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Charter’s Rebranded “Spectrum” Service Arrives in Fort Worth; New Name, New Reputation?

Phillip Dampier March 25, 2014 Broadband Speed, Charter, Competition, Consumer News, Video 1 Comment

charter spectrum logoCharter Communications’ latest attempt to rehabilitate its reputation with customers in Fort Worth, Tex. arrived this week in area mailboxes, as Charter reintroduced itself as “Charter Spectrum.”

Fort Worth is the first major city to get Charter’s broad-based service upgrade that began more than a year ago with a switch to all digital television service.

The newly available bandwidth no longer needed to support analog television has allowed Charter to expand its video service to more than 200 HD channels, up from fewer than 100.

Customers also start their Spectrum experience with a free broadband speed bump — from 30Mbps to 60/4Mbps (with a barely enforced monthly usage cap of 250GB), and an improved cable telephone service with nationwide calling.

Charter Spectrum's mailer is now arriving in Ft. Worth mailboxes. (Courtesy: TheTechGuru)

Charter Spectrum’s mailer is now arriving in Ft. Worth mailboxes. (Courtesy: TheTechGuru)

Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge openly admitted last year Charter had an inferior product compared against the competition. Upgrading Charter’s cable systems was designed to correct that and the company hopes its rebranding will deliver a marketplace reset, but some Charter customers remain skeptical.

“Same pig, fresh lipstick,” wrote one Charter customer in Missouri.

Others complain Charter’s upload speeds remain anemic at just 4Mbps.

Charter’s new pricing promotions were designed to simplify the shopping experience. There are now just three heavily promoted Spectrum triple play packages:

spectrum packages

A customer taking advantage of the Triple Play Gold promotion will pay a one-year promotional price of $129.97 a month. (Customers can also select individual services or build their own double-play bundle). The fine print mentions the price rises to $149.97 the second year and then reverts to an undisclosed “standard rate” after that. TV set-top boxes are required on every cable-connected television ($7 a month each – not included in the price). The Internet modem carries no additional charge. Phone taxes, fees and surcharges are also covered, but other taxes, fees, and surcharges are not.

Offers are valid for new customers only, and those who have not subscribed within the last 30 days and have no outstanding debt obligation to Charter.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WLOS Asheville Charter Going Digital 11-11-13.flv

Charter Spectrum arrives only after your local Charter system moves to all-digital television service. That happened last fall in Asheville, N.C., where customers were told they needed a digital set-top box on every television in the home. WLOS-TV covered the story back on Nov. 11, 2013. (1:44)

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Frustration Central: Charter Communications’ Digital Conversion Irritates Cities, Customers

Phillip Dampier March 11, 2014 Broadband Speed, Charter, Consumer News, HissyFitWatch No Comments

all digitalCharter Communications’ march to all-digital service is one big Excedrin headache for many of the communities enduring the cable company’s conversion.

Charter is embarked on a campaign to end analog cable television service, freeing up bandwidth to offer more HD channels and increase broadband speeds. But the switch to digital has been accompanied by frequent service disruptions and outages.

In Texas, customers complain their digital channels are often frozen or pixelated. In Casper, Wyo., where Charter acquired an older cable system from Cablevision that was originally built by Bresnan Communications, customers’ complaints range from inconsistent service and slow response times to loss of sound and frozen video during airing of City Council meetings.

But some of the loudest concerns about Charter originate from the Outer Banks of North Carolina where customers are finding the switch to digital can be very costly.

Tourism is a major part of the local economy and the Outer Banks are filled with seasonal homes, rental condos and hotels. Many property owners maintain seasonal accounts with Charter Cable, only active during the tourist season. Some hotel owners notified about Charter’s plans to transition towards digital service worked with the cable company to buy televisions that would not need additional equipment to work after the switch. With the cable company’s recommendations, some hotel chains purchased dozens or even hundreds of digital-ready television sets installed in rooms that were ready for the switch.

Charter_logoOnly recently, Charter notified customers they also planned to encrypt the basic lineup, rendering the digital televisions useless without the additional cost and inconvenience of installing Charter’s digital set-top boxes. Although Charter will temporarily offer customers free rental of the boxes, after the offer expires, customers will pay Charter $6.99 a month for each box. For some upper end condos, the cost of renting multiple boxes will exceed the cost of the cable TV package.

The Outer Banks Voice details several other customer complaints:

With the older analog systems, many owners flat mounted their televisions to walls and had the cable wired directly into the television, out of sight. With boxes now required, rental homeowners will need to figure out where to place the box and how to run the cables to the set.

In addition, rental companies and homeowners will need to keep track of numerous remotes and keeping those remotes supplied with working batteries.

[...] Thus far, Charter is not offering boxes for sale, so owners cannot absorb the cost over the long-run use of the box, and there appears to be some confusion on whether homes with five or more televisions will require a “Pro Installation” at extra cost to ensure signal strength is sufficient.

If such an installation is required, owners and rental management companies will also be required to arrange access for Charter installers.

Rental condos are also faced with yet another logistic hurdle.

Many condos include cable television fees in their monthly association dues, and the cable contracts for all units are in the name of the condo association.

To obtain boxes, condo owners are now going to be required to set up their own individual accounts, often from an out-of-state location, and then determine how to get the boxes installed.

Signal strength is also a concern in condo projects. Even with analog signals, the multiple connections in one area make reception fuzzy and of low quality.

A small sample of complaints found all over Charter's social media pages.

A small sample of complaints found all over Charter’s social media pages.

Charter Communications shared their side of the story about the digital conversion:

Outer Banks, N.C.

Outer Banks, N.C.

Charter customers are notified by newspaper, direct mail, bill messages, phone calls from Charter representatives, and Charter commercial spots beginning at least 30 days prior to their cutover. Charter is making it easy for customers to receive one or more digital boxes at no cost for one, two or five years, depending on the customer’s programming package and other qualifying factors.

Customers that need less than four boxes can have them shipped directly to their home by calling 1-888-GET-CHARTER or pick them up at a Charter Store.

Customers that live out of town, that own vacation homes, can authorize personnel with their property management company or other specified individuals to pick up their boxes. Customers must first authorize those individuals and add them to their account by calling 1-888-GET-CHARTER. The customer account owner can rescind authorization of individuals at any time.

Property Management companies or authorized individuals can then obtain up to five set-top boxes at a Charter Store.

Customers needing more than five boxes should contact Charter 1-888-GET-CHARTER. A professional technician will be scheduled to assist customers with the installation.

Charter Stores are currently operating with expanded hours to accommodate customers during this all-digital project. Charter Store hours will also be expanded in April where peak volume is expected.

Commercial properties have several options available and can work with their Charter Business account representative on the best solution for their business.

Due to advances in technology, solutions available may involve the need for additional equipment in order to provide the best possible cable, Internet and voice products for our customers.

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How Charter Communications Let Time Warner Cable Slip from its Grasp

surpriseFew were surprised more by the sudden announcement that Comcast was seeking to acquire Time Warner Cable all by itself than the negotiating team from Charter Communications.

Working for weeks to settle how Comcast and Charter would divide the second largest cable company in the country between them, they learned about the sudden deal with Comcast the same way the rest of the country heard about it — over Comcast-owned CNBC.

After Charter endured weeks of rejection from Time Warner Cable executives over what they called “a lowball offer,” Comcast had entered the fray to help Charter boost its offer and bring more cash to the table to change Time Warner Cable’s mind. In return, Comcast expected to acquire Time Warner’s east coast cable systems and much more.

That is where the trouble began.

Charter_logoAccording to Bloomberg News, the talks broke down because Charter wanted to hold onto as many Time Warner Cable assets as possible. Comcast chief financial officer Michael Angelakis expected Charter to divest more than just the New England, New York, and North Carolina Time Warner Cable systems. Angelakis also wanted control of Time Warner’s valuable regional sports networks in Los Angeles. When he didn’t get them, he stormed out of a meeting threatening to do a deal for Time Warner Cable without involving Charter at all.

The Wall Street Journal confirms the account, adding that both Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and Angelakis agreed the talks with Charter seemed to be going nowhere.

Roberts

Roberts

Roberts called a secret meeting with top Comcast executives including Angelakis, Comcast Cable head Neil Smit, Comcast’s lobbying heavyweight David Cohen, and NBCUniversal CEO Steven Burke. Roberts asked each about the options on the table and their conclusion was to buy Time Warner Cable by themselves and cut Charter out of the deal.

Within days, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts reinitiated talks with Time Warner Cable CEO Robert Marcus. The two companies had talked off and on ever since Charter Communications set its sights on acquiring Time Warner Cable. It was clear from the beginning Marcus and his predecessor Glenn Britt were cool to Charter’s overtures. Not only was Charter a much smaller operation, it also had a checkered past including a recent bankruptcy that wiped out shareholder value and was loaded with debt again.

The alliance between Charter and Liberty Global’s John Malone was also unsettling. Those in the cable industry had watched how ruthless Malone could be back in the 1990s when a then much-smaller Comcast secretly attempted to acquire control of Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) — then the nation’s largest cable operator run by Malone. Malone was furious when he learned about the effort and went all out to kill the deal, acquiring the stake Comcast sought himself.

Malone’s cable empire would eventually fall with the sale of TCI to AT&T just a few years later. When AT&T decided it didn’t to stay in the cable business, it sold TCI’s old territories to Comcast, making it the largest cable operator in the country.

Malone

Malone

Malone’s brash attitude has also occasionally rubbed the cable industry’s kingpins the wrong way, especially in his public comments. Last year, Malone criticized Roberts’ more conservative operating style, which means Comcast pays a higher tax rate. Malone specializes in deals that leave his acquisitions with enormous debt loads, manipulating the tax code to stiff the Internal Revenue Service. In June, Malone was back again criticizing the lack of a unified national cable cartel better positioned to defeat the competition.

Under his leadership at TCI, many cable programmers didn’t get on TCI’s cable dial unless they sold part-ownership to TCI. Competitors were dispatched ruthlessly — home satellite dish service, then the most viable competitor, strained under TCI-led efforts to enforce channel encryption.

TCI-owned networks routinely required satellite subscribers to sign up with the nearest TCI cable system, which often billed them at prices higher than what cable subscribers paid. Subscribers had to buy not one, but eventually two decoder modules for several hundred dollars apiece before they could even purchase programming. The cable industry also worked behind the scenes to promote and defend enhanced zoning laws that made installing satellite dishes difficult if not impossible, and denied access to some programming at any price, unless it was delivered by a cable system.

Comcast-LogoMalone called today’s divided industry “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and insisted on a new major consolidation wave to enhance “value creation” and deliver some major blows to satellite and telephone company competitors.

Despite Liberty Global’s ongoing consolidation wave of European cable systems, his lack of financial resources to put his money where his mouth was left Time Warner Cable executives cold.

Already loaded with debt, Malone’s part ownership stake in Charter could not make up for Charter’s current status — a medium-sized cable operator with dismal customer ratings primarily serving smaller communities bypassed by larger operators.

A deal with Charter would mean Time Warner Cable's bonds would be downgraded to junk status.

A deal with Charter would mean Time Warner Cable’s bonds would be downgraded to junk status.

Moody’s Investor Service warned Charter’s offer to acquire Time Warner Cable was primarily financed with the equivalent of a credit card, and would leave the combined entity with $60 billion in debt with bonds promptly downgraded to junk level. Time Warner Cable had always considered its bonds “investment grade.”

Charter’s first clue something was wrong came when Comcast stopped returning e-mail and phone calls. That’s always cause for alarm, but Charter officials had no idea Comcast was secretly negotiating with Time Warner Cable one-on-one. In fact, Comcast’s Roberts was negotiating with Time Warner Cable over a cell phone while attending the Sochi Olympics.

Malone finally got the word the deal was off just a short while before Comcast and Time Warner Cable leaked the story to CNBC.

Ironically, it was Malone who convinced Comcast to seek out a deal with Time Warner Cable. Comcast’s thinking had originally been it had grown large enough as a cable operator and sought out expansion in the content world, acquiring NBCUniversal. But Malone warned online video competitors like Netflix would begin to give customers a reason to cut cable’s cord or at the very least take their business to AT&T or Verizon’s competing platforms.

Comcast executives were convinced that gaining more control over content and distribution was critical to protect profits. Only with the vast scale of a supersized Comcast could the cable company demand lower prices and more control over programming. By dominating broadband, critics of the deal warn Comcast can also keep subscribers from defecting while charging higher prices for Internet access and imposing usage limits that can drive future revenue even higher.

Just like the “good old days” where customers had to do business with the cable company at their asking price or go without, a upsized Comcast will dominate over satellite television, which cannot offer broadband or phone service, as well as the two largest phone companies — AT&T, which so far cannot compete with Comcast’s broadband speed and Verizon, which has pulled the plug on further expansion of FiOS to divert investment into its highly profitable wireless division. If Comcast controls your Internet connection, it can also control what competitors can effectively offer customers. Even if Comcast agrees to voluntarily subscribe to Open Internet principles like Net Neutrality, its usage cap can go a long way to protect it from online video competitors who rely on cable broadband to deliver HD video in the majority of the country not served by U-verse or FiOS.

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Charter Communications Nominates 13 for Time Warner Cable Board in Ongoing Takeover Bid

hostile takeover

Hostile Takeover

Charter Communications does not like the resistance it is getting from Time Warner Cable executives over its bid to acquire the company so Charter has nominated 13 new members for TWC’s board of directors in an effort to force executives to reconsider.

Charter calls the baker’s dozen a slate of “independent candidates” that will be willing to evaluate Charter’s offer of $132.50 a share. Time Warner Cable’s current management says it won’t negotiate with Charter unless they offer $160 a share.

“It is clear from our meetings with Time Warner Cable shareholders that there is an overwhelming desire to combine these two companies to increase Time Warner Cable’s competitiveness, grow market share and create shareholder value.  Now is the time for the current Board and management of Time Warner Cable to respond to their shareholders and work with us to complete a merger to the benefit of shareholders while minimizing their execution and market risks,” said Tom Rutledge, Charter’s CEO.  “We are nominating a full slate of highly qualified, independent directors to elect to the Time Warner Cable Board and believe that stockholders will use this opportunity to express their views.  Our purpose in this proxy contest is to enable shareholders of TWC to raise their voice, and to provide a very capable board who will hear them.”

Charter has gotten a lucky break because all 13 current TWC board members are up for re-election at the same time this spring. Many companies avoid that practice to prevent a hostile bidder from taking control of an entire company’s board.

Charter’s roster of nominees includes a number of current or former CEOs, three former Wall Street lawyers and an ex-chief technology officer that used to work for Time Warner Cable. Many were associated with hedge funds, cable operators that sold out to larger players, or companies that either went bust during the Great Recession and were bailed out by U.S. taxpayers.

Charter Communications’ ‘Rescue Team’ for Time Warner Cable

  1. James Chiddix: A cable industry veteran who formally retired in 2007, Chiddix worked for Time Warner Cable from the mid-80s until 2001. He now serves as a director at Arris Group, a manufacturer of cable equipment. Chiddix served on the board of Virgin Media, acquired last year by Liberty Global — which also has an ownership interest in Charter Communications;
  2. Bruno Claude: Known primarily as a “turnaround” expert, Claude has a record of restructuring troubled telecom operators by cutting jobs and negotiating with the large investment banks that generously loaned the money that fueled overvalued takeovers to write down that debt when banks realize they have no hope of being repaid in full;
  3. Isaac Corre: Currently a lecturer at Harvard Law School, where he teaches a seminar on executive compensation and corporate governance, Corre spent a decade at Eton Park Capital Management, L.P., a global hedge fund. Corre specialized in “event-oriented” investments and “distressed corporate debt”;
  4. super friendsMarwan Fawaz: Spent a year in a leadership role at Motorola Mobility/Motorola Home Division. He has the distinction of serving as an executive at two bankrupt cable operators: Charter Communications and Adelphia. Charter eventually emerged from bankruptcy, Adelphia did not and two members of its founding family are spending 15 years in the Allenwood federal prison, convicted of wire and securities fraud. Charter’s press release says Fawaz would be a valued addition to the board because he has “a deep understanding of the cable television industry”;
  5. Lisa Gersh: Lasted less than a year as CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Under her leadership, the company capped a year of turmoil that included layoffs, titles closing and the failure of Martha’s underwhelming Hallmark Channel show, according to Adweek. She was also a co-founder of Oxygen Media, which was sold to NBC;
  6. Dexter G. Goei: An investment banker at Morgan Stanley back when it was hip deep in sub-prime mortgages and a taxpayer bailout, Goei was gone by 2009 and became CEO of Altice, S.A., a multinational cable company growing through acquisitions and takeovers. Goei is raising more capital through a stock IPO managed by Goldman Sachs and… Morgan Stanley;
  7. Franklin (Fritz) W. Hobbs: In addition to serving as an adviser to private equity firms and director of Molson Coors Brewing Co., Hobbs has served as board chairman at Ally Financial, formerly GMAC, as GM declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was bailed out by U.S. taxpayers;
  8. Neil B. Morganbesser: An investment banker, Morganbesser worked on mergers and acquisitions at Bear Stearns & Co., until the company’s sub-prime hedge funds sank like the Titanic. The investment firm was seeking taxpayer assistance, but ended up being acquired by J.P. Morgan in a hastily arranged deal instead. Charter claims Morganbesser has 20 years of experience providing financial and strategic advice to a full range of clients, including entrepreneurs, large corporations, governments, etc., but evidently wasn’t much help to his employer during the global financial crisis.
  9. Eamonn O’Hare: Served as the chief financial officer of Virgin Media Inc., the UK’s leading cable television business, from 2009 until 2013. Unfortunately for him, most U.K. residents prefer satellite TV. But that didn’t hurt his bottom line. After Liberty Global acquired the operation in 2013, O’Hare got to share over $367 million in cash bonuses with certain other Virgin executives coming from a company that also has a vested interest in Charter Communications;
  10. David A. Peacock: Another beer guy, Peacock most recently served as the president of Anheuser-Busch;
  11. Michael E. Salvati: Another mergers and acquisitions guy, Salvati has been president at Oakridge Consulting, Inc., which provides interim management, management consulting and corporate advisory services to companies ranging in size from start-ups to multinational corporations, since February 2000. In short, he tries to promote financial growth at companies recently merged or acquired;
  12. Irwin Simon: Founder of the Hain Celestial Group, a leading “natural and organic products company.” Brands including Arrowhead Mills, Bearitos, Rosetto and Rice Dream are well-known in organic food sections of local supermarkets, although few customers probably realize they belong to a giant conglomerate. Other divisions, specializing in “woo-woo personal care” offer dubious “calming body washes” costing $13 or more that feature extract of marigold. Charter says Simon would bring “his unique perspective on all aspects of advertising and marketing services” to a newly merged Charter-Time Warner Cable;
  13. John E. (Jack) Welsh III: president of Avalon Capital Partners LLC — another private equity investment firm.

analysis“If Time Warner Cable management refuses to negotiate on reasonable terms, we believe Charter will likely secure the votes required to win a proxy fight,” said Jonathan Chaplin, a research analyst with New Street Telco.

“It is clear that Charter is nominating a slate of directors for the sole purpose of pressuring our Board into accepting the same lowball offer that it previously considered and unanimously rejected,” said Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus. “Our Board remains focused on maximizing shareholder value. We are confident in our strategic plan, which was detailed publicly on January 30, and we are not going to let Charter steal the company.”

Marcus may have one last card to play should Charter’s nominees end up on Time Warner Cable’s board of directors. All board members must serve the best interests of the company they oversee, not the company that helped get them elected. An independent evaluation of Charter’s offer must not be influenced by outsiders, or the board members may face lawsuits from angry shareholders. The Wall Street Journal notes this requirement has tripped up hostile bidders before. Air Products & Chemicals Inc. won three board seats at Airgas Inc. which Air Products had tried to buy back in 2010. Once on the board, the new board members recommended against the deal.

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Time Warner Cable Plans to Triple Broadband Speeds (If They Survive a Hostile Takeover)

Time Warner Cable today announced major improvements in its service, including a tripling of broadband speeds and equipment upgrades that will first arrive in New York City and Los Angeles.

With the cable company facing a hostile takeover effort by Charter Communications with Comcast’s help, CEO Rob Marcus sought to appease shareholders that worry the cable company’s recent lackluster results originate from outdated technology, poor customer service, and broadband speeds that are well below the cable industry average.

Time Warner Cable will have to increase capital spending to pay for the upgrades, expected to cost $3.8 billion annually for the next three years.

nycla enhancements

CEO Rob Marcus calls the effort a “transformation of the Time Warner Cable customer experience.” The upgrade program is called TWC Maxx for now inside Time Warner Cable, but will have its own brand when it publicly launches later this year.

Here are some highlights:

Marcus

Marcus

TV Service

  • Network infrastructure upgrades to enhance reliability
  • New advanced set-top boxes
  • A six-tuner DVR
  • A cloud-based interface and navigation
  • An expanded on-demand library

Internet

  • Dramatic free speed boosts for all customers
  • A new Ultimate speed tier of 300/20Mbps

Unfortunately, customers outside of Los Angeles and New York will have to wait up to two years for the upgrades to reach their community.

twcmax

“With ‘TWC Maxx,’ we’re going to essentially reinvent the TWC experience market–by-market,” said Marcus. “We’ll triple Internet speeds for customers with our most popular tiers of service, add more community WiFi, dramatically improve the TV product and, perhaps most importantly, we’ll set a high bar in our industry for differentiated exceptional customer service. We’re focused on providing the features and benefits that matter most to our customers.”

The most noticeable improvement will be free broadband speed upgrades. Customers with Standard or above Internet service will also receive the latest generation cable modems including Advanced Wireless Gateways for customers with Turbo to Ultimate tier service. Marcus did not say whether the company is ending is monthly equipment fees for cable modems.

Here are the new speed tiers:

  • Everyday Low Price - Currently 2/1Mbps – New 3/1Mbps
  • Basic - Currently 3/1Mbps – New 10/1Mbps
  • Standard - Currently 15/1Mbps – New 50/5Mbps
  • Turbo - Currently 20/2Mbps – New 100/10Mbps
  • Extreme – Currently 30/5Mbps – New 200/20Mbps
  • Ultimate - Currently 50/5Mbps – New 300/20Mbps

nyla

New York and Los Angeles Upgrade Schedule

The first four network hubs scheduled for upgrade are those in West Hollywood and Costa Mesa, Calif. and portions of Woodside (Queens) and Staten Island, N.Y. The rest of both cities will be upgraded by the end of this year.

Los Angeles customers will also see analog cable television service discontinued in favor of digital later this year. New York City has already been converted to all-digital television. Customers in both cities will be able to schedule same-day appointments and one-hour service windows.

Who Gets Upgraded Next?

Analysts expect Time Warner Cable will upgrade cities where they face competition from U-verse and FiOS after completing NYC and LA.

Analysts expect Time Warner Cable will upgrade cities where they face competition from U-verse and FiOS after completing NYC and LA.

Analysts say Time Warner Cable’s upgrade plans are more aggressive than initially anticipated and many expect the company to move quickly, especially in competitive markets, to boost subscriber numbers and cut customer defections to help convince shareholders it is worthwhile to reject Charter’s hostile takeover bid.

The most likely markets to be targeted for upgrades after New York and Los Angeles are those facing stiff competition from Google Fiber and Verizon FiOS. Cities where AT&T U-verse delivers competition are likely to come next, and those cities where Time Warner Cable only faces competition from telephone company DSL service will likely be the last to be upgraded. However, long before that, Time Warner Cable could be sold off to other cable operators that will make these upgrade plans moot.

Marcus today reiterated his rejection of Charter’s latest $132.50 a share offer. Marcus said the cable company is only interested in an offer above $160 a share, and that at least $100 of that must be in cash, with the balance in Charter stock. Charter will have trouble delivering that amount of cash without the assistance of other cable operators.

Craig Moffett with MoffettNathanson Research isn’t sure Marcus’ plans are enough to keep TWC from being sold. He expects Charter to soon increase its offer above $140 with the help of Comcast, which is willing to pay cash for Time Warner Cable systems in New York, New England, and North Carolina after a deal with Charter is complete.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Rob Marcus Interviewed 1-30-14.flv

Robert Marcus, chief executive officer of Time Warner Cable Inc., talks about the cable company’s fourth-quarter earnings and its forthcoming upgrades, and Charter Communications Inc.’s $37.4 billion buyout bid. Time Warner Cable beat fourth-quarter profit estimates and forecast subscriber growth. Marcus speaks with Betty Liu on Bloomberg Television. (8:38)

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Anatomy of a Deal: Time Warner Cable vs. Charter/Comcast

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Anatomy of a Deal 1-29-14.flv

Bloomberg News’ Alex Sherman and Porter Bibb, managing partner at Mediatech, break down the background and potential moves in the cable industry involving Comcast, Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable and the regulatory hurdles in their way on Bloomberg Television’s “Market Makers.” One interesting development will be the future of Cablevision, which will be an obvious takeover target for Comcast should Time Warner Cable be sold and split up. (9:14)

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Cable’s Newest Triple Play: Time Warner Cable, Charter, and Comcast

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg New Triple Play TWC Comcast Charter 1-28-14.flv

Bloomberg News reports Time Warner Cable may face a proxy fight to force a sale of the company to Charter Communications. In turn, Comcast will pay Charter billions to take control of Time Warner Cable subscribers in the northeast and North Carolina. Industry analyst Craig Moffett predicts Comcast’s deep pockets may infuse billions in cash to sweeten Charter’s offer. It also means Comcast is not interested in buying all of Time Warner Cable itself. (3:11)

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Charter Stiffs Montana With Bottom of the Barrel Broadband; Slow Speeds, Packet Loss

montanaMontana is among the bottom three states for Internet broadband performance and the state can partly blame Charter Communications for its poor service.

Net Index rates Montana so low because the state relies on slow speed DSL and cable broadband service provided by smaller players who either lack the will or resources to invest in improved service.

Among the worst providers: Charter Cable, which often suffers from capacity and connectivity problems in the state.

“Right now with Charter we are experiencing significant packet loss going out to major networks in the country,” Joshua Reynolds, president of JTech Communications in Bozeman told NBC Montana. “Its gotten so bad recently that he can’t connect to our file server and download files,” said Reynolds.

Reynolds said Charter’s slow service is now affecting his company by preventing an out-of-state employee from doing his job.

Brit Fontenot, director of economic development for the city of Bozeman is surprised Montana didn’t rank dead last. Fontenot told the television station local cable and phone providers are not investing in more reliable fiber optics to solve capacity slowdowns. The city is exploring taking matters into its own hands.

chartersucks“The future is a ring, a community ring connecting around the community that allows data to be transmitted both internally and externally,” said Fontenot.

The city is now engaged in dialogue with local business leaders to get comments on the quality of local Internet service.

Charter Cable is the second worst-rated cable company in the nation, according to Consumer Reports.

Speed ratings in Montana range from serviceable to painful. The fastest average speeds are around 15Mbps and the worst are just above 3Mbps.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/NBC Montana State Broadband Third Worst 1-27-14.flv

NBC Montana surveys the broadband situation in Montana and the results are not good. (1:39)

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Comcast Seeking Buyout of Time Warner Cable Customers in N.Y., New England, and N.C.

Comcast-LogoComcast Corporation and Charter Communications are actively working on a deal to let Comcast acquire Time Warner Cable subscribers in New York, New England, and North Carolina, according to sources reporting to CNBC.

The split-up of Time Warner Cable is contingent on a successful takeover bid by Charter Communications, which would quickly sell the systems in the three regions to Comcast for an undisclosed sum.

CNBC reports Comcast and Charter are close to agreeing on terms, but Time Warner Cable and Charter remain far apart on the terms of Charter’s takeover bid.

Charter_logoComcast’s involvement in the deal could inject much-needed cash into a takeover bid financed largely by debt. It might also prompt Charter to sweeten its offer for TWC.

Comcast’s interest in the northeast and mid-Atlantic region is not surprising. The cable company already has a large presence in eastern Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, D.C., and Virginia. Time Warner Cable is the dominant cable company in New York, western and northern New England, and North Carolina.

Charter would likely keep Time Warner Cable’s operations in Texas, California, the midwest and south for itself if it succeeds in a takeover.

Charter has reportedly has hired Innisfree M&A, a proxy solicitor, to prepare for a possible proxy fight with Time Warner. Innisfree specializes in convincing shareholders to agree to proposed mergers and acquisitions.

Liberty Media, which has a substantial ownership interest in Charter Communications, is also appealing directly to Time Warner Cable stockholders and is planning to run its own slate of candidates for Time Warner Cable’s board of directors. Should Liberty-nominated candidates attract a majority of votes at the annual shareholder meeting in May, the new board members are expected to quickly approve a sale of the cable company.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Comcast Charter Near Pact on Time Warner Assets 1-27-14.flv

Comcast Corp. is near a deal to buy New York, North Carolina and New England cable assets from Charter Communications, Inc. if shareholders approve Charter’s takeover bid for Time Warner Cable Inc., people with knowledge of the matter said. Alex Sherman reports on Bloomberg Television’s “Money Moves.” (3:28)

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Time Warner Cable Tells Charter Cable to Get Lost; War of Words Ensues

analysisTime Warner Cable executives brushed away Charter Communications’ first public offer to acquire the second largest cable company in the country in a debt-financed deal that Time Warner considers a lowball offer.

“[Charter's] proposal is grossly inadequate,” Time Warner Cable said in a statement. “We are confident in our standalone plan and we are not going to let Charter steal the company.”

Charter;s new service areas, if they win Time Warner Cable.

Charter’s combined service areas, if they win control of Time Warner Cable.

On Tuesday, Charter violated a long-standing, informal Code of the Cable Cartel that keeps cable companies from attacking each other.

twc charterCharter Communications chief operating officer John Bickham launched an investor presentation that trashed Time Warner Cable and its leadership, and contended fixing the cable company will take more work than first envisioned.

Bickham claimed Time Warner has exhibited a decade of a “failed operating strategy revealed by fact that they are losing customers at an alarming rate,” while Charter has a proven track record of performance.

Bickham

Bickham

Historians recollect Charter’s recent past differently. In 2009, mired in debt and lacking a disciplined business plan, Charter declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, wiping out shareholders and stiffing creditors.

Bickham capitalized on Time Warner’s 2013 summer of discontent, when a dispute with CBS resulted in the loss of the network from Time Warner Cable lineups (along with Showtime) in some of the biggest cities in the country. Combined with rate increases, subscribers began switching to the competition, especially where Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse gives cable operators stiff competition from money-saving new customer promotions.

Bickham described TWC as a company in shambles:

On Time Warner Cable TV: “It appears that Time Warner didn’t want to spend the money to go all-digital,” adding that the quality of TWC’s TV signal is poor and the company still lacks enough HD channels that could have been on the lineup if the cable company dropped analog service long ago.

On Time Warner Cable Internet: Bickham complained Time Warner is offering deep discounts on slow Internet packages, particularly its campaign targeting DSL customers with 2Mbps service for $14.99 a month. Bickham complains the large variety of Internet speed tiers are unnecessary, resulting in “nickel-and-dime charges to customers.” He argues Time Warner needs to simplify its offering by adopting a digital lineup and boost Internet speeds, so customers get at least 30Mbps service. Bickham did not mention Charter Communications also has a usage cap on its broadband products. TWC does not on most offerings.

On Time Warner Cable employees: “TWC never had a vision on high standards” for how the company manages its 50,000 employees. Bickham feels the workmanship of TWC installers leaves a lot to be desired.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Time Warner Cable Rejects Charter Offer 1-15-14.flv

Time Warner Cable rejected an acquisition offer from Charter Communications valued at more than $61 billion including debt, spurning the biggest unsolicited takeover bid since 2008. Manus Cranny examines why the offer was rejected on Bloomberg Television’s “Countdown.” (2:06)

Charter's price comparison chart for the benefit of Time Warner Cable shareholders lacks accuracy. Virtually nobody has to pay TWC's quoted retail rates and the chart assumes worst-case pricing for TWC customers, while also ignoring Charter's very high customer dissatisfaction score.

Charter’s proposed price comparison chart, produced for the benefit of Time Warner Cable shareholders, assumes worst-case pricing almost no Time Warner Cable customer actually has to pay.

Charter is America's second worst rated cable company. (Consumer Reports, 2013)

Charter is America’s second worst rated cable company. (Consumer Reports, 2013)

On its face, Charter’s plan for Time Warner Cable doesn’t look all bad, but execution is critical and Charter has a long-standing and very poor record of customer satisfaction, typically ranked in consumer surveys as America’s second worst cable operator year after year.

Should Charter win control of Time Warner Cable, big changes will be in store for TWC customers under the Charter umbrella:

  • Analog television would be phased out, along with “limited basic” packages. Charter wants to repurpose analog spectrum for faster Internet speeds, but that also means video customers will be required to get more set-top boxes;
  • Eliminate “Switched Digital Video” technology now in place on TWC systems. SDV is a bandwidth saver – only delivering digital TV signals customers in a particular neighborhood are actively watching. But those using inexpensive digital-to-analog set-top boxes on analog-only televisions can’t watch SDV channels, inconveniencing customers;
  • Increase the number of HD channels to 200+;
  • All residential set-top boxes would now support HD signals at no added cost and customers will be able to get up to four DVR boxes for $20 a month;
  • Time Warner Cable’s new minimum Internet speed would be 30Mbps with much faster added-cost tiers available, but usage caps will apply;
  • Time Warner Cable’s phone product would be repriced at $30 a month in the first year, $20 in the second with all calling features and voicemail included;
  • No term contracts will be offered and modem rental fees, regulatory surcharges, added taxes on Internet and Phone, and service visit fees will no longer be charged.

Charter customers can expect aggressive sales pitches for their “high value” triple-play bundle which may include services customers don’t want at a price that is largely non-negotiable. The more boxes and services you add, the greater the discount you will receive. In contrast, Time Warner Cable began de-emphasizing its triple play promotions in early 2012 and now aggressively promotes single and double play packages that typically omit phone service.

Unlike TWC, Charter has been more difficult when trying to negotiate customer retention discounts. Charter generally charges the same prices everywhere.

Their proposed offer for Time Warner customers will be a triple play offer starting at $110 a month for the first 12 months, then increase $20 in the second year to $130 a month and in year three the price will rise again to $150 a month. Charter’s typical “step-up” pricing is in $20 increments.

Charter is reluctant to allow customers to add or drop package components, so for most customers packages will be all-inclusive with no discounts for dropping channels or features. That means customers will likely end up with more television channels, more phone features, and faster Internet speeds, but at the cost of an eventually higher cable bill.

Any buyout could also mean some Time Warner Cable territories could be put up for sale to a third-party. Charter is especially interested in the New York and Los Angeles markets, but may have little interest in western New York and Ohio, New England, Kentucky and Wisconsin. Any orphaned TWC customers would likely be snapped up by companies like Comcast, which may join Charter’s takeover bid.

Any sale would need approval by the Federal Communications Commission and potentially the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, especially in Comcast becomes involved.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Tom Rutledge Explains Charter Offer for TWC 1-15-14.mp4

Time Warner Cable rejected a merger proposal from Charter Communications. Tom Rutledge, Charter Communications president and CEO, explains the offer as he describes as “rich and fair.” We feel like we’ve come a far way and have not received a serious response, Rutledge says. A CNBC exclusive. (4:35)

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