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Charter/Spectrum: We’ll Offer Gigabit Speed Nationwide by the End of 2018

Spectrum markets where gigabit speed is already available.

Charter Communications is accelerating the deployment of the next generation cable broadband standard DOCSIS 3.1 so that it can offer almost every customer gigabit download speed by the end of this year.

“We plan to be 1 Gbps everywhere and marketing 1 Gbps everywhere this year, which is [also includes] taking up a significant portion of our business to minimum speeds of 200 Mbps at the same price we were charging for 60 Mbps a year ago,” said Thomas Rutledge, CEO of Charter Communications, on a Feb. 2 investor conference call. “And we plan to do that as quickly as we can, but because of the all-digital rollout and some of the other operational issues we have, we haven’t fully planned out [200 Mbps speed for] the whole country yet.”

Charter’s biggest challenge is expected to be swapping legacy modems inadequate for the task of delivering 200 Mbps and higher speeds to residential customers. Many Charter customers are still using modems originally provided by Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, generally considered adequate for supporting top speeds only between 50-100 Mbps. But Charter is planning to offer faster internet speeds to position itself as a viable broadband competitor in markets where fiber competitors have poached subscribers and the future threat of 5G speeds up to 1 Gbps are on the horizon. That could require a substantial modem exchange program, especially in cities that were never upgraded to Time Warner Cable Maxx before Charter acquired Time Warner Cable.

Charter’s migration for Time Warner Cable/Bright House customers continues, while Charter Legacy markets stall

In 2017, Charter intentionally focused most of its time and money integrating its acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks customers into Charter’s billing, provisioning, service, and retention systems. This came, Rutledge admitted, at the expense of long-time Charter customers who saw new product launches and upgrades delayed because of the ongoing integration effort.

It will take until 2019 to fully integrate all of Charter’s customers onto a single platform that will no longer distinguish if a customer was a long-standing Charter customer or a former TWC or BH subscriber.

Customers willing to abandon their legacy Time Warner Cable or Bright House plans in favor of a Spectrum plan are also dragging their feet. As of the end of 2017, 51% of TWC and Bright House customers were still sticking with their original plan, refusing to switch to Spectrum pricing and packaging. As customers face Spectrum’s new plans, some are canceling service. Time Warner Cable residential video customers dropped by 2.5% over 2017. Charter Legacy customers dropped by 1%, while legacy Bright House customers declined by 0.5%.

Legacy Charter areas saw subscribers running out of patience. The company lost 10,000 video customers in the last quarter versus a gain of 20,000 customers a year ago. Company officials blame the complications associated with absorbing millions of acquired customers for the results.

“In 2016 and 2017, we delayed a number of new product launches through the integration, particularly at legacy Charter within our fundamental structured operating model and business rules now in place, we will more aggressively launch new products nationwide,” said Rutledge.

Charter is also spending a considerable amount of its financial resources buying back its stock. During the fourth quarter, Charter accelerated its buyback program repurchasing 13.5 million shares in Charter Holdings stock totaling $4.7 billion at an average price of $347 per share. For all of 2017, Charter bought back $13.2 billion worth of its own stock.

Digital television conversions drag on…

Charter did not restart its digital television conversion program until June of 2017, and 30% of Time Warner Cable and 50% of Bright House Networks customers are still watching analog cable television as a result. Company officials promise digital conversion will be completed nationwide by the end of this year, the first step the company will take to make dramatic broadband speed increases possible.

“Our video products in those markets will improve,” Rutledge said. “Internet speeds will increase further and all-digital will drive more efficient operations in the field including electronic disconnects, self-installation and a reduction of unauthorized connections.”

Among the most significant improvements is the introduction of the Worldbox set-top box, which will be available nationwide by the end of 2018, but generally only to new video customers. The new box runs faster and is less expensive than the traditional set-top box, and better integrates on-demand and streaming video services.

Worldbox will also highlight Spectrum’s new Spectrum Guide, an improved on-screen program guide and content portal. The new guide will also include support for third-party streaming services like Netflix.

Charter has also begun to deploy an improved Wi-Fi router known as Wave 2, which claims to offer faster speeds and better signals throughout a customer’s home. Availability is reportedly spotty, but improving.

Charter Demands Crackdown on Streaming Service Password Sharing

Phillip Dampier December 20, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, HissyFitWatch, Online Video 2 Comments

Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge is fed up with customers sharing their passwords to unlock television streaming services for non-subscribing friends and family and promises to lead an industry-wide crackdown on the practice in 2018.

“There’s lots of extra streams, there’s lots of extra passwords, there’s lots of people who could get free service,” Rutledge said at an industry conference this month.

Password sharing used to be limited to services like Netflix, HBO, Showtime and Hulu, but since the cable industry opened up its “authenticated” TV Everywhere services to viewing outside of the home, unauthorized viewing by non-subscribers has allegedly exploded.

Three typical tweets exemplify the problem for Rutledge. One sought to trade for a Spectrum user ID and password, another thanked a friend for sharing their Spectrum TV user credentials to unlock a channel showing the World Series. A third delighted in the fact he managed to hack his parent’s Spectrum account password and now watches cable television for free.

Rutledge complained that password sharing is now so rampant, one unnamed network authorized 30,000 simultaneous streams using a single customer’s login credentials.

Rutledge believes many non-paying customers are now enjoying Spectrum TV and other services as a result of the practice. Shareholders and Wall Street analysts are also concerned, particularly as cord-cutting continues to take a toll on cable TV subscriber numbers and revenue.

Rutledge

Bloomberg News reports there is divergent thinking about password sharing and how serious it actually is. Top executives at Time Warner, Inc., which owns HBO and Turner Broadcasting, have shrugged about password sharing in the past, believing it is a good way to introduce potential customers to their services and eventually become paying subscribers.

Password sharing “is still relatively small and we are seeing no economic impact on our business,” said Jeff Cusson, a spokesman for HBO.

But anecdotal evidence at networks like ESPN, owned by Walt Disney Co., suggests millennials have no moral dilemma routinely sharing their passwords, even with strangers. At one focus group targeting younger sports fans, all 50 participants raised their hands when asked if they shared passwords, according to a fuming Justin Connolly, executive vice president for affiliate sales and marketing at ESPN.

“It’s piracy,” Connolly said. “It’s people consuming something they haven’t paid for. The more the practice is viewed with a shrug, the more it creates a dynamic where people believe it’s acceptable. And it’s not.”

The TV Everywhere “authenticated subscriber” concept has traditionally required pay television customers to re-enter their username and password for each authorized device at least once each year, although some cable operators require subscribers to re-enter their credentials monthly, and actively discontinue access as quickly as possible when a customer downgrades or cancels their cable television service.

Many cable providers offer their own live streaming apps and on-demand streaming service showcasing the cable TV lineup for in-home and out of home viewing on desktops, tablets, and portable devices. Some limit the number of channels that can be viewed outside of the home and do not allow multiple users to concurrently stream programming. But most cable TV networks that support authentication do not limit concurrent streams or offer generous limits on how many services can be streamed at the same time over a single account.

(Source: Consumer Reports)

Charter is now taking the lead on demanding cable TV network owners tighten up their apps and online viewing to limit password sharing. Some of the toughest negotiations took place this past fall between Charter and Viacom, owner of Comedy Central, MTV, and Nickelodeon. Viacom pushed hard for Charter to restore its basic cable networks to Spectrum’s entry-level “Select” cable television package. In 2016, many Viacom networks were pushed to the much more expensive Gold package, which meant significant losses in audience as Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers switched to Spectrum’s TV plans. Time Warner Cable included Viacom-owned networks in all the company’s popular TV tiers, but most customers lost access to those networks when they switched to a Spectrum TV plan.

Viacom successfully negotiated the transition of its networks back to the Select TV plan beginning in late January, 2018. But those networks’ online viewing platforms and apps will now include stream limitations to keep simultaneous viewing and password sharing to a minimum.

ESPN, which has been dropped from the lineup in a number of slimmed-down cable TV packages, has also experienced plenty of password sharing, and has begun limiting the number of simultaneous streams allowed per customer. Originally, one account could launch 10 concurrent streams. That number has now been cut in half to five and the sports network is currently considering further reducing the stream limit to three simultaneous sessions.

One research group, Park Associates, estimates almost one-third of internet-only customers are streaming cable television networks and programming using someone else’s subscriber credentials. They estimate the cable TV industry will lose $3.5 billion from unauthorized viewing this year, rising to $9.9 billion by 2021.

Companies like Adobe Systems have begun selling services to cable TV providers that track the use of usernames and passwords and the location of those accessing online streams. They suggest cord-cutting is fueling unauthorized viewing as customers seek access to cable programming for free.

Much of the password sharing seems to be occurring among friends and relatives, especially children away from home. For now, most cable TV executives are fine with in-family sharing. What concerns most is when those passwords are further shared with friends or sold to strangers. It is uncertain if customers are always aware that their user credentials are being sold or traded by third parties. When an account that saw no streaming activity before suddenly generates 50 simultaneous streams in multiple states, hacking by an unknown party is usually suspected.

The cable industry remains undecided about exactly how many concurrent streams are appropriate for consumers. Netflix allows between one and four streams, depending on the plan chosen. HBO permits three simultaneous streams, DirecTV Now allows two while DirecTV’s satellite customers get up to five streams.

Charter Signs Agreement With Viacom Restoring Its Cable Networks to Spectrum Select

Phillip Dampier November 15, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Online Video 2 Comments

Viacom and Charter Communications today announced a multi-year renewal of a carriage agreement that will bring back Viacom’s cable networks to almost all Spectrum cable television customers.

As part of the agreement, Charter has agreed to return Nickelodeon, BET, MTV, Comedy Central, Spike (Paramount Network), VH1, TV Land and CMT to Spectrum Select, Charter’s entry-level cable television tier. In 2016, Charter began moving Viacom’s cable networks to its most expensive tiers, Spectrum Silver or Gold, to protest Viacom’s high carriage prices. Most existing customers never realized the networks were moved because the company grandfathered current customers to keep the channels from disappearing. But as Bright House Networks and Time Warner Cable customers migrated to Spectrum packages, many were annoyed to learn Viacom’s networks were missing from the lineup of Spectrum’s most popular cable television tier. Customers had to pay at least $11 a month extra to get many of those networks back.

Charter indicated its agreement allows Spectrum to keep other Viacom-owned networks not mentioned above on its Silver or Gold tiers. The agreement also grants Charter customers access to Viacom networks’ on-demand programming through set-top boxes or mobile apps.

Viacom and Charter have also entered into a partnership for co-production of new original content that will exclusively premiere for subscribers on Charter’s platform in the U.S. Under the agreement, Viacom’s Paramount Television and Charter will jointly produce programming. Viacom will distribute the co-produced programming internationally, as well as in additional domestic markets, including potentially on Viacom Networks, after Charter’s premiere period.

Viacom has also agreed to collaborate on Charter’s forthcoming effort to crackdown on unauthorized password sharing, allowing non-cable subscribers access to programming using a friend or family member’s Spectrum account details.

Charter’s SpectrumU on Campus Gets Little Interest from Students

Phillip Dampier September 25, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

Charter Communications has been quietly testing a streaming video lineup of services on selected college campuses in its service area — so quiet very few students know or care about the service.

In Rochester, N.Y., Charter this year introduced SpectrumU at two suburban colleges – St. John Fisher and Nazareth College. The 50+ channel service at St. John Fisher includes five local network stations, but not the low-powered MyNetworkTV or secondary CW affiliate that are found on the traditional local cable lineup. According to Nazareth’s channel list, SpectrumU at the college comes from Spectrum Enterprise’s Fiber Connect service and lists six network affiliates on the lineup imported from Buffalo, a city 70 miles away. The service is accessible around each campus on the schools’ Wi-Fi networks.

Charter wants participating colleges to set aside a 1Gbps connection to manage Wi-Fi streaming for every 5,000 students on campus. Stop the Cap! found anecdotal evidence Charter may be dramatically overestimating how many students actually use the service. A recent visit to both campuses and guest participation in online college forums found almost zero interest in SpectrumU at either college. Students, it seems, have mostly moved on from linear, live television and do much of their viewing on-demand from other streaming services and apps.

Charter Communications kept publicity and expectations low for the service, setting the monthly subscription price for SpectrumU at $0.00. No password or authentication is required to use the service, and logging into the campus network is simple at schools like Nazareth, where the Wi-Fi password GoldenFlyers was easy to come by on and off campus. While driving around, we could easily access SpectrumU from Wi-Fi on streets surrounding St. John Fisher, although Nazareth’s wireless network was tougher to reach on a tree-lined campus set further back from the main road.

Television services at St. John Fisher College, located near Rochester, N.Y.

Charter dictates the terms and availability of the service, which requires participating schools to subscribe to Charter Spectrum’s Enterprise Fiber Connect service, which supports campus internet and video services. Schools must offer:

  • Charter Clear QAM or fiber video services
  • Charter fiber internet services (preferred)
  • 1Gbps dedicated bandwidth per 5,000 students (~500 concurrent users) recommended
  • Wi-Fi network utilizes WPA or WPA2 encryption
  • Public IP addresses/ranges for whitelisting
  • PAT IPs are supported
  • IP requirements: IPv4: /24 – IPv6: /48
  • AP’s consistent with current fifth generation Wi-Fi technology, 802.11ac (no older than fourth generation 802.11n)

SpectrumU is designed to work exclusively over Wi-Fi, and only with portable smartphones and tablets:

  • iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 8 or above
  • All major Android smartphones and tablets running Android 4.2 or above
  • Kindle Fire Phone, all Kindle Fire models except for the 1st generation model

There is no support for streaming set-top boxes like Roku or Apple TV and SpectrumU works differently from the QAM cable TV service available in many dorm rooms. Casting isn’t supported either. The Android version of the app only attracted 69 mixed reviews as of the date of this article.

Charter seems convinced SpectrumU will soon replace traditional internet video streaming, telling campus managers that the service will have “minimal impact if the school’s internet service is robust today, as SpectrumU usage will replace usage of other streaming apps.”

Students doubt it.

“I have never heard of SpectrumU and don’t care,” said Cody, a student we ran into in the parking lot at Nazareth. “I have Amazon Prime and Netflix and I’m good with that.”

Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., are also an early adopter of SpectrumU.

Zephyr, a freshman at St. John Fisher who lives on campus said she doesn’t know anything about the service either, although a roommate in her friend’s dorm room brought their QAM-equipped television to school and can watch the campus TV lineup on it.

“Her boyfriend is a Buffalo Bills fan so he watches the games on her TV, but we really don’t watch it ourselves,” she told us. “Everyone has their own phone or tablet and most people are sharing  passwords from home to watch HBO, Hulu, or Amazon stuff.”

Dylan’s password trading brings him access to Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, CBS, and Sling TV. Even with SpectrumU available for free with no password required, he doesn’t care, preferring to watch on-demand content on his tablet or the PlayStation he brought to school.

“I don’t know anyone who watches Spectrum TV and their company sucks anyway,” said Dylan. “I hate ads and I pretty much only binge watch stuff now, so this is useless for me.”

A few students told us they did bring televisions to campus to watch live television, but many just use an antenna. Nazareth and St. John Fisher are only a short distance from Pinnacle Hill, the location for most Rochester television transmitters, and reception is easy.

“Televisions are what our parents watch,” Serena at Nazareth told us. “I don’t know anyone my age with cable.”

Stop the Cap! tested the Android version of the app at both colleges. It reminds us of Spectrum’s streaming TV app, only less capable. The app does not support DVR-type recording, pause and rewind, or on-demand services — things college students would probably look for the most. We experienced occasional buffering watching CNN in a parking lot, but note Wi-Fi signal strength was not ideal. We also found, despite warnings in student handbooks, a number of student-run hotspots and wireless access points. At one dorm at St. John Fisher, we found over 60 Wi-Fi signals competing with the college’s own wireless network.

Cable companies believe by offering cable services to college students, they will get hooked on those services and subscribe after they leave college. But evidence suggests those under 30 are increasingly unlikely to pay for a cable television subscription and are dubbed “cable-nevers” for having no interest in subscription television. They are, however, avid users of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.

Say Hello to Sports-Free Philo TV for Less Than $20/Month

Phillip Dampier September 13, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Philo TV 1 Comment

A group of cable networks are teaming up to offer the first over-the-top online streaming cable TV package for sports haters.

Philo TV, expected to soft launch within a few weeks, is a sports-free television package of popular cable networks expected to sell for under $20/month.

Instead of ESPN and Fox Sports, Philo TV will concentrate on dramas, documentaries, kids shows, reality television, and original productions aired on cable networks owned by the venture’s partners — Discovery Communications, Viacom, AMC Networks, A+E Networks and Scripps Networks Interactive.

That guarantees networks like Food TV, HGTV, Discovery, AMC, Comedy Central, A&E, Nickelodeon, and other popular general interest cable networks will be on the lineup.

The partners elected to work with Philo TV, an existing venture supplying skinny bundles of cable programming on college campuses around the country. Based on Philo’s college TV lineups, it is not a stretch to assume the new streaming service will also include networks like The Weather Channel, CNN, FOX News, tru-TV, Animal Planet, National Geographic, MSNBC, History Channel, BBC America, Game Show Network, Hallmark, Spike TV, USA, Cartoon Network, Lifetime, Syfy, and perhaps even the Disney Channel.

The service is not expected to include over-the-air stations, but the exclusion of sports means plenty of savings for sports-loathing viewers. Sports programming fees are by far the highest of any network costs for cable and satellite providers. Eliminating costly networks like ESPN saves the average cable company at least $6 a month for that network alone.

The “Philo” venture is named after Philo Farnsworth, the American inventor of an all-electronic television system still partly in use today, which quickly dispensed with the earlier electro-mechanical television systems that preceded it.

Philo isn’t necessarily going to be limited to online streaming. The company is exploring cutting deals with existing phone and cable companies to distribute the package as a competing alternative to today’s bloated cable television packages.

Those interested in being notified about the venture’s imminent launch can register their email address or mobile number on Philo’s website.

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