January 8, 2014
Comcast Corp slightly expanded its video customer base during the last three months of 2013, the first quarterly growth in more than six years, Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said on Tuesday. "In the fourth quarter, we modestly grew customers," Roberts told investors at Citigroup's 2014 Internet, Media & Telecommunications Conference in Las Vegas. The CEO said the company had seen a decline in video subscribers for 26 straight quarters. Comcast's cable unit reported 21.6 million video customers at the end of September, the largest number of any U.S. cable company. The company said it lost about 129,000 customers in the third quarter of 2013. Roberts did not provide a specific number for video customers at the end of the fourth quarter. He said the company had invested in customer service and new digital technology, including a voice-activated user guide and access to cable channels on mobile devices, to attract new subscribers. Reuters; more in Philadelphia Inquirer
Aereo, a Barry Diller-backed startup that provides broadcast television channels over the Internet for a monthly fee, said Tuesday that it has secured $34 million in additional funding from outside investors. The money will help Aereo expand beyond the 10 metropolitan areas it currently serves. It will also allow Aereo to develop apps for additional devices, such as Internet-connected TVs and game consoles, while battling copyright-infringement lawsuits filed by broadcasters. The additional funding, announced on the sidelines of the International CES gadget show in Las Vegas, comes from Aereo's lead outside investor, Diller's IAC/InterActiveCorp, as well as several existing and new investors.
Aereo's service starts at $8 a month and currently covers New York, Boston, Houston and Atlanta, among others. Subscribers get about two dozen local over-the-air stations, plus the Bloomberg TV financial channel. In each market, Aereo sets up a data center with thousands of dime-size antennas. The company temporarily assigns an antenna to each subscriber to record a show or watch it live and transmits that show over the Internet to the subscriber's device. Because each subscriber gets his or her own antenna, the company reasons, it's no different from having a personal antenna at home to pick up free, over-the-air broadcasts.
Broadcasters argue that Aereo built the individual antennas specifically to skirt copyright law, as there's no technical reason such a service would need them. As a result, the broadcasters say, Aereo ought to pay licensing fees like cable and satellite TV providers. Aereo so far has won court rulings in New York and Boston. But federal judges in Los Angeles and Washington have ruled against an Aereo-like service called FilmOn X. In a ruling that bans FilmOn in all but three states, Judge Rosemary M. Collyer in Washington wrote that with antennas, servers and other equipment all networked together, "this system ... is hardly akin to an individual user stringing up a television antenna on the roof." Meanwhile, broadcasters have appealed the New York ruling to the Supreme Court.
In an interview, Aereo founder and CEO Chet Kanojia said Aereo knew from the start that broadcasters might sue, and he portrayed its ability to obtain additional funding as a vote of confidence. He said the two new investors will be able to offer Aereo advice and contacts: Gordon Crawford is a veteran media investor, while investment firm Himalaya Capital offers international experience as Aereo explores markets beyond the U.S. The focus this year will be on continuing to expand in the U.S., Kanojia said.
A year ago, Aereo announced plans to reach about two dozen metropolitan areas. Kanojia said Aereo hit less than half of that by year's end because of delays hiring staff and developing outdoor antenna boxes. (Aereo's initial market, New York, has its antennas indoors.) Aereo now expects to finish that round in the first half of 2014 and announce additional expansions for later in the year. The service is now available on personal computers, Apple and Android devices and Roku streaming boxes. Kanojia said Aereo wants to develop apps for Google's Chromecast streaming device, various game machines and TVs.
Over the next six months, Aereo plans to add social features to help subscribers find shows and interact with others who like similar programs. Including the latest funding, Aereo has raised nearly $100 million from outside investors. Aereo did not disclose what percentage of the company those investors own or how much each individual investor has provided. Besides IAC, existing investors include Highland Capital Partners and FirstMark Capital. Associated Press
Sirius XM Holdings Inc, the satellite-radio company weighing a buyout offer from Liberty Media Corp., said it surpassed its target for subscriber growth last year. Sirius added 1.66 million customers in 2013, just above its 1.6 million forecast. The company continues to expect sales of more than $4 billion in 2014 and earnings of $1.38 billion, leaving out interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, according to a statement yesterday. An additional 1.25 million subscribers will sign up this year, the company said.
The forecasts may help investors determine the merit of Liberty's $10.6 billion all-stock offer for full control of New York-based Sirius. The satellite-radio company's shares have traded above the value of the proposal since it was announced last week, signaling that shareholders expect Sirius to negotiate for a higher bid. The company's board has formed a special committee led by former DirecTV Chief Executive Officer Eddy Hartenstein to examine Liberty's proposal. Directors James Holden and Joan Amble are also part of the group, said Patrick Reilly, a spokesman.
Sirius's sales forecast compares with an average estimate of $4.17 billion in revenue, according to a survey of analysts compiled by Bloomberg. The company actually recorded a decrease of about 20,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter, leaving it with a total of 25.6 million. Sirius had anticipated that drop, saying in October that a contract change with a large manufacturer would significantly reduce its number of trial customers at the end of the year. Bloomberg
The Pennsylvania Legislature has convened and adjourned - a formality required by the state constitution. Lawmakers are required to convene on the first Tuesday in January, even though the House and Senate are not expected to do any lawmaking until later this month. The Senate did unanimously re-elect Republican Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County to his eighth year as president pro tempore as part of a tradition rooted in the constitution. Normally, the lieutenant governor serves as Senate president. As president pro tempore, Scarnati is the designated successor to the lieutenant governor if that office becomes vacant or the incumbent is unable to perform the duties of the office. Associated Press
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- Wall Street Journal: Slow Broadband Internet Speeds Vex Nation's Schools (registration may be required)
- Associated Press: Your next TV: Will it be Ultra HD?
- zap2it.com: Nielsen Top 25 Cable Program Ratings for Week Ending January 5
- Easton Express-Times: Editorial: End lavish gift-giving to Pa. governor, lawmakers