Cable Catchup

12:20 PM -- I'm back in the saddle after a two-week, somewhat Disney-filled hiatus. The cable world didn't stop revolving in my absence, so here's a roundup of items that made waves while I was lunching with Mickey and the gang:

Mediacom may go private
Mediacom Communications Corp. , following in the footsteps of RCN Corp. and Cox Communications Inc. , may go private after receiving a non-binding proposal from MSO founder, chairman and CEO Rocco Commisso for $6 per share in cash. Commisso already owns 40 percent of Mediacom's common stock, and 87 percent of the voting power. (See RCN Going Private Via $1.2B Sale .)

The $250 million deal is a 12.6 percent premium based on Mediacom's closing price on Friday, May 27. (At last check today, Mediacom shares were trading at $7.06 each.)

"Yet another public cable operator has decided that public valuations are (still) simply too low to resist," Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Inc. analyst Craig Moffett wrote of the proposal. Cablevision, by the way, made its third attempt to go private in 2007, but shareholders rejected it. (See Cablevision Shareholders Reject Dolan Bid.)

Time will tell if Mediacom's shareholders like this offer, but at least one analyst, BTIG Research's Richard Greenfield, thinks Commisso threw in a low ball, and will likely have to sweeten the offer. Greenfield's target price is currently $8 per share, "which is the lowest level we can fathom the independent board committee approving and public shareholders accepting," he noted, adding that Commisso himself suggested last August that the MSO was worth at least $9.75 per share.

ESPN/Microsoft accord is no cord-cutter's delight
ESPN on Monday sealed a deal to offer live events from its ESPN3.com site and clips and sports highlights on the Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) Xbox 360 console starting this November. (See ESPN Feeds Fare to the Xbox 360.)

Although the deal might look appealing to so-called cord-cutters at first glance, it's really not. Xbox LIVE Gold members can gain access, but only if they get their Internet connection from one of ESPN's "affiliated" service providers. MSOs and other service providers with ESPN3.com deals include Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), Cox Communications Inc. , Charter Communications Inc. , Windstream Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: WIN), RCN, Insight Communications Co. Inc. , Frontier Communications Corp. (NYSE: FTR), Cavalier Telephone Inc. , Mediacom, and Grande Communications , among others.

SDV's comeback in full swing?
As we suggested in February, switched digital video may indeed be on the comeback trail. At that time, the reason for optimism was based on Comcast's comments about the technology's future usefulness. This time, it's about actual deployments, with Charter tapping Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and Surewest going with BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND). (See Charter Uses Moto SDV and SureWest Picks BigBand.)

Charter pays the piper
Charter has reportedly agreed to pay $18 million to settle a class-action lawsuit claiming the MSO failed to pay field techs for overtime and other earned wages. The settlement covers field techs who worked for the MSO in parts of California, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, and Nebraska during specific time periods. The initial lawsuit covered 8,000 employees

Charter EVP and general counsel Greg Doody said the MSO settled in order to "remove the distraction and expense that comes with preparing a case like this for trial."

Muni complaint targets Cox
Lafayette Utilities System (LUS), a municipal fiber-to-the-home service provider that competes with Cox in Louisiana, is complaning that it's being blocked from joining the National Cable Television Cooperative Inc. (NCTC) , an organization that helps three service providers get volume price breaks on equipment and TV programming. LUS is blaming Cox, an NCTC member, for its denied membership, but the MSO is calling the suit "meritless," and contending that NCTC controls all decisions regarding membership.

This isn't the only time LUS and Cox have knocked heads. Last year, Cox questioned whether the muni should be allowed an integrated security set-top waiver for its IPTV service. (See Cox, Fiber Muni in Set-Top Scrape .)

Comcast video exec steps down
In a surprise move, Comcast SVP and GM of video and entertainment services has stepped down. No reason was given, but the MSO told Multichannel News that Harrar is looking at other opportunities at the MSO and outside Comcast.

Light Reading Cable caught up with Harrar at last month's cable show in Los Angeles to discuss Comcast's initial foray into stereoscopic 3DTV.

TWC mentions IPTV trial
Time Warner Cable regional president of network operations and engineering James Manchester confirmed at an industry event hosted by Multichannel News and Broadcasting & Cable that the MSO is preparing to introduce an IPTV trial later this year. He didn't spell out the details, but it's believed that the operator is going to try out Microsoft Mediaroom in its Los Angles market. (See TWC Taps Microsoft Mediaroom for IPTV Test .)

Other items of note:

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

iansltx 12/5/2012 | 4:32:14 PM
re: Cable Catchup

FYI, Suddenlink (no pun intended; their blog is http://suddenlinkfyi.com) has also launched 50 Mbps service in the Bryan/College Station area. Not as spectacular as 107/5, especially since upload speeds are capped at 2 Mbps, but it's worth mentioning since at this point Suddenlink is likely in the upper tier for the percentage of subscribers they cover with 50M or higher service.

The operator, at last check, had something like 70% of their footprint upgraded for DOCSIS 3.0 service; that isn't quite Comcast's percentage but Suddenlink got a later start and their cable plant tends to be lower-bandwidth and more rural due to the acquisitions they've made in the past. How low-bandwidth, you might ask? 625 MHz on some of their North Carolina systems, though the operator has 750 MHz and 860 MHz systems in other places.

That said, it looks like Suddenlink is trying to get their infrastructure to N+0 or close to it, so the number of subscribers per node will be low. They are also upgrading plant all over the place to support 1 GHz. Last but not least, they're handing out DTAs left and right and reclaiming analog spectrum. In markets where these upgrades are complete, they'll have a TON of bandwidth available to compete with anyone who dares challenge them. Well, except on the upload side...they should work on that.

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:32:13 PM
re: Cable Catchup

Good stuff; thanks for the direction. I will do some poking around there. JB

iansltx 12/5/2012 | 4:32:13 PM
re: Cable Catchup

Go to http://imagine.suddenlink.com and put in a zip code for Lubbock. TX. Included in the site literature are pictures of a Huawei DTA (the larger one, not the smaller one). DSLReports's Suddenlink forum also includes a post from a user who has a DTA. So they're definitely out there...and the DTAs are being deployed in addition to the 1GHz upgrades, so SL is scraping up spectrum as quickly as they can. The goal is apparently tons of DOCSIS channels, 200+ HD channels with low compression (2HD+1SD per QAM) and reliable digital voice service.

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:32:13 PM
re: Cable Catchup

625MHz isn't much to work with, making those systems all-digital candidates from the get-go, as you said.

Have you come across any Suddenlink DTAs in the wild?  Way back when (well, last year) there was a rumor that Suddenlink was going to buy some DTAs from Huawei.  Figure they still might start off with some Moto DTAs models, but would be interesting if we could find some evidence of the Huawei gear. JB



Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:32:09 PM
re: Cable Catchup

Suddenlink confirmed that the DTA shown in the Project Imagine literature  is indeed made by Huawei and that they're rolling DTAs in 20 markets... so a pretty significant start.  Mediacom says they're still evaluating Huawei's DTAs, so we'll keep our eyes peeled. Great tip. JB

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