News

Cable Politics Make It Hot Time to Gather at Independent Show

7/26/2010 12:01 AM Eastern

With so much activity
affecting cable in Washington
— the Comcast-NBC Universal
merger, the national broadband
plan, possible common-carrier
regulations for broadband
— what better time for small and
midsized cable operators to gather
in a wonky gabfest in nearby
Baltimore?

The American Cable Association
and the National Cable &
Television Cooperative’s combined
confab, The Independent
Show (July 25 to 28), focuses on
dealing with constant change,
organizers said.

“The central theme of this
year’s Independent Show is the
totality of all the seismic changes
our members face in both the political/
regulatory landscape and
in their business models,” NCTC
president Jeff Abbas said.

American Cable Association
president Matt Polka said the
event will let hundreds of his
members “remain involved” in
the key issues affecting traditional
media and broadband markets
in rural America. “This year’s forum
will offer detailed updates on
our active policy agenda, most notably
the Comcast-NBC Universal
merger, retransmission consent
reform and broadband reclassification.” (Retransmission, how
could we forget that one?)

Potential highlights at the Hilton
assembly: a Tuesday primer on
the national broadband plan and
Title II reclassification and the
digital nuts and bolts of TV Everywhere.
Lunch that day features radio/
cable talk star Sean Hannity.

According to NCTC spokesman
Dan Mulvenon, attendance as of
last week was around 800, tracking
about even with last year.
(Family attendance is up this year
with the economy in slightly better
shape, he noted.) Look for the
final to come in around 850.

Members also are concerned
about business issues such as
the cost of programming, access
to content on the Web and
bundling, he said. The Wire is
guessing ESPN3.com will come
up once or twice in Charm City,
as well.

At $13,333 a Sub,
Hargray’s Pricey
But No Record

The Wire was intrigued when The Wall Street
Journal
reported, on July 8, about Hargray
Communications
, described as a rural cable
and broadband provider in southeastern
South Carolina and northeastern Georgia
that is up for sale.

Two numbers stood out: $400 million and
30,000. Those, respectively, were said to be
the asking price and the number of cable
subscribers.

If true, that would be a price of $13,333
per subscriber. Should it work out that way,
it would be the priciest cable deal in known
history.

The top slot now is held by Daniels & Associates
Carlsbad, Calif., system, sold for
$6,800 per subscriber to Adelphia Communications
in 2000.

On closer look, though, there’s probably
no cable milestone to be found here.

Hargray’s owner, private-equity boutique
Quadrangle Group
, is indeed asking $400
million for Hargray, according to several
sources. Neither Quadrangle nor Hargray
returned a call for comment.

Hargray, though, is primarily a telecom
provider, serving business customers in the
area. Its cable operations are relatively minuscule,
a few investment bankers said.

Quadrangle’s asking price works out to a
multiple of 8 times annual cash flow: that’s
pretty moderate, although several telecom
deals have recently been done in the six
times range, some bankers said.

Hargray is certainly flush by cable standards.
Doing the math backwards, an eight
times multiple implies $50 million in cash
flow annually, or about $136 per subscriber
per month. That’s almost three times the
$50 in cash flow per subscriber per month
generated by Comcast, and it has 24 million
customers.

Ned Lamont TV Firm
Entertains Offers

Speaking of deals, The Wire hears Campus
TeleVideo
, a leading multichannel-TV provider
on college campuses, is entertaining off ers to
be sold by its long-term equity owners.

The company, formally Lamont Digital
Systems
and based in Greenwich, Conn., is
well-known for its founder: Ned Lamont.
He’s the Connecticut liberal businessman
who defeated incumbent Sen. Joseph Lieberman
in the Democratic primary in
2006. Lieberman later won re-election, as
an independent, in a three-way race.

Lamont, who worked at Cablevision
Systems
before setting out on his own in
1983, is running for governor in the Nutmeg
State. Should he win the Democratic nod,
he likely will be up against another media
entrepreneur, decidedly not a liberal: Linda
McMahon
.

The former WWE CEO is running
as a Republican.
CTV CEO Brian Benz could not be reached
for comment.

Comcast’s Eliason:
Parting Ways Is
Tweet Sorrow

Frank Eliason, Comcast’s
“Twitter man,”
is flying the coop.

After joining Comcast
in September
2007 as director of
digital care, Eliason
pioneered the MSO’s
use of Twitter to respond
— tirelessly
— to customer complaints
and feedback
through the handle @comcastcares.

He’s now moving to Citibank to head social-
media efforts. It marks a return to the financial industry: Eliason previously worked
at Advanta and Vanguard.

“Thanks to the help of so many people
internally, and all the customers I’ve had
the chance to interact with, we have made
a difference,” Eliason wrote in a July 16 post
on the Comcast Voices blog (blog.comcast.com).

March