Charter Communications navigates the waters of US cable services, largely by making itself a bigger boat. The cable system operator has almost 6 million mostly-residential subscribers (many brought on board through acquisitions) in more than two dozen states, making it one of the top national cable companies, behind Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Cox Communications. In addition to 4.2 million video customers (92% opting for digital service), Charter also boasts 4.4 million broadband Internet subscribers and 2.3 million digital phone users. Its Charter Business provides Internet access, data networking, phone, and wireless backhaul services to about 500,000 commercial clients. In addition, Charter sells local advertising on such cable networks as MTV, CNN, and ESPN. In 2015, Charter agreed to buy one of its competitors, Bright House Networks, for $10.4 billion.
While Charter reports in one segment -- broadband -- it reports revenue in the elements that comprise the segment. Video is the biggest revenue generator with 49%, followed by Internet, 28%, Commercial, 11%, Voice, 6% with Advertising and other, 6%.
Charter's reach is national in scope with its key markets in the south, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, Louisiana, and Tennessee; the northeast, New England states; the Midwest, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska; the southwest, Texas; and the west, California and several Mountain 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 multi-service bundled packages. It spent $529 million on marketing and $380 million on advertising in 2014, which were higher than its 2013 marketing and ad spending.
Charter dialed up a an 11.7% revenue increase in 2014 from 2013 to reach $9.11 billion. The increase came from several sources including a rising number of residential Internet and triple play customers and business customers. Annual rate increases played a part, too. As is the case throughout the industry, Charter is losing basic video customers.
The company has a history of losses and 2014 was no exception - Charter reported a loss of $183 million, compared to the $169 million loss in 2013. Its sales are not enough to cover operating expenses, debt-related interest (the company has $14.2 billion in debt), and the investments needed to keep its network up-to-date. It had more cash flow from operations, $2.36 billion in 2014, from $2.16 billion in 2013.
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 rises in 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 $2.2 billion in capital expenditures in 2014, up from $1.8 billion in 2013. About half of the 2014 capital spending went to customer-premise equipment, which includes costs incurred at the customer residence to secure new customers such customer installation costs and set-top boxes and cable modems. 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.
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
In 2015, Bright House Networks accepted Charter's acquisition bid of $10.4 billion. The deal would vault Charter to the No. 2 spot among cable TV providers. Bright House is the sixth largest provider serving markets that, mostly, don't compete with those served by Charter.
The Bright House deal might help Charter get over Time Warner Cable's reject off its buyout offer in 2014. Time Warner subsequently agreed to merge with Comcast. As part of the deal, Comcast was ordered to divest about 3 million subscribers to Charter in order to combat any antitrust concerns and keep its market share to less than 30%. Once the Comcast/Time Warner merger is complete, Charter will find itself with about 9 million customers, making it the nation's second-largest cable company. At the same time, it will also take on a lot more debt to buy the new customers.
In 2013 the company increased its offerings and expand into new markets, purchasing Optimum West/Bresnan from Cablevision for about $1.6 billion. Optimum West serves more than 360,000 customers through cable systems in fast-growing regions of Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah.
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%).