After the Charter Communications Inc. shareholder meeting here last Wednesday, billionaire chairman and principal shareholder Paul Allen lingered a bit, and answered questions from national editor Steve Donohue.
MCN: Considering Charter is [interactive-TV vendor] Digeo [Inc.]'s only customer, are you concerned about the appearance that you're using Charter to fund a private investment?
Paul Allen: I've been funding Digeo, and we're in discussions with other MSOs about deploying Digeo services.
MCN: But its only revenue is coming from Charter, is that correct?
Allen: Well, the first deploying customer is Charter.
MCN: How soon do you think you may reach agreements with other MSOs to deploy Digeo?
Allen: I don't want to presage those agreements. I think it's a technology that has tremendous potential. The user interface, the applications, the robustness, and the HDTV capability are compelling.
MCN: In the long run, do you think it's more effective for cable operators to focus on rolling out high-end set-tops with software, rather than focusing on the installed base of low-end Motorola and Scientific-Atlanta set-tops?
Allen: I think traditionally, the cable industry is very pragmatic, so you're always going to see a mix of legacy boxes and maybe some [boxes] that are used for secondary applications, and something more powerful.
MCN: Would you ever consider taking Charter private?
Allen: I can't comment on that.
MCN: [Charter CEO] Carl Vogel and several other members of the leadership team are now operating out of both Denver and St. Louis. Any concern about that?
Allen: Well, our headquarters are St. Louis, and that's a question you should probably talk to Carl about.
MCN: Are you happy with the way the stock has rebounded in the last six months?
Allen: We had a tumultuous year. We had to work our way through a number of issues, and we've got a refinancing that we're going through right now, and we continue to be optimistic, and we're working hard to optimize the opportunities for the shareholders.
MCN: Is there any particular part of the business that you're more optimistic about, things like HDTV or high-speed data?
Allen: Obviously, data has been great not just for Charter, but for the whole industry. The uptake there has been great. I think we're probably starting to see platforms like the Digeo platform and HDTV and some of these things finally reach a point of maturity, where they can start getting deployed and have a real positive impact. So I think that's pretty darn exciting.
MCN: There are some Charter shareholders who would like to see you take a higher profile within the company and the cable industry. Would you ever consider doing that by attending more industry events like the CTAM conference that was in Seattle this week?
Allen: Unfortunately, I was out of town — I just missed CTAM. But I anticipate participating more in the future.