Time Warner Cable Posts Record Subscriber Year

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By Tim McElgunn

Jan. 4— Buoyed by subscriber growth, Time Warner Cable, Inc., in an unusual move, released a summary of its full-year 2015 operating results on Jan. 4 — weeks ahead of its scheduled fourth-quarter and full-year earnings release and investors' call.

“Ordinarily, we wouldn't announce subscriber results until our earnings release but, given our results, I couldn't wait to thank the team for its outstanding performance,” TWC Chairman and CEO Rob Marcus said in a press release.

The nation's second-largest cable operator added a total of 618,000 customer relationships in 2015. The figure includes subscribers who purchase at least one of the company's video, high-speed data and voice services.

Investments Paying Off

While TWC did not detail its 2015 growth drivers, it's likely that network upgrades and investment in customer service employees and infrastructure helped to attract additional data subscribers and reverse a decade-long pattern of video losses.

The company said that high-speed data subscriptions increased by approximately 1 million. The cable industry has had success in capturing new data subscribers—and winning back those who have defected to telephone companies—due largely to superior data speeds.

The Federal Communications Commission, in a report issued Dec. 30, found that cable services typically were fastest for downloading, thanks to the deployment of DOCSIS 3.0-compliant infrastructure. Most cable companies now offer download speeds topping 100 megabits per second (Mbps)—five times the rate available just a few years ago. Time Warner Cable's “TWC Maxx” upgrade initiative increased top speeds to 300 Mbps in some of its largest markets during 2015.

First Annual Video Growth in a Decade

TWC said it achieved 2015 video subscriber growth for the first time in nine years, adding 32,000 video subscribers over the year. In reality, TWC has not added video subscribers organically in 10 years. The company added more than 2 million video subscribers in 2006 when it acquired Insight Communications. Based on performance in the first nine months of the year, the majority of those subscriptions were as part of bundles.

The company also said that it added more than 1 million voice subscribers. That marks the first time since 2007 that TWC has exceeded 1 million voice additions. In discussing its third-quarter 2015 results, TWC executives pointed to bundled promotions as drivers for voice growth. Most U.S. cable operators are pricing voice services at close to zero when included in bundles, encouraging customers to subscribe to telephone service in order to get the best price for video and data.

“TWC's stellar 2015 residential subscriber growth is a testament to the efforts of our entire team,” Marcus said in a statement. “We're especially pleased that we were able to add residential video customers for the first time in nine years—a real milestone for our company and the industry.”

Waiting to Hear on Merger

The company's strong performance comes as it awaits regulatory approval for Charter Communications, Inc.’s acquisition offer, and it isn't clear whether the record TWC numbers will improve the chances of that deal obtaining approval. Opponents note that many of the public-interest benefits listed by Charter in its filings with the FCC and other regulatory agencies point to promised broadband speed increases as a primary benefit of the deal, and TWC's results may indicate that those benefits can be achieved without a merger that decreases the number of competitors in the market.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tim McElgunn in Cherry Hill, NJ at tmcelgunn@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com