NARB Recommends Comcast Modify Comparative Claims For Xfinity Service Following Challenge By DirecTV

New York, NY – April 23, 2019 – A panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) has recommended that Comcast Communications, LLC modify its advertising to avoid making unsupported implied superiority claims. The advertising claims that were the subject of the panel’s review related to the comparison of Comcast’s Xfinity Television Service, a cable service with features of DirecTV, a competing satellite service operated by DirecTV, LLC.

NARB is the appellate unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The advertising at issue was challenged by DirecTV, LLC before the National Advertising Division (NAD), an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation.

Comcast had appealed to the NARB certain recommendations made by the NAD concerning a 30 second Xfinity TV commercial, and DirecTV exercised its right under the applicable rules of procedure to file a cross-appeal.

The first issue raised by the advertiser’s appeal related to the characterization of the number of streaming shows and movies “on the go” available from DirecTV.  The commercial voiceover stated that with Xfinity, “you get to stream more than 70,000 shows and movies on the go . . . whereas, with DirecTV, not so much.”  The latter part of the voiceover was accompanied by a visual of a deserted desert scene, with a cactus in the background, the sound of wind, and a tumbleweed rolling by.

It was not disputed that Xfinity offers more streaming shows and movies, 70,000, compared to about 40,000 available from DirecTV.  NAD, however, had found that the commercial conveyed the unsupported message that DirecTV “offers little to no streaming,” and recommended that the advertising be modified to eliminate this message.  The NARB panel agreed with NAD’s position, and concluded that the commercial conveyed the unsupported implied message that there is a great disparity between Comcast’s 70,000 streamed shows and movies and the actual number of 39,000 available from DirecTV.

The second issue the NARB panel addressed related to the impact of weather on satellite transmission quality and reliability.  Surveying decisions in prior cases, NAD had noted that satellite services sometimes do not work in the rain (“rain fade”), and that consumers may reasonably have concerns that a satellite service could experience signal disruption in bad weather. On the other hand, claims that satellite service is highly unreliable in bad weather would exaggerate the problem and not be supported.  Noting in particular that the challenged Xfinity commercial showed a single DirecTV receiver being struck by lightning, NAD had concluded that the commercial conveyed the unsupported message that “satellite outages due to bad weather are likely or even certain, when there are thunderstorms,” and recommended that “Comcast modify or discontinue the challenged commercial to avoid conveying the unsupported message that DirecTV is highly unreliable in bad weather.”

On this issue, also, the NARB panel agreed with NAD.  Among other executional elements of concern, while “rain fade” can impact satellite service, that impact is unrelated to lightning, yet the frame in question featured a lightning bolt hitting and shaking the satellite receiver.  The panel also agreed with NAD with respect to the voice-over (“but you get the idea”), as well as the overall tenor of the commercial (“two parallel comparisons”) which created the impression that weather-related reliability issues for satellite TV are greater than those demonstrated by the record.

The issue raised by DirecTV on its cross-appeal related to the “great offer” referred to at the end of the Xfinity commercial. That reference was to an introductory offer for Xfinity that would not entitle the subscriber to “70,000 shows and movies on the go” referred to earlier in the commercial.  While recognizing that it is difficult to determine where the line is drawn when there are multiple packages promoted in a single commercial, the NARB panel agreed with Comcast, concluding that the alleged misleading message, that 70,000 movies and shows are available for the featured introductory price, would not be communicated to a reasonable viewer of the commercial. Among the factors considered, a majority of the panel believed that consumers are familiar with introductory offers being set forth at the end of a commercial, and understand that such offers will generally not provide all of the key features of more expensive packages.

In its Advertiser’s Statement, Comcast stated that “While the subject advertising has run its course, Comcast will take NARB’s recommendations into consideration in future advertising.”

Note: A recommendation by NAD or NARB to modify or discontinue a claim is not a finding of wrongdoing and an advertiser’s voluntary discontinuance or modification of claims should not be construed as an admission of impropriety. It is the policy of NAD not to endorse any company, product, or service. Decisions finding that advertising claims have been substantiated should not be construed as endorsements.