Charter CEO Chris Winfrey acknowledged the company’s Disney carriage fight contributed to a loss of 320,000 video customers during the third quarter, but said the deal that resulted from the dispute represents “a significant step forward for the video ecosystem.”
Speaking during the company’s third-quarter earnings call, Winfrey said the agreement showcased “a new hybrid distribution model that is good for consumers.” The companies agreed to terms on September 11, ending a 10-day span when ESPN, ABC stations and other networks went dark across Charter’s Spectrum systems at the start of college football season. The new pact “better aligns video content and DTC apps, which will be included for free in our video packages,” the exec added. “We created a glide path to bridge from linear video to new growth.”
CFO Jessica Fischer Charter said the company estimated that the Disney fight was directly responsible for 100,000 video customers and 15,000 internet customers disconnecting their service during the quarter.
Charter shares slid 8% in pre-market trading and then turned even more negative midway through the regular session, but the slide wasn’t a verdict on the Disney situation. It appeared that most of the investor uneasiness stemmed from lower-than-expected free cash flow caused broadband and wireless infrastructure spending. The company also had slower growth in broadband than it had in the year-earlier period, adding 63,000 customers compared with 75,000 in the prior-year period. The third-quarter increase fell short of analysts’ consensus estimates.
Without the impact of the Disney battle, the decline in residential video customers would have been in line with the drop of 211,000 in the third quarter of 2022. The company said it ended the quarter at 13.8 million customers. Video revenue fell almost 9% to $4 billion.
Total revenue was flat at $13.6 billion and diluted earnings per share rose to $8.25 from $7.38 a year ago. Those top- and bottom-line results exceeded Wall Street expectations, but as in the case of broadband rival Comcast, which topped quarterly estimates on Thursday, the market was unpersuaded by the beat. Deadline