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Cable One: A Regime of High Prices and Data Caps

Cable One has the highest average revenue per customer of any publicly traded cable company in the United States, with the average customer paying Cable One $70.80 a month, mostly for internet access.

The company’s first quarter earnings growth of 5.5% reflect the company’s recent price increases and regime of low-allowance data caps, which have pushed 10 percent of its customers to pay an extra $40 a month to bring back unlimited access. Others are upgrading to costlier, faster tiers with more generous usage allowances.

“During the first quarter, we saw roughly 50% of our new customers choose our 200 Mbps or higher speed service and nearly 10% of our new customers opted to purchase our unlimited data plan,” said Julia Laulis, Cable One CEO.

Laulis

Cable One’s 200 Mbps plan (with a 600 GB data cap) costs $65 a month after promotions expire. A DOCSIS 3.0 modem lease fee of $10.50 applies. A $2.75 monthly internet service surcharge may apply. If a customer wants unlimited access to avoid overlimit fees, there is an additional charge of $40 a month (a 5 TB cap applies to the “unlimited plan”). Customers choosing a 200 Mbps broadband-only package with unlimited data will pay up to $118.25 a month.

Cable One’s broadband customers are concerned about staying within the data caps to avoid overlimit fees. While Comcast and Charter Spectrum customers consume over 300-400 GB of data per month (Comcast has a 1 TB cap, Spectrum only sells unlimited service), Cable One customers use an average of 290 GB, with usage growing at a 30-35% annual rate. Many Cable One customers have little choice either. Laulis noted that Cable One’s DSL competition is not very relevant when customers want to watch streaming video. Speeds are often so slow, customers do not have a good experience streaming HD video over DSL.

 

Cable One is also shedding its video customers in record numbers, with just 305,000 of its cable TV customers left. More than 29,000 departed year over year, and that number continues to rise as consumers rebel against the company’s high prices and unwillingness to negotiate.

MoffettNathanson warned that Cable One’s high pricing may eventually price itself out of broadband growth, as consumers elect to sign up with telephone companies instead. But many of its service areas are still served by low-speed DSL, and despite Cable One’s high cost, the company added 10,600 new internet customers in the last quarter.

In addition to raising prices, the company also plans to spend between $9-11 million to change its name from Cable One to Sparklight over the next two years.

Apple iOS Update Includes Apple TV App for Subscribing to Streaming Services

Phillip Dampier May 13, 2019 Apple TV, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

Apple today released a software update for iOS device owners and some smart televisions that includes a new Apple TV streaming app designed to simplify the online streaming experience.

The Apple TV app works similarly to Roku’s collection of subscription services. Through the app, viewers in 100 countries can subscribe to individual networks and access them without launching multiple separate apps to watch. Apple TV app also manages billing and collects viewing interests to provide recommended new shows and movies.

At present, most premium channels are available through the app for subscription, but you will pay a non-discounted price for each service, often at a premium. HBO, for example, can be had for as little as $5 a month through some platforms, but costs $14.99 through Apple TV. Other services often run their own discounted specials, but Apple TV customers will not get that pricing. Cord Cutters News reports these networks were available for purchase as of this morning (others are being beta tested):

  • HBO
  • Showtime
  • Starz
  • Cinemax
  • Epix
  • Smithsonian Plus
  • PBS Living
  • Acorn TV
  • Sundance Now
  • Lifetime Movie Club
  • Urban Movie Channel
  • Tastemade
  • Curiosity Stream
  • MTV Hits
  • Comedy Central Now

Apple TV is a precursor to the company’s more elaborate streaming and original content platform — Apple TV+ — expected to launch this fall. For now, Apple is taking a cut from reselling other companies’ content and wrapping it around its own interface. Some early subscribers report Apple TV subscribers get more generous multiple viewer allowances, and a large selection of live streams of certain networks like HBO that are not even available from HBO’s own app. Because finding content across a wide array of subscription services is becoming more complicated, users can also access a search utility to find favorite shows.

By developing its own ecosystem, Apple hopes to build an audience and subscriber loyalty by getting customers accustomed to visiting Apple TV to access their subscription content, which gives Apple an audience to sell other programming and content. In return, customers will not have to install multiple apps, or keep track of usernames and passwords for each of them.

Owners of recent Apple devices, as well as those with 2019 Samsung smart TVs (and some 2018 models) will find software updates including Apple TV starting today. Later this year, customers with certain Vizio, LG and Sony TVs will be able to use the TV app using AirPlay 2.

There are some caveats. Netflix is missing. The largest streaming provider in the world has made it clear it will not be a part of the Apple TV app. Also, only a handful of cable and streaming providers have signed on to allow customers to authenticate their TV subscriptions through the Apple TV app so far: Charter Spectrum, DirecTV Now and PlayStation Vue.

Those looking for convenience might find the Roku or Apple TV platforms a good place to bring content from multiple services together, but those looking for the best price will save money shopping around for subscription deals not available from Apple TV.

Fox Plans to Substantially Hike Fees for Its Cable News and Broadcast Channels

Phillip Dampier May 9, 2019 Consumer News, Online Video 1 Comment

Your cable or streaming TV bill will increase once again as Fox executives told cheering investors this morning it would hike prices for carrying Fox TV stations and its suite of cable networks, including Fox News Channel, Fox Business, Fox Sports 1 and 2, and the Big Ten Network.

“We plan to meaningfully accelerate growth of both direct retransmission and non-[owned and operated] revenue and we believe the broadcast economics we receive are quite underpriced relative to the quality of the content we are providing,” said Fox chief operating officer John Nallen, speaking at a Fox Investor Day event.

Fox’s contracts with most cable, satellite, and streaming providers are coming up for renewal over the next three years, and it should not surprise providers to see substantially higher renewal pricing than ever before to continue carrying Fox’s networks. Fox plans to leverage the increasing amount of live sports on its broadcast network and the relative popularity of Fox News Channel to demand higher compensation. Fox was already collecting 29% more in retransmission consent-related revenue during the third quarter, but that percentage is expected to grow dramatically as new contracts are signed.

Fox News is already the most costly cable news network, and as other broadcast TV networks demand ever greater compensation from cable and satellite providers, Fox executives feel they are not asking as much as they could for their channels. That is an important consideration for Fox, which slimmed down dramatically after a sale of most of its assets to Disney. The ‘new’ Fox is made up of the Fox television network, 28 owned and operated Fox affiliated TV stations, cable news and business, and three sports channels. Nallen sees no need to expand the network lineup further.

“We are no longer lending the potency of our marketing brands toward any other initiative, brand or channel development,” Nallen said. “The purity of this sustained value opportunity from our Fox brands is critical as we are not tethered to any properties that are just getting harder to defend. This frees us up to capture the full value of all our brands across broadcast and cable.”

Nallen knows some cable operators have grown increasingly disenchanted with selling television service, and acknowledged some cable companies may balk at Fox’s new asking price, especially as cord cutting continues to accelerate. He told investors he is technology agnostic about who he sells Fox networks to, so it would come as no surprise if a streaming TV service eventually breaks into the top four Fox channel distributors. At the same time, as prices continue to rise, some traditional cable operators could eventually stop selling television service altogether.

YouTube TV Follows Others, Raises Subscription Price to $49.99 a Month

Phillip Dampier April 10, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, YouTube TV 3 Comments

YouTube TV is raising rates 25-43%, depending on your existing package.

Effective today, the company is raising the price of its YouTube TV package to $49.99 a month and is notifying customers it is ending grandfathered pricing arrangements that allowed some customers to pay as low as $35 a month for service.

The price change comes at a time when many of YouTube TV’s competitors have announced or implemented rate increases to cover the rising costs of programming. To reduce the sting, YouTube TV will coincide its rate hike with the addition of eight new channels from Discovery: Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, HGTV, Food Network, ID, MotorTrend, TLC, and the Travel Channel beginning today.

All existing customers will be billed at the new $49.99 rate beginning May 13. New signups will be billed the higher rate immediately. Customers billed by Apple will be penalized the most, with a new rate of $54.99/mo.

The company argues its new package price is still a good value because it now includes more than 70 channels, including robust carriage of local stations in more than 90% of the country. YouTube TV also offers unlimited cloud DVR service and up the three simultaneous streams.

Charter Spectrum Falsely Denies It Offers Best Prices to Competitive Service Areas

Charter Spectrum denies it offers better deals to customers served by fiber-fast internet competitors than those stuck with the phone company’s slow speed DSL as their only alternative:

Spectrum doesn’t set rates based on one area or the other, or based on what’s available to customers in specific locations, company spokesman Michael Pedelty said.

“We don’t make decisions based on that,” he said.

But Stop the Cap! has repeatedly found that with respect to promotional pricing, offered to entice customers to switch, that is not true.

“It is easy for any customer checking Spectrum’s new customer rates to test this for themselves,” said Stop the Cap!’s Phillip Dampier. “We did (again), and confirmed your street address and the providers that compete for your business make all the difference whether you are going to get a good deal or not.”

That is important because when providers won’t budge on regular prices, your only alternative is to switch. Some customers repeatedly bounce between providers to get a better deal. The savings can be dramatic. A customer with 400 Mbps internet-only service that remains with Spectrum for three years on a good three-year promotion will save more than $3,000 over customers that are offered only a one year promotion from Spectrum because their only other choice was DSL from the phone company.

At Stop the Cap! headquarters in Rochester, N.Y., there is only one choice for broadband service — Charter Spectrum. Frontier Communications, the incumbent phone company, still only offers 3 Mbps DSL at this location, despite it being less than one mile from the Rochester city line. Spectrum does not see low-speed DSL as a competitive threat, because entering our address as a new customer brought forth this blasé offer for internet-only service, good for 12 months:

Notice this promotion is good for 12 months.

This offer is for 100 Mbps service. An upgrade to Ultra costs an extra $25 a month for 400 Mbps. Notice also, the Wi-Fi feature enabled on their router/modem equipment is $5 extra a month.

Across the street from us, the competitive situation is a little different. Neighbors have a choice of three providers — Charter Spectrum, Frontier DSL, or Greenlight’s fiber to the home network. Greenlight changes everything for Spectrum, as this new customer offer across the street illustrates:

Notice this promotion is also $44.99 a month, but is good for two years instead of one.

Notice the promotion is also for 100 Mbps, but check out the FREE upgrade to 400 Mbps, a $25 savings just because there is more serious competition. Also notice the $5 monthly Wi-Fi charge is gone.

Where Google Fiber offers service (or offered, in the case of Louisville, Ky.) in addition to high-speed internet from the phone company, Spectrum’s promotions are even better:

This deal is for $29.99 and is good for THREE years.

This promotion begins with 200 Mbps service, but offers a FREE upgrade to 400 Mbps and that pesky $5 a month Wi-Fi fee is nowhere to be found.

In short, any claim that Spectrum does not target different promotional pricing offers based on the competitive landscape on the ground is provably false. The evidence is right here.

Now let us consider how the cost of no competition will empty your wallet:

  • Non-Competitive Pricing – 400 Mbps service with Wi-Fi: $74.99/month for 12 months; $95.99/month for next 24 months ($90.99 internet, $5 Wi-Fi)
  • One Competitor Pricing – 400 Mbps service with Wi-Fi: $44.99/month for 24 months; $95.99/month for next 12 months ($90.99 internet, $5 Wi-Fi)
  • Two Competitor Pricing – 400 Mbps service with Wi-Fi: $29.99/month for 36 months

Assuming you remained a customer for 36 months, paying regular prices after two of these promotions expired, here is what you would pay in full based on the latest rate card and advertised pricing (mostly the additional $5/mo Wi-Fi fee after a promo expires):

  • Non-Competitor Pricing: $4,103.52¹
  • One Competitor Pricing: $2,231.64² which delivers a savings of $1,871.88 over three years because of presence of one serious competitor.
  • Two Competitor Pricing: $1,079.64³ which delivers a savings of $3,023.88 over three years because of the presence of Google Fiber and one other serious competitor.

¹$74.99 x 12 = $899.88; $95.99 x 24 = $3203.64
²$44.99 x 24 = $1079.76; $95.99 x 12 = $1151.88
³$29.99 x 36 = $1079.64

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