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Comcast Prepares All-Cash Bid to Acquire 21st Century Fox for $52 Billion

Phillip Dampier May 8, 2018 Comcast/Xfinity, Competition, Reuters 1 Comment

(Reuters) – U.S. cable operator Comcast Corp is asking investment banks to increase a bridge financing facility by as much as $60 billion so it can make an all-cash offer for the media assets that Twenty-First Century Fox Inc has agreed to sell to Walt Disney Co for $52 billion, three people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts only plans to proceed with the bid if a federal judge allows AT&T Inc’s planned $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner Inc to proceed, the sources said. The U.S. Department of Justice has opposed the AT&T-Time Warner deal over antitrust concerns, and a decision from U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon is expected in June.

Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger clinched an all-stock deal with Fox Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch in December to acquire Fox’s film, television and international businesses, giving the world’s largest entertainment company an arsenal of shows and movies to combat growing digital rivals Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc.

Comcast, owner of NBC and Universal Pictures, has also made a 22 billion pound ($30 billion) offer to acquire the 61 percent stake in European pay-TV group Sky Plc that Fox does not already own. In doing so, it topped an earlier offer for the entirety of Sky by Fox.

Last November, Comcast offered to acquire most of Fox’s assets in an all-stock deal valued at $34.41 per share, or $64 billion, a regulatory filing showed last month. Like Disney, Comcast sought to buy Fox’s entertainment networks, movie studios, television production and international assets, the filing shows.

Fox ended up announcing an all-stock deal with Disney for $29.54 per share. In the regulatory filing, Disney and Fox cited regulatory hurdles as reasons to reject Comcast’s bid, even though they did not reference it by name.

The exact value of Comcast’s new bid for the Fox assets is not yet clear, although the $60 billion in new financing indicates it is seeking significant firepower to outbid Disney. Comcast already has a $30 billion bridge loan to finance its Sky offer.

The sources asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential. Comcast, Fox and Disney declined to comment.

Fox shares rose 5.13 percent to $39.99 on the news in after-hours trading in New York on Monday. Comcast shares were down 1.5 percent to $31.90, while Disney shares were down 0.5 percent to $102.00.

Murdoch, who owns close to a 17 percent stake in Fox and holds about 40 percent of the voting power, prefers to be paid in stock rather than cash for the Fox assets, because this makes the transaction non-taxable for shareholders, sources have said. It is not clear how receptive he would be to an all-cash offer.

Last month’s regulatory filing also showed that Fox viewed Disney’s stock as more valuable than Comcast’s, based on historic prices, and felt that a deal between Disney and Fox would generate greater long-term value. The Roberts family controls Comcast through a dual-class stock structure.

Comcast’s stock has dropped since then, from around $38 to about $32 now, giving the company a market capitalization of $149 billion.

Disney has committed to share buybacks as a way of returning cash to Fox shareholders. As a result, Comcast sees an opening in being disruptive to the deal by making an all-cash bid, according to the sources.

In its deal with Disney, Fox agreed to separate the Fox Broadcasting network and stations, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, its sports channels FS1, FS2 and the Big Ten Network, into a newly listed company that it will spin off to its shareholders.

Reporting by: Greg Roumeliotis and Liana B. Baker in New York; Additional reporting by Jessica Toonkel in New York; Editing by Tiffany Wu and Lisa Shumaker

Data-Capping Comcast Forecasts “Tremendous Amount of Consumption” Growth in Broadband Usage

Usage caps for one and all.

Comcast, which insists on placing a 1 TB (1,000 GB) usage cap on most (but not all) of its broadband customers, is predicting explosive growth in broadband usage as customers connect more devices to their internet connections.

“[If] you look at in terms of just overall consumption, just at a high level, you look at the top 10% of our customers, just how much they use, they are using 20 or more connected devices,” said Comcast Cable president and CEO David N. Watson on a company conference call. “And it’s a tremendous amount of consumption that we have. And I think that’s where the market is going. There is going to be more consumption, more connected devices.”

Comcast’s growth forecasts suggest the company schedules regular network upgrades, although it has only adjusted usage allowances three times in the last decade:

  • Comcast introduced a 250 GB usage cap in 2008 that carried no overlimit penalty but persistent violators lost their Comcast broadband service.
  • Comcast raised the cap 300 GB in 2013 and implemented an overlimit fee.
  • Comcast raised the cap to 1 TB in 2016 and began promoting its Unlimited Data Option as an insurance policy against bill shock from overlimit fees.

“It is important to know that more than 99 percent of our customers do not use a terabyte of data and are not likely to be impacted by this plan, so they can continue to stream, surf, and download without worry,” claims Comcast on its website. As of December, 2017, “Xfinity Internet customers’ median monthly data usage was 131 GB per month during the past six months.”

Such claims should make customers wonder why Comcast needs a usage allowance of any kind if these claims are true. A 2016 study suggests Comcast may have more heavy users than it is willing to admit. The research firm iGR found average broadband usage that year was already at 190 GB and rising. There is no third-party verification of providers’ usage statistics or usage measurement tools, but there are public statements from Comcast officials that suggest the company faces a predictable upgrade cycle to deal with rising usage.

“We increase the capacity every 18 to 24 months,” confirmed Watson.

Upgrading is also a crucial part of Comcast’s ability to charge premium prices for its internet service.

“Not all broadband networks are created equal,” Watson said. “If you are providing a better solution in broadband, your pricing can reflect that.”

For Comcast customers using a terabyte or more in a month, after two courtesy months of penalty fees being waived, Comcast will recommend signing up for its Unlimited Data Option, which costs $50 a month. If you do not enroll and exceed your allowance a third time, the company will bill you overlimit fees: $10 for each additional block of 50 GB of usage. The maximum overlimit penalty in any single month is a whopping $200.

Critics of Comcast’s data caps point out that Charter — the nation’s second largest cable operator, has no usage caps at all. Optimum (Altice) also does not impose data caps. Those that do often copy Comcast’s data allowances and overlimit fees exactly — all to deal with so-called “data hogs” that the companies themselves claim represent fewer than 1% of subscribers.

Comcast Adding Netflix Subscription as Option to Its Bundled Packages

Phillip Dampier April 16, 2018 Comcast/Xfinity, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video 1 Comment

Comcast will soon offer its cable subscribers the option of subscribing to Netflix as part of the cable company’s cable television packages, the company announced Friday.

It will be the first time a Netflix subscription will be bundled like a premium movie channel into a cable company’s offerings. Analysts say the move is a defense against cord-cutting, on the theory that a Netflix subscription bundled into a video package will give cable TV customers the best of cable television and streaming media. But many cord-cutters doubt it, citing Comcast’s expensive and bloated cable TV packages that require customers to pay for dozens of networks they will never watch.

“Netflix is about on-demand viewing of just the movies and shows I want to see, not what Comcast wants me to see and pay for,” said Jack Codon, who cut the cord on Comcast in 2017 at his Georgia home after his latest promotion ended. “They were reluctant to give me a better deal so I gave myself a better one by no longer paying for cable television.”

Codon now subscribes to YouTube TV for local channels and a slimmed-down TV package and has paid subscriptions to Hulu, Netflix, and CBS All-Access Pass.

“It still adds up when you subscribe to a lot of services, but my satisfaction has never been higher because I am getting services with a lot of things I want to watch instead of hundreds of channels I don’t,” Codon said. “When you flip through the channels and run into Sanford & Son, Law and Order, home shopping, and terrible reality show trash, you just get angry because I was paying for all of it. Now I pay Netflix and they spend the money on making more shows I will probably want to watch, as opposed to reruns I don’t.”

Comcast customers have been able to subscribe separately to Netflix and watch its library of content on Comcast’s X1 set-top box since 2016. But now Comcast will bundle that subscription into a package directly billed to customers. Comcast claims subscribers will appreciate the simplified billing their new Netflix bundle will offer. Pricing and exact date of availability have not yet been announced.

Capped Comcast Customers Play Columbo to Identify Data Hogging Services

Nathan Gray woke up one morning this month and received an alarming notification from Comcast, his internet provider, claiming he had exceeded his Comcast terabyte data cap and was being billed an additional $10 for a 50 GB allotment of extra data.

“This has never happened before and I was only six days into my monthly billing cycle, so I assumed it must be a mistake,” Gray told Stop the Cap! “But Comcast told me it wasn’t a mistake.”

Gray was hardly alone. One month earlier, “Bogreenwoo” discovered his family had blown the roof off their internet usage, exceeding 1 TB by the middle of the billing cycle, with more usage piling up hour after hour.

“Xfinity was adding 50 GB blocks every day at $10 each and calls to tech support were no help,” he shared on Comcast’s customer support forum.

Similar complaints are brought up on that forum at least weekly, if not more often. Comcast counterclaims that usage exceeding 1 TB a month is so rare, it represents only about 1% of its customer base. But customers with huge internet bills from Comcast who stumble their way to the company’s support forum strongly dispute that notion.

“Well good luck with finding a solution or even finding anyone at Comcast who cares or anyone anywhere else as far as that goes,” shared “Amaasing.” “I have had this issue more than once and have talked with every vice president of customer service and had discussions with the security department and even filed a complaint with the FCC and nothing happened at all.”

Some users, like Amaasing, have received so many bills stung with overlimit fees they now turn their computers off in the evening and unplug their cable modems. In many cases the usage keeps rising anyway.

“Today when I logged in, I had apparently used 196 GB yesterday,” Amaasing wrote. “196 GB in 24 hours?  Seriously?”

For most customers in this predicament, Comcast is quick to blame customers for the usage and leave the detective work up to them. Customer support will not entertain suggestions their usage meter is inaccurate. In their view, it is more likely someone is illicitly connected to your Wi-Fi and stealing your service or you are running some bandwidth-heavy application or your computer has been hijacked by hackers or pirates.

While you are left to investigate which of these might be true, Comcast is free to continue billing your account overlimit fees.

Comcast claims it will forgive customers who exceed their data allowance twice ‘a year’:

“We’ll provide you with two courtesy months, so you will not be billed the first two times you exceed a terabyte while you are getting used to the new data usage plan. This means that you will only be subject to overage charges if you use more than a terabyte for a third time in a 12-month period. If you use more than a terabyte two times or less in a 12-month period, your courtesy month balance will reset to two at the end of these 12 months. However, if you use more than a terabyte three times in a 12-month period, no more courtesy months will be given.”

After “courtesy months” expire, you are on the hook for whatever excess usage Comcast determines you have consumed. Some Comcast customers assume the courtesy month counter resets each calendar year, but in fact it only resets after 12 consecutive months of staying within your allowance limit.

What causes “excess usage” is anyone’s guess. Comcast customers have documented several recent causes why they have mysteriously started blowing through their 1 TB data allowance:

  1. The growing prevalence of 4K video, the highest streaming video quality available through online video streaming services can be responsible for a sudden spike of usage. Netflix and other services that support 4K video content with high dynamic range can eat up 7 GB to 10 GB of data per hour. Many services allow you to downgrade your video settings with minimal quality loss. We recommend trying settings typically labeled 720 or 1080 — the lower the better if you are running up against your allowance.
  2. Third party backup and cloud storage tools: That online backup or cloud storage service you are using may be malfunctioning. There are several reports about Amazon Drive having problems recently, causing files to be repeatedly transferred and driving up usage to several hundred gigabytes a day in some cases. If you use Amazon Drive and have seen a huge spike in usage, try uninstalling or turning off the service for several days and see if usage falls dramatically. Other file and computer backup services that store your data in the cloud can consume a lot of data, especially when installing them on a new computer for the first time. Even some cell phone backup services designed to store your photos in the cloud can malfunction and repeatedly try to send the same photos over and over. Disable these tools for several days and check your usage levels.
  3. Third party usage: Family members doing something bandwidth intensive can also be responsible for dramatic usage spikes. Although downloading video game updates can consume very large amounts of data, game play itself typically has little impact on your data usage. Check with family members to see if they are watching high bandwidth video or have installed a file backup service. Less common is an uninvited guest on your Wi-Fi network. Comcast often points to Wi-Fi security as a major problem when a neighbor gains access to your internet connection to download huge numbers of files. You can change your Wi-Fi password to help lock down your network. Make sure not to use plain word passwords — use a mixture of letters, numbers, and symbols.
  4. Comcast’s meter is simply inaccurate. There is no independent third-party verification or government oversight of Comcast’s usage meter. Most ISPs hire a third-party contractor to design and implement their data measurement meters, but those contractors are ultimately answerable to the provider — not to you, giving little peace of mind to consumers who are forced to trust their cable company to be honest. Our country’s Founding Fathers placed great importance on accurate measuring and weighing tools, so much so it is addressed in Section VIII of Article I of the U.S. Constitution. That section gives authority to Congress to establish accurate and regulated measurement tools. Each state has their own way of managing this, often with a bureau of weights and measurements that independently verifies and certifies — with a tamper-evident sticker, the accuracy of the food scale at your local grocer or the gas pump at a nearby service station. Comcast has resisted similar third-party oversight for its usage meter. But considering the company’s overlimit fees can add a substantial sum to customer bills, having this kind of oversight seems appropriate.

Avoiding the usage cap: Comcast ironically provides its own insurance plan to protect customers from its own arbitrary data allowance. For peace of mind, Comcast collects an extra $50 a month ($20 for gigabit speed DOCSIS 3.1 plans) if you wish to waive the data cap altogether. Data caps are completely under the control of Comcast and are especially prevalent in regions of the country where a lack of competition exists. But Comcast’s arguments in favor of data caps don’t wash at the nation’s second largest cable company – Charter Communications, which markets its internet service as having no data caps at all. In fact, Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge never saw much use for data caps at Charter or Cablevision, the company he used to head.

Debunking arguments for usage caps at Comcast and other ISPs. (5:46)

Comcast Forecast to Double Cord-Cutting Customer Losses to 400,000 in 2018

Comcast is on track to lose more than double the number of cable-TV cancellations it experienced in 2017 due to cord-cutting, predicted a Wall Street analyst.

“We now expect Comcast to lose 400,000 video subscribers in 2018 while video revenue falls 1.4%,” UBS analyst John Hodulik said in a note to clients. Hodulik raised his original estimate of 320,000 customer losses as the cable TV customer loss trends grow worse.

Comcast lost 150,000 video subscribers last year, despite company executives touting its X1 set-top box platform as a tool to increase customer satisfaction and reduce disconnects. The X1 appears to no longer be a factor preventing customers from dropping cable television in favor of online streaming services and apps. Hodulik doesn’t believe Comcast is losing video customers to its traditional competitors either, because he predicts video subscriber losses will also grow at AT&T and Verizon.

Hodulik also forecasts a 67% increase in subscribers to services like Hulu, Netflix, and streaming platforms like DirecTV Now to 9.2 million in 2018, up from 5.5 million last year. By 2020, he predicts streaming services will have 15 million subscribers and 16% of the pay television market. As video losses mount, he predicts companies like Comcast will accelerate rate hikes on broadband service to make up for the revenue shortfall. There is little competitive pressure not to increase broadband prices further.

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