Charter Can’t Stem Sub Losses


Charter Communications Inc. reported mixed results in the fourth quarter, with cash-flow growth coming in stronger than expected but much heavier basic-subscriber losses.

Cash-flow growth in the period was 11% to $512 million on a revenue gain of 9%. But the St. Louis-based MSO continued to bleed basic subscribers, shedding 83,100 during the period. That pushed total basic-subscriber losses to 209,000 for the full year. Most analysts had expected that number to be about 50,000 for the quarter.

Charter also lost about 14,000 digital subscribers, but the operator gained 65,000 high-speed-data customers during the period.

In a conference call with analysts to discuss fourth-quarter results, interim CEO Robert May said the subscriber losses were unacceptable, but the company had plans in place to reverse that trend.

On the call, May said his top priority was to improve customer service, and the company has begun a new service initiative called “Focus on Excellence,” aimed at helping Charter to gain new customers and to retain them once it gets them.

Charter also said it will focus more on high-end, high-margin and low-churn customers, mainly by offering several different bundles of advanced products.

May -- who joined Charter in January after the resignation of CEO Carl Vogel -- said he expects to fill the vacant chief financial officer position by the end of March and to hire a new chief operating officer in April. Charter is currently seeking a permanent CEO, and the MSO has hired an executive-search firm.

Derek Chang, who had been serving as Charter’s interim CFO, announced that he would resign effective April 15.

May wouldn’t speculate on whether he would seek the permanent CEO job, but he didn’t rule it out either. “I’m focused on working on the issues currently at hand,” May said. “Later on down the road, I will examine that question.”