Charter Second-Quarter Loss Widens, Video Subs Drop
UPDATED: CEO Tom Rutledge discusses his approach to possible acquisitions and his views on the on-demand future of video services provided by the cable industry.
Cable operator Charter Communications on Tuesday reported mixed second-quarter results as its revenue grew, its loss widened and subscriber momentum improved.
During Charter's earnings conference call, CEO Tom Rutledge said his team was aware of a recent slew of market chatter about possible acquisitions that the company could pursue, but only made brief comments about his approach to potential deals. John Malone's Liberty Media owns a 27.3 percent stake in Charter and has said that consolidation is key for pay TV companies amid rising programming costs.
"We believe in the benefits of consolidation," Rutledge said, citing possible cost synergies, increased leverage in content negotiations and the ability to grow assets at a faster pace. "We are focused on the core opportunity at Charter today" and would be "very disciplined" if and when deal opportunities arise, the Charter CEO added.
Asked about the sense of urgency he feels to strike a deal, Rutledge left his options open. Charter can be "extremely successful" without any deal and, "potentially, with the right deal be even more successful," he said. Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Cablevision Systems have been mentioned as possible big acquisition targets or merger partners for Charter. Asked how big a cable operator had to be, he said that was "difficult" to answer.
Rutledge on Tuesday also said that Charter remains "committed to a video product" after Cablevision CEO Jim Dolan had suggested his firm could one day focus on offering broadband service. Asked to explain his comment further, Rutledge said he wasn't necessarily talking about the current video services pay TV providers offer.
His personal view was that video "will become an on-demand product over time and will look like a streaming service delivered on the Internet today," but a lot of the future lies in the hands of content providers, Rutledge said. Charter's goal was to be ready to "follow the development of television wherever it may go," he added.
The company said in its latest earnings report that its residential video subscribers continued to drop during the latest quarter, which ended June 30. It lost 48,000 video customers, but that was below the year-ago decline of 66,000.
But overall residential subscriber relationships rose by 5,000, compared with a year-ago loss of 17,000. The second quarter tends to be the seasonally weakest for pay TV companies.
Charter posted a loss of $96 million, compared with a loss of $83 million in the year-ago period. Revenue came in at $1.97 billion, up 4.7 percent from the same quarter of 2012, helped by price increases. Higher operating expenses and higher depreciation and amortization were drags on the bottom line, though.
Charter added 40,000 broadband customers, up from 29,000 in the second quarter of 2012, and 46,000 telephony users, up from 6,000.
"We continued to make progress in the second quarter, executing on our plan to grow market share by delivering better products, service and value to our customers," Rutledge said.
On the call, he said Charter's more centralized management approach is now in place to deliver a better customer experience. "We are executing well on the plan we laid out over the last year," he said.