The good news is that the cancer might kill you before the heart disease does. That's not an exact metaphor for the plight Frontier Communications (NASDAQ:FTR) faces, but it's not too far off.
A cable and broadband company that spent around $10 billion to double in size right around the time cord-cutting became a serious problem, the company has a number of fatal flaws. It's bleeding subscribers in cable -- which is happening industrywide -- but it's also losing broadband customers because it largely uses telephone-based, not cable-based technology, which has been losing popularity.
Frontier is a company that's trying to manage its decline and find a way to change course. That seems not entirely likely given its past few years of history and its current outlook.
From bad to worse? Worse to more worse?
Frontier has steadily lost customers since its April 2016 purchase of Verizon's wireline business in California, Texas, and Florida (CTF). The company has cut its expenses by more than $1 billion but has not been able to stop its losses.
In its most recent quarter, the company posted a net loss of $5.32 billion, primarily due to a goodwill impairment of $5.45 billion. It also dropped 71,000 broadband customers, lost 46,000 video subscribers, and lowered its outlook for the rest of the year. The company also agreed to sell its operations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana.
"We continue to strive to optimize our business by leveraging our best assets for future growth while managing the segments of our business in secular decline by executing on cost efficiency programs and selective capital investment," said CEO Dan McCarthy during the company's second-quarter earnings call. "Although we achieved second quarter Adjusted EBITDA of $882 million, we continue to be challenged by ongoing revenue declines, content cost escalations, higher labor costs, and other pressures across the business."
This is a slow death
A company cannot survive continually losing customers. Frontier has been slowly bleeding to death, and management has not been able to stop subscribers from leaving.
Cord-cutting has hit the entire cable industry, but some companies have offset those losses by adding broadband customers. Frontier has not been able to do that because it offers phone-based broadband, which consumers have been ditching in favor of cable-based services.
Frontier may be able to manage its death, but it's very unlikely the company can avoid the inevitable. The best-case scenario is that McCarthy sells off pieces of the company until there's nothing left.
This is a company that has a dire future. A year from now, it will either be much smaller or have fully sold off its assets. Frontier tried to get bigger as a way to lower costs per subscriber. It was able to achieve that but made the move at a time when consumer habits were undergoing a massive shift.
All cable companies are suffering -- at least on the pay-TV side of their business -- but phone-based providers are facing a double whammy. Frontier won't be able to pull out of its tailspin, and its future is really about doing the best job possible in gleaning value from its remaining assets (before they all leave as well).