Charter Communications navigated its way to the #2 cable company by making a bigger boat. The cable system operator leaped to the second spot, behind Comcast, with its acquisitions of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks for a total of some $70 billion in 2016. The deal expanded the reach of the company, which has taken the name Charter Spectrum. Serving 17 million video subscribers and 19 million broadband customers, it offers a full range of services to residential and business subscribers including cable TV, high-speed Internet, Voice over IP telephone, and entertainment packages. Its Charter Business unit provides Internet access, data networking, phone, and wireless backhaul services to about 500,000 commercial clients.
While Charter reports in one segment -- broadband -- it reports revenue in the elements that comprise the segment. Video is the biggest revenue generator with 47%, followed by internet, 31%; Commercial, 12%; Voice, 6%; with Advertising and other, 4%.
Charter's reach is national in scope with customers in California, the Carolinas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and several Mountain and New England states. The company has some 300 call-handling offices across the US.
Sales and Marketing
Charter markets its services via direct sales, outbound telemarketing, its online presence, and Charter stores. The company appeals to new and existing customers with its multiservice bundled packages. It spent $389 million on advertising in 2015, up from $380 million in 2014.
Charter posted a 7% revenue increase in 2015 to $9.7 billion. The company gained revenue from more residential internet and triple-play customers and additional customers on the business side. It saw lower revenue from advertising and a decrease in the number of basic video customers.
The company's loss deepened to $271 million in 2015 from $183 million in 2014. Charter had higher interest expense and higher operating costs, which included increases in programming costs, in 2015
Cash flow from operations was steady at $2.4 billion in 2015 and 2014.
Charter continues to pursue a strategy popular with its competitors, providing voice, internet access, and other data services as a complete package. Similar to the results of rival cable companies, it has seen increases in the number of telephone, internet, and enterprise customers, while video subscribers have dwindled among both residential and business clients. It does, however, continue to see upticks in the move to digital video services.
Keeping its network and services current requires substantial investment. The company had $1.8 billion in capital expenditures in 2015, down from up from $2.2 billion in 2014. The decrease came as Charter completed its transition to digital. The company has upgraded its network to the DOCSIS 3.0 high-speed data capability standard, which is in place for some 97% of homes it has passed and allows internet speeds up to 100 megabits per second. That deployment will help as it continues to pursue enterprise clients. Charter has also invested in switched digital video (SDV) technology to increase the number of HD channels it offers and is experimenting with a cloud-based user interface for its set-top boxes.
In 2015, in anticipation of adding new locations with the TWC and Bright House deals, Charter launched an out-of-home Wi-Fi service in four markets permitting internet customers to access the internet at designated hot spots.
Charter also is moving some of its customer-related operations to the cloud to offer common user interfaces across its network and to effect quick updates.
Mergers and Acquisitions
Charter's acquisition of Time Warner Cable for $55 billion positions the company as a strong competitor to industry leader Comcast. The combination of Charter and Time Warner Cable does not have the same elements that scuttled Comcast's bid for Time Warner, which could lessen regulatory opposition. The new company would not be the market leader, nor would it provide content such as Comcast's NBCUniversal unit does.
The $10.4 billion deal for Bright House Networks brought the sixth-largest provider into Charter. Bright House's markets don't overlap with Charter's.
In 2015 ARRIS Group Inc. and Charter acquired ActiveVideo for approximately $135 million. With the transaction complete, ARRIS now owns 65% of the joint venture company formed by ARRIS and Charter for the acquisition. ActiveVideo is the developer of CloudTV, a cloud-based software platform enabling service providers, content aggregators, and consumer electronic manufacturers to rapidly deploy new services by virtualizing consumer premises equipment functions in the cloud.
Driven by dreams of creating a "wired world," chairman Paul Allen (a co-founder of Microsoft) reportedly poured more than $12 billion into Charter since 1998, and the billionaire saw most of that investment evaporate. After expanding through the purchase of a slew of small-town cable assets that needed extensive infrastructure upgrades, Charter experienced ongoing subscriber losses, financial losses, and a debt load in excess of $20 billion. Faced with legal opposition from some of its lenders, the company's 2009 bankruptcy reorganization plan eliminated about $8 billion of debt, reduced annual interest expenses by about $830 million, and left Allen controlling about one-third of the company (a stake that has since fallen to less than 10%).