November 29, 2012
12 Biggest Cable Stories of 2012
By Amy Maclean
The end of the year is fast approaching, bringing with it an assortment of lists on everything from top songs to biggest political missteps. CableFAX throws its hat in the ring with a subjective take on the top 12 stories in cable for 2012. From programming disputes to deals, the year offered a little bit of everything.
What did we leave off? DISH’s Auto-Hopper? Aereo’s launch? Time Warner Cable and Cablevision finally getting NFL Net? Make your case in the comments below.
- DirecTV-Viacom Dispute: It was once thought that no distributor would have the chutzpah to drop Viacom, with Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central in its stable. But ratings declines have made the programmer more vulnerable, and DirecTV did the unthinkable in July, with Viacom channels dark for 10 days. In the end, prevailing sentiment is that DirecTV probably made out a little better in the deal because it drew in a line in the sand. It certainly gave other distributors and programmers something to think about.
- The Olympics: Not only did the Summer Games go gangbusters for NBCU, but they were a watershed moment for TV Everywhere. US pay TV subs engaged in more than 88mln authenticated streams during the London Olympics. Now that viewers have sampled TVE, the industry is attempting to build on that momentum and keep them using it.
- Regulators OK Cable-Verizon Wireless Deal: In Aug, the FCC and Justice Dept signed off on Verizon Wireless’ spectrum deal with Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox and Bright House Networks. Yes, it was conditioned, but none of the provisions are seen as inhibitors for cable marketing its products with Verizon or proceeding with the innovations under their R&D technology joint venture. It’s still too early to know what all will come out of this, but cable (and Wall Street) expectations are high.
- Time Warner Cable SportsNet: Time Warner Cable cut out the middleman when it came to Lakers TV rights. And it didn’t take it too terribly long to get deals done with distributor brethren. All eyes are on whether TWC and other MVPDs make this a habit.
- Sandy: One of the biggest stories of the year, period. The storm that battered the East Coast hit Cablevision particularly hard, with the impact expected to be substantially larger than the $16mln hit CVC took from Irene in 2011. But the story is deeper than that, with programmers and operators coming to the assistance of those in need. Benefits have raised millions (and continue to do so), companies have donated more and then there are the personal stories from employees. There will be time for cable to tell its Sandy story with the FCC planning field hearings on the communications response early next year.
- AMC-Voom-DISH: A legal spat that began in 2008 was finally resolved, with DISH paying out $700mln in cash to settle the breach of contract case. But not before we all got the excitement of a few days of trial. The settlement also saw AMC, IFC, WE, Sundance and Fuse return to DISH after the provider dropped them in July.
- Nice Multiples: 2012 saw a host of cable deals at attractive multiples: Suddenlink’s reported 9x EBITDA debt deal with Canadian Pension Pan Investment Board, BC partners and some of sr management; the 8.3x EBITDA valuation for Cogeco’s purchase of Atlantic Broadband; and an 8x multiple for WaveDivision from Oak Hill Capital and GI Partners. Given those kind of numbers, was anyone really that shocked by Cablevision’s announcement that it is exploring a potential sale of the former Bresnan systems following unsolicited interest from “a number” of parties.
- AT&T U-Verse Expansion: Just when you thought the telcos were slowing down for good on the fiber video front, AT&T announced a 3-year, $14bln capital investment that would give U-Verse the potential to reach 33mln homes. That’s more competition for cable, but industry execs will tell you that competition has remained constant even before this announcement. Even the DSL dinosaur is showing promise to become a real rival with faster speeds through new technologies. Buckle up.
- Kiddie Wars: March marked the first time Disney ever inched ahead of kid ratings king Nickelodeon in total viewers and kids 2-11 in total day. And once it had dethroned its competitor once, it did it again. For the summer, Disney ranked as the #1 cable TV network in total day in total viewers and across all TV in kids 2-11 for the first time in the network’s history, closing out on a 12-week win streak. What was once a given Nick win has turned into a horse race, and we can all use a little excitement now and then. Nick regained some momentum following the launch of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” but neither net has really broken away.
- CableLabs CEO: First cable nabs Michael Powell as the head of NCTA, then it convinces former Hewlett-Packard Personal Systems Group CTO Phil McKinney to join CableLabs as pres/CEO. His hiring is a perfect fit as the industry tries to get more street cred in Silicon Valley. Well known in tech circles, (he produces the Killer Questions podcast and also wrote the book “Beyond the Obvious”), McKinney is all about making cable the innovation platform of choice. And by mid-2013, CableLabs expects to open a new testing and certification facility right there in Silicon Valley. Plus, there’s this little thing called DOCSIS 3.1 coming around the corner that should deliver data speeds of 10Gbps or more.
- The Election: Number 11? Is this a joke? Nope. While there will be some changes, particularly at regulatory agencies, there was no big shake-ups. Not only does the White House stay the same, but so does the chairmanships of House and Senate Commerce. Still, cable benefited quite handsomely from the political ads, with it expected to bank about $600mln.
- TBD: December 31 isn’t here yet, and we all know that date is famous for more than a giant ball dropping in Times Square. In the industry, the date is known for cable nets and broadcast stations dropping off MVPDs’ lineups just after the stroke of midnight. Too early to say who might be squabbling this New Year’s Eve, but chances are there will be more than a few execs who will miss out on the revelry and champagne.