Charter Communications rattled by failure of Comcast-Time Warner deal, customer growth slows



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NEW YORK — Charter Communications' first-quarter loss deepened as its customer growth slowed and a major cable-industry deal imploded.

Charter was set to buy Bright House Networks LLC for $10 billion, but the acquisition was contingent on Comcast's proposed $45 billion buyout of Time Warner Cable Inc. Charter is renegotiating with Bright House to try to buy it, said CEO Tom Rutledge on a conference call with analysts.

The transaction that involved Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter dissolved because of federal regulators' antitrust concerns. Charter was in line to pick up millions of new subscribers that were to be shed by the new Comcast-Time Warner.

Cable companies have been merging as video customers increasingly gravitate to cheaper TV packages or ditch the cord entirely, relying on cheaper Internet video services like Netflix. Meanwhile, cable companies' costs for the TV, sports and movies they deliver to subscribers increase.

As competition grows, Charter said that it is weighing how to sell cheaper services to customers, and is considering bundling "direct-to-consumer" services like Netflix with its offerings.

"We can mix those products into products that we sell to satisfy the entire customer's video needs," Rutledge said.

Even so, Rutledge maintained that most customers did like the full traditional cable package.

"We believe that most consumers want fully-featured video products. Those fully-featured video products are at the heart of our video business today, and we believe they'll be at the core of our video business well into the future," he said.

Charter's residential customer base grew by 86,000, which was less than the 112,000 customers it counted during the same period last year.

Cable customers fell by 7,000, compared with a gain of 18,000 last year. Charter added 125,000 Internet customers, 8 percent fewer than the year before. Its phone customer additions were also smaller.

The cable company reported a loss of $81 million, or 73 cents per share, much worse than the per-share loss of 7 cents that Wall Street had been projecting, according to a survey by Zacks Investment Research. Last year it had a loss of $37 million.

Of the most recent quarter's loss, $86 million was from interest expense related to the dashed Comcast deal, and there was another $13 million in other expenses. Its costs for programming rose $60 million, or 10 percent.

Revenue rose 7.3 percent to $2.36 billion, edging above analyst expectations.

Shares of Charter Communications Inc., based in Stamford, Connecticut, dropped $1.69 to $185.37 in midday trading. Its shares have risen more than 35 percent over the past year.


Damian Troise contributed to this report.


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