Cable capex still peaking with major network investments

by Daniel Frankel | 

fter major network infrastructure investments in technologies like DOCSIS 3.1, as well as a series of ambitious postmerger integrations, cable operator capital expenditures are still peaking. However, capex is set to decline over the next five years.

According to New Street Research, capex as a percentage of revenue will drop from a current level of 15% in the cable industry to around 10% over that five-year span. Meanwhile, capex per home passed will fall from $140 to $120.

Top U.S. operator Comcast, which is in the closing phases of its DOCSIS 3.1 network upgrade, as well as the national rollouts of its X1 video platform and advanced gateways, is already on the downslope. According to MoffettNathanson, the operator had capex of $9.404 billion in 2017, while also factoring intangibles such as software expenses. In 2018, the research company forecasts Comcast capex to decline 2.4% to $9.177 billion.


“For 2018, spending on customer premise equipment is expected to continue to decline. With X1 now deployed to nearly 60% of our residential video base, the pace of our rollout has started to slow,” noted Comcast CFO Michael Cavanaugh during Comcast’s fourth-quarter earnings call in January.

Conversely, at Altice USA, which is still early in an ambitious five-year plan to upgrade its entire Northeastern Optimum footprint to FTTH, capex is still trending upward. After incurring capex of $991 million in 2017, MoffettNathanson expects Altice to increase spending to $1.352 billion in 2018.

Indeed, while long-term projections point to cable industry capex trending downwward, the near term is a bit nuanced for the time being, with each large operator telling a different story.

Here’s a snapshot of publicly traded operators:


According to capex data provided directly by Comcast, which doesn’t include the “intangibles” added by MoffettNathanson, as well as NBCU capex, Comcast capex related just to cable operations increased from $7.596 billion in 2016 to $7.952 billion in 2017. Capex as a percentage of revenue, however, fell from 15.2% to 15.1% over that span.

Despite analyst projections of a narrow capex decline, Cavanaugh said during January’s fourth-quarter earnings call that “Our spending on our network will continue to increase. As a result, we expect cable capital expenditures overall to increase in 2018, although we believe our capital intensity could be favorable relative to 2017 by as much as 50 basis points.”

Here's the capex chart that Comcast included in its fourth-quarter earnings report:

Charter Communications

During Charter’s fourth-quarter earnings call in early February, CFO Christopher Winfrey said the company's 2018 capex "should be driven by many of the same factors as last year, including customer growth, Spectrum migration, all-digital, and in-sourcing and integration." He did say, however, that capital intensity would decline.

Charter reported capex of $8.681 billion for 2017, with MoffettNathanson predicting a rise to $8.822 billion in 2018.

“Next year, 2019 that is, should deliver a meaningful decline in capital intensity and dollars,” Winfrey added, with Charter finishing up its all-digital push, as well as its integrations of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks operations. The deployments of Charter’s Spectrum Guide video system and DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades will also be wrapping up.

"And even with video unit growth, the dollars of video CPE should also dramatically drop with a fully deployed base of modern two-way set-top boxes with the DOCSIS modem inside,” Winfrey added.

Here’s the capex chart Charter included with its fourth-quarter report:

Altice USA

Altice USA reported a 3.6% bump in capex last year to $991 million, as the company began its ambitious FTTH project in the Northeast, as well as the rollout of its new Altice One CPE package.

MoffettNathanson predicts a capex spike to $1.352 billion for Altice USA in 2018, while Morgan Stanley analyst Ben Swinburne forecasts a $3 billion rise in spending over the next five to six years as the cable operator completes its fiber rollout.

Also factoring into Altice’s capex growth: the deployment of a wireless service based on an MVNO agreement with Sprint made last year.

Here’s the capex chart Altice included with its fourth-quarter report last week:

Cable One

Other operators of greater size might look more symmetrical when placed on a capex analysis alongside much bigger cable companies like Comcast, Charter and Altice. Cox Communications and Mediacom come to mind, but they are both privately held.

WideOpenWest, meanwhile, is bigger than Cable One, but it didn’t report earnings until Thursday.

So that leaves Phoenix, Arizona-based Cable One to deliver a snapshot of the medium-sized cable operator spectrum. Cable One has familiar expenses: It’s still integrating 2017 acquisition New Wave Communications into its fold; and it’s still rolling out its DOCSIS 3.0-powered gigabit-speed product across its footprint.

MoffettNathanson predicts Cable One capex to rise from $179 million in 2017 to $193 million next year.


Comcast Outbids Fox for Sky

By Amy Maclean | February 27, 2018

Comcast has made a $31bln offer for Europe’s satellite operator Sky, 16% more than what 21st Century Fox has offered for the 61% of the company it doesn’t own.

If successful, it would be Comcast’s first entry into the European distribution market. It already has a strong presence in the UK on the programming side. The company projects the deal would increase Comcast international revenue from 9% to 25%.

“We think Sky is an outstanding company. It has 23 million customers and leading positions in the UK, Italy, and Germany. Sky has been a consistent innovator in its use of technology to deliver a fantastic viewing experience and has a proud record of investment in news and programming. It has great people and a very strong and capable management team,” Comcast CEO Brian Robert said in a statement.

The deal will nearly double Comcast’s direct-to-consumer relationships, jumping from 29 million to 52 million. If the deal were to happen, Comcast would also gain a multi-national OTT presence with Now TV, which just launched a new streaming stick for the contract-free service.

MoffettNathanson said the bad outweighs the good for Comcast shareholders because Sky is primarily a satellite company. “Comcast will have to twist themselves into knots to explain why satellite distribution won’t be just as obsolete in Europe as it already is in the US. Notably, the word ‘satellite; never even appears in the investor presentation that accompanies this morning’s conference call, almost as if they are hoping no one notices,” said a research note.

On the good side though, analyst Craig Moffett wrote that the deal will boost distribution of NBCU in Europe and the nature of the all-cash transaction would boost Comcast’s leverage to 3.0x EBITDA pro forma.

Now all eyes turn to Rupert Murdoch to see where this battle for Sky goes.

ATS Sponsors Local Little League Baseball Team

Advanced Technical Services is proud to announce their Tier 2 team sponsorship for the Crystal Lake Little League Baseball. Owner, David Vikartofsky, truly believes in the teamwork and sportsmanship that little league helps develop in its young players and was overjoyed with the opportunity to assist by becoming a tier 2 team sponsor in the Crystal Lake league.

If you or anyone you know would also like to donate to the wonderful cause the website is below.

Comcast files emergency motion to expedite TiVo verdict appeal

by Daniel Frankel | 

Comcast has reportedly filed an emergency petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals, seeking to move up its hearing as it continues to battle TiVo over patent licensing.

The filing, which was first reported by CableFax, asks to move the hearing up to this summer. Without the request, the earliest the court might hear the case is the fall.

Comcast is appealing a November ruling by the International Trade Commission which halted imports of X1 set-top boxes with two technologies the ITC ruled violated TiVo patents.

Comcast responded by disabling remote recording features associated with the two TiVo technologies, then filing an appeal in federal court.

TiVo filed federal lawsuits in California and Massachusetts, alleging infringement on not only the patents it received favorable rulings from the ITC on, but also eight additional patents that the Commission ruled weren’t being infringed upon by Comcast. These lawsuits seek monetary compensation, while the ITC complaint seeks to control Comcast’s ability to import its devices into the U.S.

Comcast is arguing in its appeal that the ITC has overstepped its authority by prohibiting the cable company from importing its set-tops.

Comcast asserts that the patents are decreasingly relevant during an era in which its developing most of its own technologies.

For its part, TiVo was formed two years ago when Rovi Corp. bought set-top box maker TiVo for $1.1 billion. Rovi makes most of its income on technology licensing.

Toyota isn’t sweating North America slump

February 12, 2018 @ 12:01 am

Just how serious are Toyota's problems in North America?

Big enough to undercut the parent company's latest quarterly results, but not enough to dim the outlook for the fiscal year or to make Toyota an outlier among its competitors.

Traditionally Toyota Motor Corp.'s cash cow, the North American arm saw its operating profit plunge by more than half to ¥33.1 billion ($293.8 million) in the fiscal third quarter ended Dec. 31, thanks to falling sales, rising incentives and slower production. Regional wholesale volume in North America shrank 1.3 percent to 735,000 vehicles.

Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., which includes Lexus, struggled with a flood of vehicles coming off lease and the continuing migration of consumers from cars to crossovers, SUVs and pickups, a fast-moving trend that has Toyota scrambling to keep pace.

It took a $2.59 billion windfall from the new U.S. tax law to make the overall results look respectable: Thanks to the tax break, Toyota's net income for the quarter nearly doubled to $8.36 billion.

The tax change was a one-time gain, Executive Vice President Koji Kobayashi said last week. But the advantages will continue to accrue.

"The lower corporate tax and also the immediate depreciation of company investments as well as the tax credit on research and development expenses will continue in and after next year as well," Kobayashi said. "We intend to leverage those benefits."

The launch of automated vehicle functions is transforming the way in which cars are designed and marketed and coincides with the introduction of electric drivetrains. Together, these technological step-changes will alter vehicle architectures in ways that will change the way people can use interiors.

Toyota lifted its outlook, predicting record net income of $21.3 billion in the fiscal year ending March 31.

As for Toyota's unfavorable car-truck mix in the U.S., it is working to realign demand by increasing its supply of light trucks and rolling out more updated cars, such as the redesigned Camry and Avalon sedans.

"Competitiveness should be enhanced," Senior Managing Officer Masayoshi Shirayanagi said. "That's our first priority."

Indeed, Toyota lifted its wholesale volume forecast for North America to 2.81 million vehicles for the fiscal year ending March 31. That's up from an earlier outlook of 2.79 million vehicles, though it represents a 1 percent decline from the previous fiscal year.

Eric Lyman, vice president of industry insights at TrueCar, said market metrics for Toyota and Lexus have held up pretty well given an increasingly competitive U.S. market that favors domestic automakers and their storied truck brands.

"Toyota has been doing OK when we compare the Toyota brand against the mainstream automakers and Lexus against luxury," Lyman told Automotive News. "A lot of the headwinds that Toyota is facing are the same headwinds that the industry is facing overall."

Those include rising incentive spending as sales dip from historic highs and brands fight for share.

The Toyota brand's incentives in January were 7 percent higher than a year earlier, at $2,248 per vehicle, Lyman said, citing figures from Motor Intelligence. That's the third lowest in the industry behind Subaru and Honda. Mainstream brands as a whole were up 4 percent.

Lexus' incentives rose 65 percent in the same period to $5,135, about $150 less than the luxury average, which rose 28 percent.

Lower spiffs on some nameplates, such as the redesigned Camry sedan, are helping Toyota control incentive spending.

In 2017, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.'s average incentive outlays were $2,614 per vehicle, below the industry average of $3,672, according to Motor Intelligence.

Toyota's fleet sales averaged around 7 percent of its total sales over the last 12 months, below the 10 percent average for mainstream automakers, and Lexus has no fleet sales, according to Polk. And the Toyota and Lexus used-car supply is expected to fall over the next three years as the industry's rises.

"They're not playing the fleet game as much as FCA or Nissan or Hyundai, so they're probably more shielded from those fluctuations that can result from high rentals," said Tim Fleming, an analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

At the same time, Toyota has been adjusting its car-heavy mix to light trucks, boosting production capacity for RAV4s and Tacomas and adding a subcompact crossover, the C-HR.

Fleming said Toyota's 60-40 split between light trucks and cars is getting pretty close to the industry average of about 65-35. "Toyota's SUVs and trucks have phenomenal resale value, and that hasn't really changed over the years."

Said Lyman: "Their metrics aren't too far out of line with what we see in the industry overall."


Retailers are getting help from technology including AI in a busy returns season

Published: Jan 3, 2018 8:37 a.m. ET

Today’s National Returns Day is expected to mark a 5th consecutive record involving 1.4 million packages


rove customer service for the millions of returns expected to be processed during the holiday season, and may even make some gains out of giving money or credit to customers.

Returns have become a part of the shopping process with the growth of e-commerce. But they can be expensive and cumbersome.

According to United Parcel Service Inc.shoppers have returned more than one million packages daily throughout December. Volume should hit its peak on Wednesday, National Returns Day, when UPS said it expects 1.4 million packages, a fifth consecutive record. 

Here's how robots can revolutionize e-commerce

“I think you’re going to see returns continue to grow as long as e-commerce grows,” said JC Ramey, chief executive of DeviceBits, which uses artificial technology (AI) to help companies provide better customer service. “It was the barrier to entry for online, the desire for touch and feel. The overall cost will continue to shrink as [retailers] seek out operational efficiencies.”

Technology is replacing humans and offsetting the cost of returns. Ramey estimates that the price tag for a customer service call is between $2 and $5. The cost is higher for in-store associates. The ability to reduce those costs can mean significant savings. Staffing at a large call center can reach 20,000 people, up from around 14,000 during other parts of the year.

“We’ve seen less staffing required this year—by 20% to 30%—so I think a lot of brands are using systems that aren’t human,” Ramey said.

He finds it encouraging that consumers are adopting these new technologies.

In some cases, shoppers don’t even know they’re not dealing with a human. Data from Narvar, a company focused on helping retailers provide a better customer experience, shows that only 10% of consumers know that the live chat or messenger app they are conversing with is not a person.

Other cost saving measures include providing multiple ways for shoppers to return items, whether through a shipping service or elsewhere, and offering an incentive to exchange an item rather than return it.

DeviceBits also collects data on why people are returning items. Many of their clients are in consumer electronics, so a chunk of their returns are tied to a customer’s inability to set up or use the item they’ve been given.

“The ability to drive that education early to the new users of these platforms—consumer electronics or otherwise—will drive some of the cost out,” he said.

Total U.S. returns are expected to come to $380 billion in 2017, according to numbers from The National Retail Federation provided by Optoro, a reverse logistics company that helps with returned and excess inventory.

Tobin Moore, chief executive of Optoro, says retailers are focused on customer experience, even on the return side.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. added Mobile Express Returns to the company’s app to speed up the process, reducing the time it takes to return an item to just 30 seconds, according to Walmart’s senior vice president of services and digital acceleration, Daniel Eckert.

But it’s not all about digital alternatives to human interaction. Kohl’s Corp.with partnered offer free returns at select stores.

“[Retailers] recognize that the e-commerce model doesn’t work economically unless they’re well prepared for returns,” said Moore. “Consumers probably won’t notice it much but retailers are getting better at processing on the back-end, in a more effective manner.”

Over the past three months, Wal-Mart shares have risen 24.5%, Kohl’s shares are up 26.7%, and Amazon’s stock is up 24.2%. The S&P 500 indexis up 6.4% for the last three months and the Dow Jones Industrial Average  is up 9.6% for the period.

Charter adds 7 DOCSIS 3.1 gigabit markets

December 20, 2017

Charter Communications has launched its Spectrum Internet Gig in seven additional markets, using DOCSIS 3.1 technology to provide 1 Gbps Internet services. The company is also doubling its minimum Internet speeds in those markets to 200 Mbps at no additional cost to new and existing Spectrum Internet customers.

Priced at $104.99 a month for new customers, Spectrum Internet Gig is now available to more than 8.8 million consumers in Austin, TX; Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, NC; Cincinnati; Honolulu; Kansas City, MO; New York City; and San Antonio. Charter plans to launch the service in additional markets next year. The company first deployed DOCSIS 3.1-based gigabit service on Oahu earlier this month.

"Charter's state-of-the-art, fiber-rich network is superior in its ability to deliver fast and reliable Internet to millions of consumers across the country," said Tom Rutledge, Charter chairman and CEO. "As technology continues to evolve, the products and services of tomorrow will increasingly rely on faster broadband connections. Charter's world-class network is best-positioned to deliver the bandwidth and capacity needed to meet these growing demands."

Spectrum Internet Gig is offered with no data caps or contracts, includes a modem and free in-home WiFi, and is backed by a 30-day money back guarantee.

Automotive Industry Updates its Guiding Principles to Enhance Sustainability in the Supply Chain

The Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) and Drive Sustainability today announced an updated version of the “Automotive Industry Guiding Principles to Enhance Sustainability Performance in the Supply Chain.” This collaboration between AIAG, Drive Sustainability and key automotive organizations provides guidance to our valued supplier partners concerning the latest industry expectations. Additionally, a supplementary reference document was created to provide further explanation and examples for the updated principles.

Along with AIAG and Drive Sustainability, BMW Group, Daimler, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Group, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan, Scania, Toyota, Volkswagen Group, Volvo Cars, and Volvo Group, all participated in this revision of the 2014 document, and in creating the additional explanatory resource. This extraordinary alignment between automakers came out of a need to address issues relevant to the automotive industry today, and to speak with a unified voice on the importance of a sustainable, ethical supply chain.  

With these goals in mind, Steve Kiefer, senior vice president, General Motors Global Purchasing and Supply Chain, says, “GM views the pursuit of positive environmental and social impact throughout the supply chain as a global priority.” Kiefer goes on to explain, “GM is focused on efficient business with our global partners, and AIAG’s guiding principles ensure that the entire auto industry is working together to use our scale and resources for good.” 

The amended text augments previously stated positions, and is more inclusive of principles that reflect current industry concerns pertaining to business ethics, human rights, working conditions, and environmental leadership. As Tanya Bolden, director of corporate responsibility, products & services, AIAG, explains: “We are pleased that the effort initiated a decade ago by the North American automakers has grown in scope and global acceptance. Due to the degree of complexity in today’s automotive supply chain, it is more important than ever that we all work together, and communicate these vitally important issues in a clear and unified voice.”

Updates to the Principles include a number of new expectations, as well as a brief description of each point. In one example, Business Ethics, new guidelines state that companies are expected to responsibly source raw materials and to work to minimize the risk of counterfeit or diverted parts and materials in their products. The importance of transparency in accurate quality reports, financial reports, and filings is also emphasized, as well as the need for companies to disclose both financial and non-financial information, according to regulations and industry practices. A final bullet point explains that companies need to establish processes so that employee concerns can be raised anonymously, without fear of retaliation.

Certain areas have also been reworked and expanded upon in the Environment section. Additions include a statement on air quality, which stipulates that companies must work to monitor and eliminate (as much as possible) emissions contributing to air pollution, as well as a note on managing chemicals responsibly to minimize or eliminate restricted substances.  

As Tom Lake, vice president, Honda North America Purchasing, notes: “Automakers have a responsibility to work together and offer guidance concerning the expectations we have as an industry, and to highlight the importance of strong governance structures to safeguard business ethics. These updated Guiding Principles and Practical Guidance documents are a great resource for our supplier partners to reference as they make important decisions that impact their business and ours.”

To further elaborate upon the guidelines outlined in the Principles, the supplementary text, “Global Automotive Sustainability Practical Guidance,” addresses the practicalities and legalities of meeting industry expectations. For instance, to create a safe and healthy working environment—one of the fundamental values noted in the Principles—companies should educate their employees on emergency and evacuation procedures. They should also offer personal protective equipment when required, as well as focus on training for machine safety. Other examples offered include the need to maintain legally required permits and licenses, and verify that fire detection, alarm, and suppression systems are in place and in working order at all times. 

“The new release of the Guiding Principles and Practical Guidance is part of Drive Sustainability’s enhanced commitment to sustainability,” Stefan Crets, executive director, CSR Europe, and facilitator of Drive Sustainability explains. “Drive Sustainability is a partnership of automotive companies that made a pledge to move to the next level of sustainability and supply chain management. We are happy to collaborate with AIAG and its members to put the basis of a global automotive strategy on supply chain sustainability. This is the foundation to strengthen Drive Sustainability activities like local supplier capability networks (in China & Turkey), and raw materials actions.”

Additional resources like the tools, trainings, and workshops AIAG offers, also help companies of all sizes meet sustainability performance expectations. Free online courses and assessments such as the Supply Chain Sustainability eLearning and the Supply Chain Sustainability Knowledge Assessment (Practitioner Level), along with additional options for AIAG members, all support the same industry goals regarding the social and environmental performance of the supply chain.

View the Automotive Industry Guiding Principles to Enhance Sustainability Performance in the Supply Chain

About AIAG

The Automotive Industry Action Group is a unique not-for-profit organization where automakers, suppliers, service providers, government entities, and individuals in academia have worked collaboratively for 35 years to drive down costs and complexity within the supply chain. AIAG membership includes preeminent manufacturers and many of their parts suppliers and service providers. 

About Drive Sustainability

Drive Sustainability is a partnership of 11 leading automotive companies that work together to improve sustainability in the supply chain. Starting with 2012 the companies have assessed over 20,000 suppliers in more than 100 countries and engaged over 1500 suppliers in capacity building initiatives. Over 40 training sessions have been conducted in 10 countries. Drive Sustainability operates under strict anti-trust policies. Drive Sustainability is facilitated by CSR Europe.

About CSR Europe
CSR Europe is the leading European business network for Corporate Social Responsibility. Through its network of around 45 corporate members and 41 National CSR organisations, it gathers over 10,000 companies, and acts as a platform for those businesses looking to enhance sustainable growth and positively contribute to society. In its mission to bring the CSR agenda forward, CSR Europe goes beyond European borders and cooperates with CSR organisations in other regions across the world.


Source: AIAG CR Team

Tesla reveals a new Roadster, due in 2020

At Tesla's Semi event, the automaker dropped its new Roadster. It'll have a 620-mile range via a 200kWh battery pack."You'll be able to travel from LA to San Francisco and back without recharging," CEO Elon Musk said. The new Tesla Roadster will do zero to 60 in 1.9 seconds, and it'll blast through a quarter mile in 8.9 seconds, before reaching a top speed of over 250 MPH.

Oh, and it's a four-seater.

Musk called it, "a hardcore smackdown to gasoline cars." The car is due in 2020 so start saving up all your nickels and dimes now -- the cost is $200,000, with a $50,000 reservation to get in line for a base model. Of course, there are also 1,000 "Founders Edition" Roadsters also available, provided you're willing to pony up for the full $250k price right away.

A limited number of folks that attended tonight's event and put down a $50,000 deposit on the Roadster will get a ride in the car.