Where’s the Love for Comcast?

A new ranking from Harris Interactive confirms the company's unpopularity.

Maybe it’s not all Comcast’s fault.

Harris Interactive has released its annual rankings of the reputations of the country’s 100 most-visible companies and — shocker — Comcast makes the bad end of the list, ranking at 93.

But taking a broader view of the list, some patterns emerge. Here are the Top 10 companies by reputation in America right now:

Wegmans Food Markets
Johnson & Johnson
Kraft Foods
L.L. Bean
Publix Supermarkets

And here’s 90-100:

Bank of America
Charter Communications
Koch Industries
Sears Holdings Corporation
Dish Network
Goldman Sachs

The commonalities on the Bottom 10 are pretty easy to identify. They’ve become associated with a particular brand of politics, like Haliburton and Koch Industries; they’re part of the “Too Big to Fail” financial groups that got blamed for creating the Great Recession without paying a real price for it, like Goldman, AIG, and Bank of America; or they’ve created concerns about their impacts on the environment, like Monsanto and BP.

What’s left? Cable TV providers like Comcast, Dish Network, and Charter. Time Warner is just a little higher on the list, ranked at No. 85. (We’re not sure how Sears Holding Corporation fits into the list, so we’ll ignore for now.) That suggests Comcast’s problem is bigger than just being Comcast. 

Why is that? Well, go back and look at the Top 10. Not only is it easy to identify those brands as producing high-quality products, it’s also pretty easy to identify their competitors.

Wegmans is rarely the only grocery store in town, after all. Amazon competes with a billion other retailers, both online and in the brick-and-mortar space. Some of the Top 10 even count other members of the Top 10 as competitors. Samsung competes with Apple who competes with Google. 

Cable providers, on the other hand, tend not to have natural predators. (One of Comcast’s arguments for a merger with Time Warner cable is that it won’t reduce cable competition — because the two companies already have virtual monopolies in the territories they cover.) If you’re in Comcast territory, Comcast is almost always going to be the cable provider you choose or can choose. Same for Time Warner and Charter Communications.

That can lead to two problems:

 • Without direct competitors, companies can get by with doing less than their best. Comcast, at least, seems aware of this issue: It is often adding new features to its cable offerings — just this week it started letting customers purchase bundles of movies on demand — but one wonders if its pricing might be simpler or its wait times shorter if most of its customers could get a similar product without those hassles.

• Because they don’t have much choice, customers can never feel like they’ve made the better choice. Lots of people take pride in being an Apple person or a Samsung person; more than a few folks base their identities in not being Amazon customers, while others get a thrill from the deals they think they get at the online retailer. If there’s no alternative, you can’t be better than the alternative —and so customers tend to judge you against their perfect, preferred version of you.

Now, Comcast doesn’t always invite competition. So you could argue that, even at this macro level, its troubles are of its own making. And in any case, the company is already hugely profitable and hugely powerful. Should it want to be loved, too? 

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.