Charter Communications navigates the waters of US cable services. The cable system operator has almost 6 million mostly-residential subscribers 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.
The company has some 300 call-handling offices across the US. Its key markets include Alabama and Georgia, California, the Carolinas, Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska, New England, the Northwest, Tennessee and Louisiana, Texas, and Wisconsin.
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 $479 million on marketing and $357 million on advertising in 2013.
The company reported 2013 sales of $8.1 billion, up 9% year-over-year, continuing its solid revenue growth over the past decade. Results were driven primarily by an increase in residential Internet customers and triple-play customers that subscribe to cable, Internet, and phone service, as well as growth in its commercial client segment. As is the case throughout the industry, Charter is losing basic video customers. In 2013 the company also saw fewer sales from advertising compared to 2012, which was boosted by political ad spending.
The company has a history of losses and 2013 was no exception - Charter reported a loss of $169 million, an improvement over the loss of $304 million the prior year. 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.
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 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.
Mergers and Acquisitions
In 2014 Charter made a bold move for Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable company. Time Warner refused, and 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.
The company acquired broadband cable assets in Alabama and Georgia in 2011 from Windjammer Communications (adding about 17,000 subscribers), and a broadband system serving nearly that number in Missouri from US Cable of Coastal Texas.
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%).