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Video services

Delinquents

Even for the fiscally responsible, it's not unusual to snooze on a bill payment once in a while. That happened recently with, of all things, my monthly cable bill.

When this occurred in years past, I just paid the next invoice that included both the past due and current charges. That wasn't an option this time, though. Last week, a representative from my cable provider called and left an "urgent message" about my account status. Intrigued, I rang the fellow back at his direct number and found myself speaking to a staff member in the collections department. This seemed a bit out of character for my local cable company.

While paying my bill via credit card over the phone, I asked the collections rep if late payments have become a more serious problem in the wake of the larger economic downturn.

"How bad is it for your group?" I asked.

"It's bad," he said.

"Has it been like this for some time, or just recently?" I inquired.

"It's been tough for a while, but you have no idea how bad things have gotten over the past two months. The stories I'm hearing now from people are heartbreaking."

U.S. unemployment data released later in the week showing the worst job losses in 22 years confirmed what the cable rep has been seeing in the trenches recently.

Since this period of increased delinquency falls entirely within the second quarter, historically a weak period for MSOs anyway, I couldn't help but wonder: are we on a trajectory to see some challenged second-quarter cable operator results? Time will tell in the coming weeks as MSOs begin to release their quarterly earnings.

— Michael Harris, Chief Analyst, Cable Digital News




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