Savvy consumers already know that when considering a product advertised with the word “free,” it often pays to read the fine print. In a sign that battles over pay-TV customers are heating up, Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) has filed a lawsuit saying a new DirecTV (NYSE: DTV) promotion stretches that word too far.
DirecTV launched an advertising campaign stating that its popular NFL Sunday Ticket package is available at “no extra charge.” However, the company only gives that package away when customers sign up for a two-year contract, so Comcast is saying that it isn’t truly “free.”
In fact, Comcast says that the “free” claim is “an outright lie,” because “the offer requires a two-year contract with hefty termination fees for early cancellation, with the NFL Sunday Ticket service automatically renewing in the second year at full price.”
DirecTV typically offers NFL Sunday Ticket for $66.99 per month.
Of course, if asking for a two-year contract with a “free” product is an “outright lie,” it would seem like a whole lot of cell phone arrangements and other promotions could be in trouble. And DirecTV’s offers-even the one featured in the complaint-do feature fine print explaining that the promotion is only available with a 2-year commitment to a certain package.
Comcast also says that DirecTV is disparaging cable systems like Comcast in its ads, as well. “One DirecTV advertisement contains the literally false claim that cable subscribers only can view a single NFL game each Sunday during the NFL season,” write its lawyers in the complaint, which was filed in federal court in Chicago (and is embedded below).
Some of the specific ads Comcast objects to include ones where former football player Deion Sanders is featured saying things like “only DirecTV gets you every game every Sunday.” An ad in the Philadelphia area shows an actor wearing a Philadelphia Eagles jersey who says “I can’t watch my Eagles here… I’ve got cable.” That claim is “literally, clearly and unambiguously false,” write Comcast lawyers, “as Philadelphia Eagles games are of course broadcasted in that area.”
A DirecTV spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but told Bloomberg that Comcast’s complaint was without merit and that DirecTV will vigorously defend the case.
A Comcast spokeswoman portrayed the lawsuit as an action taken to protect consumers, calling the ad campaign “false, deceptive and misleading.” Comcast had asked DirecTV to take the advertisements down, she said, but the company refused. “So, we have filed a complaint to make them comply with the law and advertise fairly to consumers.”