Charter Loses 101,000 Pay TV Subs, CEO Touts "Opportunity" in Streaming Services

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Charter Communications chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge

The cable giant added 313,000 residential and 26,000 business Internet subscribers as broadcast continues to be a growth driver for the industry.

Cable operator Charter Communications, in which John Malone's Liberty Broadband owns a big stake, on Friday reported that it lost 101,000 pay TV subscribers in the fourth quarter as cord-cutting continues in the U.S.

Asked about working with upcoming streaming video services from entertainment giants, such as AT&T/WarnerMedia's HBO Max and Comcast/NBCUniversal's Peacock, chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge said "there is an opportunity in us marketing direct-to-consumer products in our relationship with programmers," adding that the firm can "help programmers" here and "hold both thoughts in our head at the same time" — selling traditional program bundles and new streaming services. Such partnerships can be "mutually beneficial," he said.

Rutledge highlighted that Charter has offered such services as Netflix via its platform, adding that he looks at the streaming services like traditional pay TV relationships as "opportunities to enhance the video experience" for subscribers. "There is an opportunity in there for us," he concluded, saying that Charter was having "ongoing discussions" with all companies. AT&T and others have said it expects to strike distribution deals with pay TV and digital platforms for HBO Max.

Charter lost 105,000 residential pay TV subscribers in the latest quarter, compared with a loss of 36,000 in the year-ago period. As of the end of 2019, Charter had 15.6 million residential video customers.

The company added 4,000 small and medium business video customers in the fourth quarter, compared with 14,000 in the year-ago period, ending 2019 with 524,000.

Overall, Charter lost 101,000 video subscribers in the latest period, compared with a loss of 22,000 in the year-ago quarter.

The broadband business once again led the growth charge in the fourth quarter as Charter recorded 313,000 residential Internet subscriber net additions and 26,000 new Internet business customers for a total gain of 339,000, up from 329,000 in the year-ago period.

The company also added 288,000 mobile lines in the quarter, bringing its growing mobile business to a total of 1.1 million lines.

Charter highlighted that as of Dec. 31, it had more than 29.2 million total customer relationships, having added more than 1.1 million net new customer relationships over the past year.

For 2020, management forecast weaker video subscriber momentum. 

The company's quarterly earnings came in at $714 million, compared with $296 million in the year-ago period. Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, another profitability metric, rose 8.8 percent to $4.5 billion. Fourth-quarter revenue increased by 4.7 percent to $11.8 billion.

Said Charter chairman and CEO Rutledge: "As we look to 2020, we remain focused on driving customer growth by offering superior services and value to our customers, improving the efficiency of our operations, and delivering sustainable free cash flow growth."