Amid changes at the top at Century Communications Corp.,
the MSO has a new local fire to put out in Southern California.
Century president Dan Gold quietly resigned as head of the
1.3 million-subscriber MSO at the end of June. He will not be replaced, but his duties
will be taken over by Bernard Gallagher, now Century's president and chief operating
Gallagher said he wanted to become "more directly
involved" with the cable division and to "streamline operations." Gold left
for "lifestyle" reasons, Gallagher said, and he will continue working for the
company as a consultant. Gold had been president of Century's cable division for four
years and an executive with the company for the past seven years.
Century is set to finalize a joint-venture partnership with
Tele-Communications Inc. in Southern California next week, Gallagher said. TCI will take a
25 percent interest in a cluster that combines 350,000 TCI subscribers with 420,000
Century customers around Los Angeles. Century will have a 75 percent stake in the venture,
and it will operate and manage the venture.
Richard Read, senior media and entertainment analyst for
Credit Lyonaise, said it was "clearly a time of great change" at Century. While
he added that AT&T Corp., which is buying TCI, was a "major improvement"
over TCI as a joint-venture partner, "we don't know what the relationship with
affiliates will be" as a result of the AT&T-TCI deal.
Gallagher noted that Century has "a long history"
with AT&T, resulting from Century's involvement in the wireless-telephone
business through its controlling ownership of Centennial Cellular Corp., which Century is
currently in the process of selling to Welsh Carson Anderson & Stowe for approximately
Meanwhile, the city of Ventura, Calif., will ask the
Federal Communications Commission to consider regulating rates other than basic cable
after Century hiked its basic and pay rates by as much as 453 percent to offset a
significant basic-rate rollback sought by the city.
City Council members are furious that Century raised the
price of its "Century Select" 12-channel programming tier by 374 percent, from
$4.09 per month to $15.29. The increase will affect 65 percent of the system's 16,000
subscribers. Century countered that the tier was underpriced for a long time.
Century also boosted rates on two six-channel tiers from
$2.62 per month to $9.79. Also, consumers were enticed to buy premium units a la carte
with a 45-cent price point, and those channels will now cost $2.49.
Century's move came after it acceded to city demands
to roll back basic rates this month by $6.43, as well as to rebate customers $7.86 per
month through June 1999.
"It's frustrating -- we took a big step forward
in getting them to recognize that basic is way out of line and to offer rebates,"
Ventura Mayor Jim Friedman said.
The basic lineup included broadcast stations, home shopping
services, The Odyssey Channel and E! Entertainment Television, and it cost about $25 per
City officials charged that Century's rate hikes are
just an attempt to offset the rate rollbacks.
According to FCC policy, the city can file an appeal with
just two consumer complaints on premium rates.
Century has requested that it be deregulated by the FCC,
citing effective competition.
Bill Rosendahl, senior vice president at Century, said the
company plans a "Cadillac" upgrade for the community, including cable modems and
"The future is bright in Ventura. We urge the mayor to
look at the big picture," he said.
Century agreed earlier this year to end a rate dispute with
the city of Los Angeles by providing $12 million in rate rollbacks and rebates to
Also last week, Century, ending a difficult chapter, agreed
to sell its Australian programming and system operations to United International Holdings
UIH Asia/Pacific Communications Inc. will pay Century $24.6
million -- mainly in UIH stock -- for its 25 percent stake in Australian pay TV programmer
XYZ Entertainment Pty. Ltd., which owns or distributes five channels. The acquisition
boosts UIH's stake in XYZ to 50 percent, with the remainder held by Foxtel, a joint
venture between News Corp. and Australian telco Telstra.
On the operations side, UIH Asia/Pacific's Austar
Entertainment Pty. Ltd. -- an MMDS (wireless cable) and direct-to-home operator -- will
buy Century's East Coast Television Pty. Ltd. MMDS system for $6.1 million in stock.