Rutledge settles in at Charter
With two weeks under his belt as Charter's new CEO and president, Tom Rutledge faced the inevitable questions from analysts that sought to compare and contrast his current job with his former position at Cablevision.
Rutledge, who left Cablevision in December and then accepted the CEO position the same month with Charter, joked on yesterday's earnings call that he was "still learning how the elevator works" at Charter. Rutledge's near-term focus is on kick-starting Charter's analog-to-digital conversion project, and not on a RS-DVR deployment like the one he championed at Cablevision.
"Well, you know, all cable systems in the United States have similar architectures, and they're highly capable," he said. "Cablevision was successful in its approach in its time and place, and Charter has a different time and place. The network is as capable as any network in terms of what it can do. The question is, 'What do you do first, and how do you do it in the unique circumstances we're in today?' While I think RS-DVR is ultimately a strategy for enhancing the value of the network and moving intelligence into the network and reducing CPE, I'm not sure it's an immediate priority for Charter."
With the exception of the former Bresnan systems out West, Cablevision's New York metropolitan footprint is contiguous and can be served from one master headend. Charter's systems are served from two master headends and include rural areas, so don't expect RS-DVR anytime soon.
Charter has already reclaimed some bandwidth via switched digital video, but it's looking for more via an all-digital conversion. In the short term, Charter is focusing on all-digital lineups that will give bandwidth headroom so it can meet its goal of 100 HD offerings, as well as more on-demand and streaming choices.
"I think having a full digital product available to our customers is an immediate opportunity," Rutledge said. "How soon we go turn off all of the analog from a digital perspective I've yet to determine, but I think we can get to market very quickly with a complete and robust digital product."
Cablevision is also a fierce competitor with Verizon's FiOS service in the New York area, but Charter squares off with Verizon in just 4 percent of its network. AT&T's U-verse service is available in 30 percent of Charter's footprint, but Charter execs said on yesterday's call that lines of competition have been drawn as AT&T and Verizon have largely slowed down their overbuilds.
Rutledge said Charter also wants to take advantage of its superior data speeds and do a better job of competing with its video service. On the mergers and acquisitions front, Rutledge said there were plenty of opportunities to deliver superior products across its current footprint.
"I think Charter can be a very successful company at its current size," he said. "The thing that's great about Charter is that it has 12 million passings. It's got a huge runway in terms of opportunity, and it can be a much larger company without any kind of a change in potential marketplace.
"Now we have a greenfield marketplace opportunity, and when you think about how many unsold passings we have, there is a big opportunity."
Rutledge was also asked about the reseller agreement that Charter has in place with Dish Network, which pairs Dish's video service with Charter's data service.
"It's unusual, but successful, and so we'll look at that," Rutledge said. "I'm not sure I'd have come up with that on my own, but it is interesting and successful."