Set-top boxes

Altice USA Rolls Out Uber Set-Tops

As it prepares to go fully independent with a spinoff from its European parent next month, Altice USA is deploying its new home entertainment hubs en masse throughout the New York City metro area and has started to follow suit in the rest of its cable footprint as well.

Speaking on the company's first-quarter earnings call late Wednesday, Altice USA Chairman and CEO Dexter Goei said the large US cableco has now installed its much-ballyhooed Altice One uber box -- which combines the functions of a next-gen TV set-top, cable modem and wireless router -- in more than 100,000 customer homes in its Optimum (Cablevision) operating areas and will continue the New York rollout over the rest of the year. That follows a soft launch of the Altice One boxes on Long Island last fall. (See Altice Amps Up US Capex for FTTH, New Box.)

With the New York launch behind it, Altice USA is now focusing on extending the Altice One rollout to its Suddenlink territories across the rest of the nation. Starting with a soft launch of the boxes this spring, the company plans to deploy Altice One throughout the Suddenlink areas by the fall.

Goei said the Altice One boxes -- designed to offer seamless navigation across traditional video content, OTT video apps, whole-home WiFi and other services -- have been working out well so far, even with the usual kinks found with any new device. He noted that more than 80% of the company's new video subscribers are opting for the box despite the higher monthly price of service for taking it. "It's the best launch we've ever had of a new box," he said.

The debut of Altice One comes as Altice USA, the fourth largest MSO in the US with 4.9 million overall customers, managed to buck industry trends by trimming its video subscriber losses in the first quarter. The cableco shed about 31,000 subscribers in the first three months of the year, a slight improvement from 35,000 lost subs in the same period last year, reducing its pay-TV customer base to about 3.35 million. The Suddenlink areas did much better than last year while the Optimum did worse.

Altice USA officials blamed the higher video sub losses in the Optimum footprint on several factors -- their drawn-out carriage dispute with premium channel Starz and several severe snowstorms in the Northeast this winter. While the MSO settled the Starz dispute in February, Verizon took advantage of the weeks-long blackout of Starz programming by aggressively marketing its rival Fios TV service to lure away Altice USA customers.

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With the continuing pay-TV subscriber losses, both overall video revenue and video ARPU declined for Altice USA on a year-over-year basis. But increases in both broadband revenue and broadband ARPU more than offset those declines as the MSO continues to expand its broadband base. (We'll have more on Altice USA's broadband results in an upcoming story on our sister site, Broadband World news.)

While he took heart from the smaller video sub losses in the first quarter and the promising early results of Altice One, Goei cautiously said he doesn't necessarily expect to see fresh sub growth any time soon. He's just looking for sub losses to not accelerate further. "I'm not going to go out on a limb" and predict positive video sub growth, he said.

Altice USA's stock price, which has been falling along with its parent company's stock price over the past few months, shot up early Thursday morning before starting to settle down. At 11:10 a.m. EST today, the stock traded at $18.04, up 7.4%.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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