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Cloudy Days for Bright House Networks Ahead? Comcast-Time Warner Merger Complicates Volume Discounts

(Original image: Musée McCord Museum - Re-envisioned by Stop the Cap!)

(Original image: Musée McCord Museum) — (Re-envisioned by Stop the Cap!)

Bright House Networks customers could face much higher cable television bills and a decline in technology upgrades thanks to a merger deal between two companies that should theoretically have no impact on them.

Bright House Networks has been an odd duck among cable companies since it was created from cobbled-together systems originally owned by Vision Cable, Cable Vision, TelePrompTer, Group W, Paragon and others. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Time Warner effectively ran the cable systems still owned by the Newhouse family. After the AOL-Time Warner merger, Advance/Newhouse decided to take back control of the management and operations of its cable systems, relaunching them under the Bright House Networks brand.

While the Newhouse family continues to assert its ownership and control of Bright House, it is highly dependent on Time Warner Cable to handle cable programming negotiations and broadband technology. That is why Bright House customers were sold “Road Runner” broadband service for many years – a brand familiar to any Time Warner customer. To this day, programming blackouts that affect Time Warner cable TV viewers usually also impact those subscribing to Bright House. Time Warner Cable also retains a minority ownership interest in Bright House.

Although the company is well-known in Indianapolis, Birmingham, suburban Detroit and Bakersfield, its presence is most recognized in central Florida, where it serves customers in Orlando, Daytona Beach, Lakeland, Tampa Bay, and many points in-between.

Despite the fact Bright House serves more than two million customers and is the sixth largest cable company in the country, it is small potatoes to major programmers like Comcast-NBCUniversal, Viacom, Disney, and others. All the best discounts go to satellite television providers and giant cable operators like Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Smaller operators pay substantially more.

That is where the merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable comes in.

brighthouse1The federal government is likely to count Bright House’s 2.2 million customers as part of the Time Warner Cable family, at least as far as control of cable programming pricing is concerned. Despite Comcast’s voluntary commitment to keep its national share of the cable TV business under 30 percent with the merger of Time Warner, Comcast hasn’t taken seriously counting  the customers of the uninvited cousin – Bright House.

Logistically and legally, Comcast would assume control of Time Warner Cable’s interest in Bright House if the merger is approved by state and federal regulators. That may be too much for regulators to swallow.

Because Bright House is insignificant to Comcast and Time Warner Cable’s marriage plans, Comcast could end up terminating the arrangement, which even Bright House acknowledged would put it “at risk of losing the material benefits such agreements provide, include possibly raising costs for its customers and hampering its ability to compete effectively—a result that would certainly not be in the public interest.”

The Newhouse family has evidently seen the writing on the wall, hiring Wall Street investment bank UBS to advise whether it makes sense to sell. If Bright House does decide to hang out a “for sale” sign, Time Warner Cable has the right to bid first. But by that time, if things go according to plan, it might be Comcast ultimately swallowing up yet another large cable system.

Bright House, Time Warner Cable, and Mediacom Customers Get Expanded TV Everywhere

NBC_Universal.svgThree cable operators have announced additions to their TV Everywhere services that let cable television subscribers stream certain cable networks from home computers and portable wireless devices.

Time Warner and Bright House are inching towards making their apps more useful with new deals that will allow viewing outside of the home. Unsurprisingly, Time Warner has managed to sign a deal with their potential new owner — Comcast/NBCUniversal —  that includes anywhere-viewing of live and on demand content from NBCUniversal’s suite of cable networks including USA Network, Syfy, Telemundo, Bravo, Oxygen, CNBC, MSNBC, mun2, NBC Sports Network, and Golf Channel, as well as local NBC and Telemundo-owned broadcast stations.

Since Time Warner Cable handles cable programming negotiations for Bright House Networks, both customers will receive the enhanced service.

Within the next few days, customers will have access to the NBC Sports Live Extra and Golf Live Extra services via apps on iOS and Android devices, as well as online. Access to the remaining broadcast and cable networks will become available to Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers starting in September, and continuing on an ongoing basis. Customers must verify their subscription to begin watching.

nfl channelUnfortunately, there are only a handful of NBC-owned and operated broadcast stations across both companies’ service areas. In most cases, local affiliate stations are owned and operated by other corporate entities and will not be included in this deal.

Mediacom Communications has expanded its own TV Everywhere package, adding NFL Network and NFL RedZone this week, along with mobile access to FX, FXX, FX Movies, National Geographic and National Geographic Wild.

Mediacom now offers 40 channels for out-of-home viewing and plans to add FOX Sports Go and other popular sports networks by September.

TV Everywhere allows Mediacom customers to always be connected to live entertainment and information,” said Mediacom senior vice president Ed Pardini. “Adding new channels to this service extends the value of a video subscription by giving customers more options to view their favorite programs when and where they want, whether that’s the big screen in living rooms or with the convenience of a mobile device.”

Mediacom customers looking for NFL Network and NFL RedZone on smartphones and tablets must download the free NFL Mobile App by going to the web site. Mediacom is now listed as a participating provider. Customers should log in with their Mediacom email address and username.

Bright House Introduces “Echo”; Extended Range for Your In-Home Wi-Fi Using MoCA Technology

bright house echo

Bright House Networks is leveraging their partnership with the Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) to bring an end to Wi-Fi dead spots with the introduction of Echo, a scalable in-home Wi-Fi network.

Echo expands the coverage of a traditional in-home wireless router by adding wireless access points in areas where Wi-Fi reception is poor. All a customer needs is a nearby Bright House cable connection. The new service isn’t a traditional wireless repeater. Echo relies on a wired connection between the access point and your cable modem/router using Bright House’s existing coaxial cable inside your home.  The result is faster, more reliable Wi-Fi.

Moca-connected-home2“This is an Advanced Wireless Gateway, a next generation, dual-band modem/router that delivers more range and signal strength,” says Bright House. “From there, Echo Access Points can be used anywhere there is a cable outlet. An access point is a small device that works in conjunction with the modem to extend the home network. Connecting an access point extends the wired network because each access point has two Ethernet ports. Echo turns your existing coaxial cable network into a robust Ethernet network which means that if you have Lightning 90, you should receive speeds up to 90Mbps from the modem and each access point. Connecting an access point also extends the wireless network because each access point is its own Wi-Fi hotspot.”

MoCA is a compelling technology for customers who do not want multiple cable runs installed in their home or business. Originally designed primarily to transport video from “whole house” master DVR’s to remote set-top boxes and other devices, the technology is evolving into an a comprehensive in-home wired coax network capable of moving high-speed data, video, audio, and other traffic concurrently. Everything moves across the same cable TV wiring already in many homes.

Cable, telephone and satellite companies are contemplating introducing a number of MoCA-enabled features, some similar to Bright House’s Echo. Every cable outlet can potentially be a Wi-Fi hotspot as well as the source for IPTV services like Roku, Apple TV, or even cable television without the need of a traditional set-top box.

Bright House will initially market Echo to less technically proficient customers uncomfortable configuring wireless repeaters or remote access points.

Early reports indicate Bright House will charge a $29.95 mandatory trip charge to install and configure the service. Return visits to add extra access points run $29.95 per visit. Echo’s monthly cost starts at $10 — $6 for the service and $4 for the equipment. There is an extra charge of $3 a month for each access point.

The service was expected to launch this week, starting in Florida.

Central Florida Customers Abandoning Bright House Over Expensive Digital Conversion

Phillip Dampier April 30, 2014 Bright House, Consumer News No Comments

angry guyAngry customers were seen turning in their cable equipment this week as Bright House Networks switched off its analog and unencrypted signals in central Florida as part of a digital upgrade.

Customers had until Tuesday to pick up a set-top box for every cable-connected television in the home. Bright House is supplying up to two boxes for free until the end of this year after which basic adapter boxes are expected to cost customers $2 a month each.

“They’ve come up with a new scheme to sell us another piece of equipment we don’t necessarily need,” Bright House customer Chris Brown complained to WFTV. He canceled his cable service.

So did customer Steve Cartaya.

“I’m canceling my service with Bright House today,” Cartaya said. “Bills go up every month.”

“We’re transferring from an analog signal to a digital signal here in Central Florida,” said Donald Forbes, senior director of corporate communications for Bright House Networks. “In order to get that digital encrypted signal, you’re doing to need that digital adapter.”

“I say this is the biggest bunch of garbage that has ever been bestowed on the public in this county,” said Kenneth Harter. “Because I have $1,000 worth of TVs at home with built-in features, they have intentionally designed this system so I can’t use it, to where at the end of 12 months they can collect revenue on this equipment.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WFTV Orlando Bright House customers without boxes losing signals 4-30-14.flv

WFTV in Orlando talked with some Bright House customers arriving with equipment in hand to cancel their cable service over a digital conversion that will encrypt every cable channel. (1:28)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WKMG Orlando Bright House Customer Digital Conversion 4-28-14.flv

WKMG in Orlando explains more about the digital adapters being distributed to Bright House customers and those unhappy they are now forced to use them. (3:30)

 

Bright House Networks to Build Limited 1Gbps Fiber to the Home Network in Tampa

ultrafiDespite the fact cable companies routinely claim customers don’t want or need gigabit broadband speeds, property developers seeking an edge in the real estate market do.

A planned community of 6,000 homes under construction by Metro Development Group (MDG) in Tampa has signed a deal to commit Bright House Networks to install a 1Gbps fiber-to-the-home network within the development. MDG said the first homes wired for the new service will be ready for residents this summer, but the entire project will take three years to finish.

“MDG hopes the fast Internet speeds will attract would-be buyers for the new homes,” said MDG president Greg Singleton.

brighthouse_logoMDG is branding the fiber service as ULTRAFi. It will be accompanied by a gigabit Wi-Fi network accessible throughout the community. In addition to providing fast broadband, the service will include home automation and security services.

The driver for the gigabit broadband project isn’t Bright House Networks, it is the property developer. Even though Bright House has committed to the project, it still denies consumers need super fast Internet speeds offered by providers like Google Fiber.

mdgBright House president Nomi Bergman acknowledged the project is a special deal with MDG and it will be years before average consumers need anything close to gigabit broadband speeds. Bergman said there is insufficient demand to justify upgrading Bright House Networks’ broadband speed offerings to other customers.

MDG obviously disagrees, because it hopes to extend fiber-to-the-home gigabit service to its other new communities. That could mean 20,000 more homes could eventually get gigabit broadband.

“In five or 10 years, I think communities that are not doing this” will be “obsolete,” Singleton said.

Outbid, Charter Expected to Eye Consolation Prizes: Cox, Bright House, and/or Suddenlink

brighthouse_logoBright House Networks’ long standing relationship with Time Warner Cable — which negotiated programming deals on behalf of the smaller cable operator with operations in the south — may come to an end with an approval of a merger between Comcast and Time Warner. That could make Bright House a prime candidate for a takeover.

Charter Communications is likely to seek consolation prizes now that Comcast has outbid the smaller cable company for Time Warner Cable. Liberty Media’s John Malone and Charter’s CEO Tom Rutledge are meeting with advisers and board members to discuss where Charter will go next to grow its operations.

Malone and Rutledge believe the cable industry must consolidate to better position it against competition from online video, phone companies, and satellite television. Malone would like to see the United States served by just a few cable operators, and feels acquisitions are the best way to accomplish his vision.

suddenlink logoCharter is almost certain to buy at least some of the three million Time Warner Cable customers Comcast intends to cast-off if it wins regulator approval of its buyout deal. But Team Charter has assembled enough financing to go much farther than that.

Among the most likely targets, according to CRT Capital Group and Raymond James Financial are family held Cox Communications, the third largest cable operator in the country with more than four million customers, Bright House Networks, the tenth largest operator with just over two million customers, and Suddenlink Communications and its 1.4 million subscribers.

COX_RES_RGBCox, like Cablevision, has been closely controlled by its founding family for years, so rumors of sales of one or both have never come to fruition. But with the merger announcement of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, Wall Street pressure to consolidate is growing by the day. There is talk that if Comcast succeeds in its buyout effort, even satellite providers like DirecTV and DISH are likely to seek a merger. Even Cablevision, which serves suburban New York City may finally feel enough pressure to sell.

A Cox spokesperson this week continued to insist the company is not for sale, but money often has a way of changing minds, if there is enough of it on the table.

Other small regional operators also likely to be approached about selling include: MidContinent, Mediacom, and Cable ONE.

Bright House Going All-Digital in Central Florida; Boxes Required for All

Phillip Dampier January 27, 2014 Bright House, Consumer News No Comments

brighthouse_logoBright House Networks is dropping analog service in April in favor of an all-digital lineup that will require customers in Central Florida to have set-top boxes or similar equipment to continue watching.

“Digital is here to stay,” said Bright House spokesman Don Forbes. “Analog is going the way of the dodo bird.”

In a letter being mailed to all affected customers, Bright House notes customers will need a cable box, digital adapter or CableCARD for every television connected to cable.

Bright House will supply each customer with two digital adapters and remote controls at no charge through 2014. But the cable company will bill customers for those devices starting next January.

Sets equipped with QAM tuners alone will not suffice for receiving the entire cable lineup.

Customers are urged to begin requesting any required equipment starting today — either at a Bright House retail store or call toll-free: 1-855-589-8582.

Staking the Heart of the Power-Sucking Vampire Cable Box

vampire-power-1-10964134Two years after energy conservation groups revealed many television set-top boxes use almost as much electricity as a typical refrigerator, a voluntary agreement has been reached to cut the energy use of the devices 10-45 percent by 2017.

The Department of Energy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, the Consumer Electronics Association, and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association agreed to new energy efficiency standards for cable boxes expected to save more than $1 billion in electricity annually, once the new equipment is widely deployed in American homes. That represents enough energy to power 700,000 homes and cut five million tons of CO2 emissions each year.

“These energy efficiency standards reflect a collaborative approach among the Energy Department, the pay-TV industry and energy efficiency groups – building on more than three decades of common-sense efficiency standards that are saving American families and businesses hundreds of billions of dollars,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “The set-top box efficiency standards will save families money by saving energy, while delivering high quality appliances for consumers that keep pace with technological innovation.”

DVR boxes are the biggest culprits. American DVRs typically use up to 50W regardless of whether someone is watching the TV or not. Most contain hard drives that are either powered on continuously or are shifted into an idle state that does more to protect the life of the drive than cut a consumer’s energy bill. A combination of a DVR and an extra HD set-top box together consume more electricity than an ENERGY STAR-qualified refrigerator-freezer, even when using the remote control to switch the boxes off.

NRDC Set-Top Boxes  Other Appliances-thumb-500x548-3135

Manufacturers were never pressed to produce more energy-efficient equipment by the cable and satellite television industry. Current generation boxes often require lengthy start-up cycles to configure channel lineups, load channel listings, receive authorization data and update software. As a result, any overnight power-down would inconvenience customers the following morning — waiting up to five or more minutes to begin watching television as equipment was switched back on. As a compromise, many cable operators instruct their DVR boxes to power down internal hard drives when not recording or playing back programming, minimizing subscriber inconvenience, but also the possible power savings.

In Europe, many set-top boxes are configured with three levels of power consumption — 22.5W while in use, 13.2W while in standby, and 0.65W when in “Deep Sleep” mode. More data is stored in non-volatile memory within the box, meaning channel data, program listings, and authorization information need not be re-downloaded each time the box is powered on, resulting in much faster recovery from power-saving modes.

The new agreement, which runs through 2017, covers all types of set-top boxes from pay-TV providers, including cable, satellite and telephone companies. The agreement also requires the pay-TV industry to publicly report model-specific set-top box energy use and requires an annual audit of service providers by an independent auditor to make sure boxes are performing at the efficiency levels specified in the agreement. The Energy Department also retains its authority to test set-top boxes under the ENERGY STAR verification program, which provides another verification tool to measure the efficiency of set-top boxes.

Comcast, DirecTV, DISH Network, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Verizon, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision, Bright House Networks and CenturyLink will begin deploying new energy-efficient equipment during service calls. Some customers may be able to eventually swap equipment earlier, depending on the company.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WCCO Minneapolis Check Your Cable Box 6-27-11.mp4

WCCO in Minneapolis reported in 2011 cable operators like Comcast may make subscribers wait 30 minutes or more for set-top box features to become fully available for use after plugging the box in. (1:50)

Time Warner Cable/Bright House: ¡Se Habla Español!; New Univision Contract Loads Up Cable TV Dial

UnivisionA new agreement between Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, and Univision Communications will add at least three new Latino-oriented cable networks to the television lineup beginning as early as next month.

The two cable companies have agreed to extend a carriage agreement with Univision TV as well as bring several new Univision networks to Time Warner Cable viewers. The complete lineup:

  • UnivisionHD: The Univision broadcast network (Spanish)
  • UniMás: The “second program” of Univision’s broadcast network (Spanish)
  • Galavisión: A cable entertainment channel (Spanish)
  • Univision tlNovelas: All telenovelas (soap operas), all the time (Spanish)
  • FOROtv: The Mexico City-based 24 hour news channel (Spanish)
  • El Rey Channel: A joint project of filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and FactoryMade Ventures, launching to cater to second/third-generation young adult Latinos (English)

Many Univision shows are now subtitled in English, especially during prime time hours, to expand the potential viewing audience.

“Time Warner Cable is delighted to be able to work out our early renewal and expand our business relationship with Univision,” said Melinda Witmer, chief video and content officer for TWC. “Our comprehensive agreement expands the number of ways our Hispanic subscribers can enjoy their favorite entertainment, news, sports and telenovelas.”

The deal also allows Time Warner Cable to carry Univision content on streaming video and on-demand platforms.

America’s Worst Rated Companies: Charter, Time Warner, Cox, Cablevision, Verizon, Comcast…

charter downNine of the ten lowest ranked firms in America are cable and telephone companies, according to a new report from research firm Temkin Group.

A poll ranking customer service at 235 U.S. companies across 19 industries found cable companies dead last, quickly followed by Internet Service Providers (often those same cable operators).

Participants were asked to rate their satisfaction with different companies on a scale of “1” (very dissatisfied) to “7” (completely satisfied). Not very many participants gave high marks to their telecommunications service provider. Temkin’s resulting net satisfaction score found familiar names in the cable and telephone business scraping the bottom.

America’s worst provider? Charter Communications, which managed an embarrassing dead last 22 percent satisfaction score for television service. Time Warner Cable managed second worst for television at 25%, followed by Cox and Cablevision’s Optimum service (both 28%). Bottom rated Internet service came from Qwest (now CenturyLink), Verizon (presumably DSL), and Charter — all scoring just 31%.

Oddly, Temkin’s survey participants gave top marks to the long-irrelevant AOL for Internet service, which may mean those dial-up customers don’t know any better. Highest marks in television service went to Bright House Communications, which ironically depends on Time Warner Cable for most of its programming negotiations.

temkin bottom rated

Most suspect the ratings show long-term customer dissatisfaction with endless rate increases, poor customer service and reliability, and lack of choice in an increasingly expensive television lineup.

The Temkin Group gathered its data from an online survey of 10,000 consumers in the U.S. during January 2013, all asked to rate their experiences with companies over the past 60 days.

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