Despite being somewhat in limbo as it waits for the Federal Communications Commission to rule on its proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable (NYSE:TWC) and Bright House Networks, Charter Communications (NASDAQ:CHTR) outperformed expectations in its third quarter.
The consensus among analysts was for the company to report earnings per share of $0.39, while the actual number came in at $0.48. The company also grew third-quarter revenues over the prior-year period by 7.2% to $2.5 billion driven by residential revenue growth of 7.3% and commercial revenue growth of 13.2%, according to its earnings release.
These strong numbers were in part made possible by subscriber growth. This included 131,000 new Internet customers, up from 94,000 in the same period last year, and the surprising addition of 12,000 new video customers, improving on a loss of 9,000 subscribers in the same period of 2014.
Company executives discussed the results and its plans going forward in a call with analysts following delivering its earnings report.
Here's how the company sees itself
In an industry consistently rated at the bottom of the American Consumer Satisfaction Index ratings, Charter ranks third from the bottom as an Internet service provider, and sixth from the bottom in pay television. That's somewhat surprising, because unlike its potential acquisition, Time Warner Cable (last in pay TV), the company has avoided major scandals.
And, while TWC has recently issued a customer-service mea culpa with a pledge to improve things, Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge expressed little concern during the earnings call:
Our core strategy to deliver superior products at highly competitive prices combined with outstanding service continues to drive Charter's firm operating and financial momentum. That momentum continues to improve as we use our high-capacity infrastructure to grow each of our product lines. Looking forward, we intend to apply that same customer focus operating strategy on Time Warner Cable and Bright House assets as soon as we close our transactions.
While the FCC used to rubber-stamp major deals like Charter's purchase of TWC and Bright House, that hasn't been the case under the current administration. Despite that Rutledge seems confident that an approval is forthcoming:
We've already received approval or authorization from most states. Most have obtained approvals approaching the threshold closing conditions for franchise authorities proving transactions. And we've raised nearly all the acquisition financing, and we will be operationally ready to close and we would like to close by year-end. But realistically, we think we're looking at a first quarter close.
The CEO did not raise the possibility that the deal could be denied, or that the FCC could impose heavy conditions. He did, however, lay out what "New Charter's" leadership team would look like. It would include TWC's Phil Meeks as president of its Business Enterprise Services Group and David Kline, formerly of Visible World, joining the company as president of Media Sales, overseeing all aspects of its advertising business.
Cable is still holding its own
Charter clearly sees that industry trends suggest that growing or even maintaining its cable customer base will be a challenge, but so far, it's holding its own. In response to a question, Rutledge acknowledged the pressure on delivering video growth but said his company has done a good job fighting the tide: "In terms of what we're actually selling in the marketplace, we have a very rich video package that includes a two-way interactive platform on every outlet. And the vast majority of our customers, 97%, are taking a complete full basic – expanded basic product, and we're packaging that with high-speed data and with voice in a compelling price point."
Rutledge explained that it was a question of creating value, "because income growth is down for the vast majority of the population. The population is poor essentially." He said that Charter was succeeding in video by offering cost-effective bundles that appeal to cost-conscious consumers.
Although Rutledge is not correct in stating that income growth is down for the vast majority of Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the relatively recent recession has probably made people more conservative. In addition, the ability to cut the cord and save money probably contributes to a need for cost-effective cable/Internet bundles, which Charter has delivered.
Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned. He is not looking forward to the upcoming onslaught of holiday music. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.