James Dolan: Cablevision not for sale

CEO says first priority is to manage firm's debt

NEW YORK -- What a difference a month and a financial crisis make.

Cablevision Systems CEO James Dolan said Thursday that he doesn't expect to sell his firm's cable networks amid current market conditions. That "probably was different a month ago," when deals at better price tags were relatively easier to finance.

At Goldman Sachs' annual Communacopia conference, Dolan was asked if his family could try to take Cablevision private again after previous failed attempts. "I would never completely rule it out, but at this time it's not really on our radar," he said.

Dolan added that his top priority amid the market turmoil is to manage the company's debt. "Today I think you need to be concerned about your debt first," he said. Cablevision has about $1.7 billion in maturities.

He said current credit facilities and free-cash-flow trends make him comfortable with Cablevision's debt situation. "We wouldn't have to tap credit markets," he said.

Had the company gone private, it would have much more debt now, which is "probably not the best position to be in today," Dolan said.

Cablevision continues to mull its options for the future of HD networks venture Voom, which lost its only distribution partner, Dish, the CEO said.

COO Tom Rutledge shrugged off Verizon as "a me-too player" in video services, saying its FiOS TV service hasn't made major inroads in Cablevision markets.

Asked about increased Verizon promotions, including ones with free DSL service, Rutledge also suggested telecom firms' DSL is not in the same league as cable broadband service: "DSL is like dial-up," he said. "Even if you gave it to someone, why would you want it?"

Several attendees at the Cablevision session said they were glad to have management back on the conference circuit after they had shied away from public appearances since their privatization drives started.

Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce said Cablevision's operations remain solid. "And if investors can bide their time, there are value-creation opportunities here," he said.