The month-long distribution fight with CBS took its toll on Time Warner Cable.
The cable giant said it lost 306,000 video subscribers in the third quarter and attributed most of the defections to its nasty battle with CBS which led to a blackout on Time Warner Cable of the broadcast network as well as pay channel Showtime. The cable company also lowered its revenue projections for the year because of the subscriber losses.
Time Warner Cable said it lost 24,000 high-speed data subscribers and 128,000 voice customers.
For the quarter, Time Warner Cable said profit fell 34% to $532 million. Revenue increased 2.9% to $5.5 billion, but that was below analysts expectation. The gains were due to improved results in its business services division.
“The CBS dispute apparently took a much larger toll than anyone would have imagined,” said media analyst Craig Moffett, who called the results “horrible.”
“Not surprisingly we saw some customer relationship disconnect,” Time Warner Cable Chief Operating Officer Rob Marcus told analysts on a conference to discuss its third quarter results. The skirmishes also overwhelmed Time Warner Cable’s phone centers, which made it difficult for the company to respond promptly to routine sales and technical calls.
“The machine was clearly impacted by the disputes,” said Marcus.
Despite the subscriber losses, Time Warner Cable Chairman and Chief Executive Glenn Britt said the blackout was worth it in the long run for the company.
“We do think we are better off with CBS than we would have been if we had not had this fight,” Britt said.
But Moffett had a different perspective and warned that the pay-TV industry in general has lost leverage to programmers.
“Every cable operator now goes to the table knowing that CBS not only won the war, but left TWC badly damaged even for having fought the fight,” he wrote. “If you thought the scales were tipped in programmers’ favor before, now you know that it is worse than you imagined.”
Britt, who is retiring at the end of the year, also used the analyst call to address his views on consolidation. Time Warner Cable has been resisting overtures from Charter Communications about a potential merger.
Although Britt did not name Charter, he said his perspective on mergers has been shaped by the combination of Time Inc. and Warner Communications and the merger of AOL and Time Warner.
“Both deals were very lopsided and favored one side of shareholders, Britt said, implying that a Charter combination may not be beneficial to Time Warner Cable shareholders.
“I’m focused on making money for you, not on some fuzzy notion of industry consolidation,” Britt said.
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.