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Time Warner Cable CFO: 'We Don't Feel Any Need to Get Bigger'

Cable set-top box - H 2013
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Speaking at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia investor conference, Artie Minson says the firm ended up in a "much better place" after its recent carriage dispute with CBS Corp.

Time Warner Cable will remain "very disciplined" about possible acquisitions, CFO Artie Minson said at an investor event on Tuesday, arguing that the pay TV giant feels no pressure to strike a big deal despite recurring industry M&A chatter.

"We don't feel any need to get bigger," he said amid calls by the likes of Liberty Media boss John Malone, whose firm has acquired a minority stake in Charter Communications, for consolidation. Recent reports have said that Liberty has reached out to gauge the interest of Time Warner Cable and other companies to be acquired by Charter. Some have said that TW Cable was more interested in making an acquisition than selling.

Operating the current TW Cable business is the company's focus, Minson told the 22nd annual Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference, though. If the firm engaged in any M&A, it would be "really disciplined," Minson said, signaling it was more likely to be a buyer. But at one point he also said the company could "stretch" a bit within its disciplined approach for the right deal.

Minson, who recently took his post at the second-largest U.S. cable firm, said one key question would be if TW Cable would see better returns from a deal than from stock buybacks, which he called "a high hurdle."

Minson said he realized how "strong and resilient" the cable business was when he returned to it after a stint at AOL.

Meanwhile, the programming disputes between pay TV firms and content giants remain a "major issue" for TW Cable and the industry, Minson said. Asked about the recent CBS Corp. carriage dispute that led to a blackout of CBS networks in TW Cable homes, he said the final deal left TW Cable in a "much, much better place" than would have originally been the case. CBS was widely seen as the winner, though, in the agreement that was reached in the end.

"The decision to go dark is one we do not take lightly," he said, adding that the programming fee increases that content owners have gotten in recent years are not sustainable, "and consumers are reacting to that" as seen in declining pay TV subscriber figures.

Telecom giant AT&T was featured in a session earlier in the day. The firm hopes that continued subscriber growth for its U-verse pay TV service will allow the company to get better programming deals from content giants, CEO Randall Stephenson told the New York investor conference on Tuesday.

He emphasized that U-verse has crossed the five million subscriber mark and mentioned that one big Hollywood player, Walt Disney chairman and CEO Robert Iger, was speaking at the conference after his session.

He also told the investor conference that AT&T sees over-the-top broadband video services as "a significant opportunity." He didn't provide further details, but his comment came after U.K. cable giant Virgin Media, owned by John Malone's Liberty Global, recently announced that it would offer Netflix as an integrated service.

The news was seen as a first step for a slew of pay TV operators to possibly strike deals with online video services, which have often been seen as competitors for them and possible contributors to subscriber losses. Broadband providers like AT&T could also start charging over-the-top services for using more broadband, analysts have said.

The AT&T boss also touted the continuing growth of tablets, which has led to a 50 percent increase in data usage per wireless broadband subscriber this year, he said.

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai