirecTV leverages Google+ to drive traffic back to its website and other social media channels.

Blog

Comcast and DirecTV both have effective blog strategies. Comcast Voices, Comcast's corporate blog site, is well-curated and beautifully designed. The content is rich and touches on everything from community info to entertainment to sports. XFINITY has a separate, and equally strong, blog, as well.

DirecTV takes a more classic approach to its blog, which makes it feel a little less unique and original. Still, the content is solid and the site is consistently active. The Comcast blog definitely gets points for its rich design, but there's still something nice about the traditional, organic feel of DirecTV's page. This one's close, but the slight edge goes to Comcast.

Website

Here again, Comcast gets points for design. The company's corporate site is vibrant, panoramic, and very easy to navigate. The content is bite-sized and accessible, and a “less is more” approach means a better experience for the user. Comcast's other sites also perform well. Comcast.com is transactional and features products, special offers, and support. XFINITY's site serves as an information portal where customers can access their email, send texts, manage their DVR, and see TV listings.

DirecTV's website is much more centralized. The site is fully integrated, transactional, and allows visitors to access their accounts, the corporate site and their content, all in the same place. 

Comcast's decentralized approach isn't necessarily better than DirecTV's centralized strategy (that comes down to personal preference). But visually, Comcast simply does a better job.

Mobile

I was able to find nine different Comcast apps in the app store. Overall, the user experience is stunning and each app is beautifully designed. However, this is a case in which simplicity might be better. The fragmented approach mirrors Comcast's Web strategy, but keeping track of so many apps can be confusing for the user.

DirecTV only has two apps, one for live streaming and Nomad, which allows users to access their DVR content on their smartphones and tablets. The DirecTV apps perform well and look good, and fewer apps means better focus.

Comcast's mobile website is easy to navigate, visually beautiful and feels like a natural extension of the company's website. By contrast, DirecTV's mobile site feels like an afterthought. Considering how much time people spend on their mobile devices, it's surprising that DirecTV would drop the ball in such a big way. This one goes to Comcast.

Customer support

Comcast has a really strong support site, which includes a personalized dashboard, information about service, and recently viewed content. Quick links provide answers to many questions and the keyword search is right up front. Support sites, in general, tend to be cluttered, but Comcast's curated strategy makes the site welcoming and its content easy to find.

DirecTV is clearly trying to follow Comcast's lead. The Answer Center has a lot of information, which is organized by topic. How-to video content is also integrated into DirecTV's support site. DirecTV does fine, but Comcast sets a new standard for how support sites should work.

Brand Champion 

Comcast and DirecTV both do some things very well, but in certain areas, they would be well-served to follow the other's example.

Comcast essentially forfeited the Pinterest and Google+ rounds, which points to Comcast's need to expand and integrate its social media strategy. With the exception of LinkedIn, DirecTV does a great job of leveraging its social media channels. Each one feeds the others and ultimately drives traffic back to the DirecTV website.

But what Comcast lacks in integration, it makes up for in design. The company's website, blogs, mobile site, and mobile apps are extremely well-done and reflect a creative edge that sets the brand apart from DirecTV.

This battle is actually a lot closer than the scorecard indicates—but after 10 rounds, DirecTV is your champion.

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