Listen to (and share) episode 57 of our audio podcast Deadline Big Media With David Lieberman. Deadline’s executive business editor and host David Bloom talk about Time-Warner Cable, which says that its recent CBS blackout was surprisingly painful but worth every penny, even as retiring CEO Glenn Britt looks back on 41 years in the business. They also talk about Facebook, which is trying to relocate its mojo as young teens turn elsewhere and marketers get frustrated; DreamWorks Animation, which finally has reason to look animated as short sellers take a pounding; and Google, which announced a slew of new mobile and social media products that could have big impacts on the phone business.
“We are better off with CBS than we would have been if we had not had this fight,” Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt told analysts this morning about the contract dispute that resulted in a 32-day blackout of CBS stations and channels this summer. If that’s true, then CBS must have started off bargaining for a horrific deal because the final results were terrible for Time Warner Cable. COO Rob Marcus, who’ll succeed Britt at year end, said that subscription losses — some disclosed in this morning’s Q3 earnings report — “were much worse than we planned.” They included “elevated customer disconnects” and a 10% increase in the number of people dropping video from their double or triple play packages. The sub losses “bled over into [broadband] and voice.” And the showdown contributed to a spike in calls to TWC’s service centers. The fracas ended up slashing revenues by $15M and cash flow by $5M in Q3 — and will have a spillover effect on Q4. The damage was “much greater than expected,” says Credit Suisse’s Michael Senno. MoffettNathanson Research’s Craig Moffett was more blunt: “Every cable operator now goes to the table knowing that CBS not only won the war, but left TWC badly damaged even for having fought the fight. If you thought the scales were tipped in programmers’ favor before, now you know that it is worse than you imagined.”
Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt’s popularly seen as a cerebral numbers guy. But he showed his heart as well this morning in his company’s Q3 earnings call with analysts. It’s his last, as he plans to retire at year end, turning the top job over to COO Rob Marcus. Britt also disclosed this week that he has cancer. He used the opportunity today to say farewell to the investment community and reflect on some lessons he has learned in his 41 years in the cable business. He covered a lot of ground; I’ve posted his entire remarks below. He says that he was attracted to cable after graduating from business school in 1972 because “I thought it represented a new industry with new technology that had a chance to challenge old incumbent ways and transform the media and communications industries by adding to entertainment choices and the diversity of voices in the public policy debates that are so important to our form of government.” Although “the odds of pulling it off were slim” he says that he was ”young and like many others took a chance.” And “by any measure, this industry has fulfilled those dreams.” Several of Wall Street’s toughest analysts were clearly choked up as they pressed on with their questions about TWC’s income statement, and strategy. I was too, having covered Britt since Time and Warner were separate companies. Whatever you think about the company or cable — they’re controversial, I know — Britt is the industry’s statesman. He’s a straight-shooter who loves what he does, stands up for his beliefs, feels a sense of public mission, and never seemed bothered by tough questions. I wish him well.
Here are Britt’s reflections:
The Time Warner Cable chief confirmed the long-standing rumor that, after 12 years running the No. 2 cable operator, he’ll split at year-end when his contract expires. …
Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt, cable’s Jeremiah when it comes to the industry’s rising prices, appeared more worried than ever today — and still out of step with his colleagues — when he discussed the issue with Wall Street analysts at the annual Cable Show taking place this week in DC. “People are starting to pay attention to the fact that the multichannel TV package, the big package which is in 90% of the homes, is starting to get too expensive for lower-income people,” he said. Broadcast networks, sports channels and others who have stepped up their demands for higher rates shouldn’t become cavalier just because “nothing is going to happen” with Sen. John McCain’s bill to promote a la carte pricing. (Britt added, “And he doesn’t think so either, by the way.”) The bill is “just the beginning of it. It would behoove the whole industry including the content companies who are all crowing about their pricing power to pay attention because it will come to some end that we may not like if we all keep behaving the way we are.” It was hard to find others at the industry love fest who’d publicly agree.
The Wall Street Journal says today that the No. 2 cable operator’s CEO will leave at year end, and Time Warner Cable doesn’t come close to trying to deny it. “Glenn is under contract and if and when he decides to step down, we’ll have an announcement,” the company says. Britt’s current contract, amended in 2011, expires at the end of the year according to Time Warner Cable’s most recent proxy statement. Britt’s compensation for 2011 came to $16.4M. That was about twice as much as the package for the second highest paid exec, COO Rob Marcus, who likely would replace Britt. The leak, attributed to “a person familiar with the matter,” comes just a day after Time Warner Cable disappointed investors with its higher-than-expected loss of video customers and uninspiring financial guidance for the rest of the year. Shares fell 11.6% yesterday.
Time Warner Cable‘s Glenn Britt took a tougher stance on this subject than I’ve heard in a while in his presentation this morning at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York. “We’re going to take a hard look at each service and those services that cost too much relative to the viewership, we’re going to drop them,” he says. He adds that “if you have a network that has hashmark ratings and isn’t going anywhere, we’re going to have a different conversation” in 2013 than before. The problem, he says, is that many cable network owners “almost feel like it’s a birthright” for their channels to be included in the basic pay TV bundle. When the channels don’t perform, owners say “next year I’ll work harder and spend more money on programming and it’ll be good.” But Time Warner Cable, along with other pay TV distributors, can no longer pass those costs along to subscribers. With the economy “bouncing along the bottom,” Britt says, “the consumer is telling us that we can’t afford these prices anymore.” His company has been squeezed: Since 2008 his programming costs have risen 30% while his video prices have gone up 15%, exceeding the 10% rise in the Consumer Price Index. Network owners have an interest in maintaining the current system of bundling channels because “the entertainment business is one of the riskiest businesses on the planet.” If consumers were allowed to just pay for the channels they want, television’s business model would look “a lot more like Broadway theaters.”
Broadcasters received moral support this morning from cable in the looming battle against the new Auto Hop feature on Dish Network‘s Hopper DVRs, which enables the machines to automatically recognize and skip over ads on …
Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt may be the most prominent media exec making this important point: ”Our whole (entertainment) ecosystem should try to create affordability,” he told investors today at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference. “A lot of the people who are living paycheck to paycheck want our product, but simply can’t afford it. Many entertainment executives are in denial about this, but it’s happening.” Big Media ignores that fact at its peril: The vast majority of the industry’s profits come from cable networks — but the chief of the No. 2 cable company says that the pay TV business “is fundamentally not growing.” Programmers and networks have ignored that: “What they’re trying to do is grow by raising prices” on companies like Time Warner Cable, Britt says. That may work for a while, but “it clearly is not sustainable.” One of his strategies to deal with that is offering TV Essentials — a low-cost package of channels that doesn’t include costly sports services led by ESPN as well as popular networks such as TNT, Comedy Central, Fox News and MSNBC. “We’re clearly moving away from one size fits all,” Britt says.