Charter Shocks the World With Revelation of X1 Licensing Talks

The possibility of Charter ditching Spectrum Guide and WorldBox is probably a pipe dream, but the fact that the discussion even came up provided some of the biggest news of Q1 earnings season
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Perhaps the most surprising comment during an active week of first-quarter earnings reports came from Charter Communications Chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge, who revealed that his cable company has had discussions—seemingly recent—about licensing X1 from Comcast.

“We've had discussions with [Comcast] about licensing their X1 platform and their new IP video platform," Rutledge said during Charter’s Q1 earnings call, responding to the very last investment analyst question. "And if we can make that the best platform for us, we'd certainly be willing to do that, and we think they'd be a great provider."

Related: Charter’s Rutledge: 'We’ve Had Discussions' With Comcast About Licensing X1

Comcast, of course, licenses its X1 advanced video delivery platform to the No. 3 cable company in the U.S., Cox Communications, as well as all three major cable operators in Canada, Rogers Communications, Shaw Communications and Videotron.

But Charter is years and hundreds of millions of dollars down the line, developing and deploying its own Spectrum Guide cloud-based video system. This initiative not only includes the $135 million joint purchase of the key technology vendor for that platform’s UI, ActiveVideo, but also development of the WorldBox QAM/IP hybrid set-top platform, jointly cooked with Cisco.

So recent were these talks?

Rutledge’s mention of an “IP video platform” seems to be a reference to Comcast’s just announced Xfinity Flex service, which provides some indicator.

Speaking to numerous unnamed sources, Light Reading reported that members of Charter’s video team had visited Comcast’s home town of Philadelphia within the last several weeks.

Would Charter actually consider switching to X1 syndication?

According to Light Reading, these talks between Comcast and Charter have gone on for years.

It doesn’t appear as though X1 has a marked churn-reducing advantage over Spectrum Guide, with Comcast shedding 371,000 video customers in 2018 vs. Charter’s 244,000.

And Rutledge seemed to stop the speculation right where it started, noting, “We like having our own UI, and we like having the ability to change that UI at the pace we want to change it and have it reflect our marketing strategy.

“If we could check all the boxes in terms of flexibility and low cost, we could be a vendor of Comcast and their platform,” he added. “But to date, we haven’t been able to do that.”

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