Cablevision posts Q4 loss

But cable operator adds advanced cable subscribers

NEW YORK -- Cablevision swung to a fourth-quarter loss on impairment charges but lost fewer basic cable subscribers than expected.

Management said Thursday that subscriber growth in the current first quarter so far has exceeded trends in the year-ago period despite the recession and competitive pressures, and it vowed to start charging online readers of recent newspaper acquisition Newsday.

CEO James Dolan also said that recent debt financings, strong cash flow and existing credit lines "have positioned us well from a near-term liquidity perspective." In a conference call, his team added that this will allow the company to handle debt maturing this year despite the current credit crunch.

Bethpage, N.Y.-based Cablevision posted a fourth-quarter loss of $321.4 million, compared with a year-ago profit of $6.64 million. The latest figure included impairment charges of $402 million for Long Island's Newsday and $41 million for the Voom HD business, whose domestic operations the firm recently shuttered.

Quarterly revenue grew 11.4% to $2.05 billion thanks to subscriber growth and the acquisitions of Newsday and Sundance Channel. The company's Rainbow networks unit saw revenue rise 14%.

Cablevision lost 3,800 basic subscribers in the latest quarter despite competition from Verizon's FiOS TV service, doing better than many on Wall Street had projected. It also gained 22,800 digital cable customers and 28,200 high-speed Internet users.

"Despite the economic downturn, the company reported full year double-digit growth in revenue and adjusted operating cash flow," Dolan said of the 2008 performance.

Meanwhile, COO Tom Rutledge gave more color on Cablevision's Newsday strategy, saying the firm was well aware if the difficult market for newspapers before the purchase. He argued that the company can better manage the transition from a print-focused world to a digital one and vowed to end the free distribution of Newsday's news online.

"It's news product that can be used across our online properties and on cable TV," he added, without providing further details.

He also said that Cablevision has begun integrating Newsday's classified ads with the company's other classifieds business.