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Cablevision Systems Corporation (NYSE:CVC)

F1Q07 Earnings Call

May 03, 2007 10:00 am ET

Executives

Pat Armstrong - Senior Vice President, Investor Relations

Jim Dolan - President and CEO

Hank Ratner - Vice Chairman

Tom Rutledge - COO

Mike Huseby - CFO

Josh Sapan - President and CEO, Rainbow Media

Analysts

Craig Moffett - Sanford C. Bernstein

Vijay Jayant - Lehman Brothers

Doug Mitchelson - Deutsche Bank

Geoff Wlodarczak - Wachovia Capital Markets

Bryan Goldberg - Bear Stearns.

Ben Swinburne - Morgan Stanley.

Brian Kraft - Credit Suisse

Anthony Noto - Goldman Sachs

Jessica Reif - Merrill Lynch

Rich Greenfield - Pali Capital

Presentation

Operator

Good morning, my name is Jason and I will be your conference operator today. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the Cablevision First Quarter Earnings Call.

All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speaker’s remarks, there will be a question-and-answer period. (Operator Instructions). Thank you.

It is now my pleasure to turn the call over to your host, Pat Armstrong, Senior Vice President of Investor Relations. Pat, you may begin your conference.

Pat Armstrong

Thank you. Good morning and welcome to Cablevision System's Corporations first quarter 2007 earnings conference call. Joining us this morning are members of the Cablevision Executive team, including; Jim Dolan, our President and CEO; Hank Ratner, Vice Chairman; Tom Rutledge, Chief Operating Officer; Mike Huseby, Chief Financial Officer; Josh Sapan, President and CEO of Rainbow Media; and John Bickham, President of Cable & Communications.

Following a discussion of the company's first quarter 2007 results, we will open the call for questions. If you do not have a copy of today's earnings release, you may obtain one from our website at cablevision.com. This call can be accessed via our website.

Please take note of the following. This discussion of Cablevision's results and any discussion of the company's 2007 outlook may contain statements that constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995.

Investors are cautioned that any such forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance or results, and involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ.

Please refer to the company's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission for a discussion of risks and uncertainties. The company disclaims any obligation to update the forward-looking statements that may be discussed during this call.

Let me point out that on page six of today's earnings release, we provide consolidated operations data and a reconciliation of adjusted operating cash flow or AOCF to operating income.

As most of you are aware, the company had a major announcement at this time yesterday, and now we just like to indicate that we will not be discussing that announcement or anything related to it on today's call. We will be filing a proxy and will communicate regarding the transaction at the appropriate time.

I will now turn the call over to Cablevision's President and CEO, Jim Dolan.

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Jim Dolan

Thank you, Pat and good morning. Obviously on behalf of the Dolan family, we were very pleased to reach an agreement with the company. Process has now begun, and while it is too early for us to address the questions we know you have, rest assured we will be available to address those questions at the appropriate time. That being said, I will proceed with today's call and my role as Cablevision's CEO on the subject of first quarter performance.

For the first quarter, Cablevision's consolidated revenue grew more than 12% to just under $1.6 billion, and AOCF increased more than 21% to $482 million. Our strong start to the year was driven by our core cable business, as well as solid AOCF growth at MSG and Rainbow.

Cable, we had subscriber increases in all of our services offerings, including basic video, which recorded its 12th consecutive quarterly gain. Cablevision reached 80% penetration for its digital video product, and continues to enjoy industry-leading penetration rates for every one of our cable services.

In addition, Madison Square Garden's AOCF more than doubled compared to the prior year period. Rainbow Media had a solid first quarter as well with the revenue increase of 11% and strong AOCF growth of more than 76%.

Hank and Josh will get further into Rainbow and MSG's operations in shortly, but right now I'd like to turn the call over to our Chief Operating Officer Tom Rutledge who will discuss results of our telecommunication segment.

Tom Rutledge

Thank you, Jim and good morning. Our core cable business continued to produce solid results in the first quarter of 2007. The company gained 261,000 RGUs in the quarter, contributing cable revenue growth of 15.4% and AOCF growth of 12.6% for the quarter as compared to the prior year period.

Our Average Monthly Revenue per Subscribers or RPS was $116.95 for the first quarter, an increase of $1.65 sequentially and an increase of $12.71 or 12% as compared to the prior period.

This represents our 16th consecutive quarter of year-over-year double-digit percentage RPS growth. The $1.65 sequentially increase was driven primarily by demand for new services. Our two product and three product offers continue to grow in addition to VOD and DVRs.

Cable capital spending totaled a $140 million for the first quarter. As we mentioned in our last call, because we have reached digital video sub-penetration of 80%, RGU growth will naturally slow a bit, as well capital spending.

For the first quarter of 2007, consumer premises equipment accounted for 77% of capital expenditures, as we continue to support RGU growth and deploy more and more DVRs and HD boxes. Also included in this total for the quarter is the capital needed to support optimum business primarily modems and line extensions.

Now let me touch briefly on the results of each of our services.

The first quarter marked our 12th consecutive quarter of basic subscriber gains, as we had almost 12,000 video customers. Basic subscribers now totaled 3.139 million, representing a 2.4% increase in the last year. Our digital video service iO added 65,000 customers for the quarter. At the end of the quarter, Cablevision had 80% digital video penetration.

Our High-Definition Video subscribers continue to grow as well. At the end of the first quarter, we had 734,000 HD customers up 16% from December and 85% in the last year. With the addition of two new high-definition services in the first quarter of 2007, we now offer 23 high-definition services at no additional cost to our digital cable customer.

Turning to Optimum Online high-speed data service, we had a net gain of more than 78,000 customers in the quarter. Our penetration of homes passed the end of March reached 46% and now Optimum Online customers as a percentage of basic video customers is 67%.

Our Optimum Voice service had a quarterly subscriber gain of a 109,000, with a total of over 1.3 million customers. Optimum Voice is now at 28.7% homes passed and 62% of high-speed data customers.

At the end of the first quarter, 63% of new video sales were three product sales. On the business front, Optimum Lightpath, our ILEC business continues its transition in Ethernet-based business.

And while the quarterly results do not reflect much growth over the prior year period, it is a business in transition. For instance, a number of buildings on the network have increased by 20% in the past year, and the number Ethernet services sold is more than doubled in the same period.

Lightpath continues to gain traction in the commercial marketplace, and we look forward to better results in the later part of the year.

Looking ahead, we expect our solid performance to continue in 2007. Today, we are reiterating our outlook for 2007 annual metrics for cable television as follows: Basic video subscriber growth of 1% to 2%; revenue generating unit additions of $850,000 to $950,000; and capital expenditures of approximately $650 million.

In addition, we are confirming our outlook for 2007 total revenue in AOCF [percentage] rate growth to be in the mid teens.

I would like to turn the call over to Josh Sapan, who will discuss Rainbow Media results.

Josh Sapan

Thank you, Tom. For first quarter revenue at our national programming networks; AMC, IFC and VTV increased 9% to $158 million, and AOCF for the quarter was $76 million, and increase of 29% as compared to the prior year.

The quarterly increase in revenue includes a 16% increase in advertising revenue, driven higher sell-out rates at AMC and a 4% increase in affiliate revenue compared to the prior year periods. The increase in AOCF was primarily driven by [disk higher end] process coupling with lower marketing expense.

We expect to maintain normal full year marketing expense levels as we tie in our marketing campaigns, with the launch of the original series slated to occur in the later part of the year.

AMC primetime posted it's best first quarter performance ever this year, with a 0.95 rating, and it's first quarter viewership outperformed last year's first quarter [resolving in the safe parts].

Turning to Rainbow's other programming businesses which primarily include Fox Sports Network, Regional Sports Networks, Fuse, News 12, IFC Entertainment, the VOOM HD Networks and our VOD services, Lifeskool and Sportskool.

As many of you are aware, we announced earlier this week that we agree to sell to Comcast our interest in Fox Sports Net Bay Area and Fox Sports Net New England, which were the two remaining regional sports programming assets located outside of the New York market that the company operates.

For the group overall, first quarter net revenue increased from 16% to $77 million, and the AOCF deficit declined from $31 million to $27 million. The increase in net revenue was primarily driven by higher revenue at the VOOM HD Networks and in regional sports and news.

The decline in AOCF deficit was principally the result of the favorable revenue impact partially offset by higher programming cost.

I would now like to turn it over to Hank Ratner, who will discuss the results for Madison Square Garden.

Hank Ratner

Thanks Josh. Turning to MSG’s operating results. First quarter revenue increased 5% to $236 million, compared to the first quarter of 2006. AOCF with more doubled to $18 million from $7 million in the prior year period.

First quarter results were primarily driven by higher entertainment revenue in AOCF, reflecting more concerts and sports events in our existing venues than we had a year ago, as well as the addition of the legendary Beacon Theatre.

The first quarter included Elton John choosing to celebrate his 60th birthday with the 60th concert at Madison Square Garden, which generated enormous visibility across the country.

Other factors that drove first quarter results included higher MSG network revenue and AOCF, reflecting higher affiliate revenue, which more than offset lower ad sales and higher operating costs, and improved financial results from the Knicks and Rangers including higher combine revenue and lower team operating expenses relating to lower team personnel compensation cost and luxury tax.

MSG Entertainment made a couple of exciting announcements this past quarter. This year’s run of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular will mark the 75th celebration of beloved holiday tradition that will include many exciting new [show] elements.

In addition to last quarter, we mentioned that we had reached an agreement with Cirque du Soleil for the creation of its show specifically for the Theatre at Madison Square Garden. In March, we announced that the show would debut view in November under the name Wintuk. We expect it to be another New York winter tradition.

A few words about the Rangers; we are in midst of an extremely exciting second round Play-off Series with the Buffalo Sabres. Right now the Rangers are tied with the Sabres at two games a piece and this best-of-seven series. We look forward to seeing the Rangers continue to play great hockey they've been playing, I wish them luck for this series and beyond.

I now like to turn the call over to Mike Huseby, who will briefly cover the company's overall financial position.

Mike Huseby

Thanks Hank. The first quarter operating performance translated into strong revenue in AOCF growth. We also posted free cash flow of approximately $81 million even after reflecting higher interest expense associated with the $10 per share, special cash dividend distributed last April.

As Tom mentioned, capital spending was approximately $140 million for the cable operations, which is approximately a $118 million lower in the first quarter of last year. Total company CapEx for the quarter were 156 million compared to 272 million for the first quarter of 2006.

This reduction of more than 40% in CapEx reflects lower spending for consumer premises equipment, as well as the 2006 investment we made to enhance the speeds of our Optimum Online and Boost offerings.

Turning to leverage and liquidity, the company’s consolidated cash position at the end of the first quarter was approximately $530 million, and debt was approximately 11 billion. At March 31, the company’s consolidated net debt to AOCF leverage ratio was 5.7 times.

The CSC Holdings restricted group leverage ratio was 5.2 times. Rainbow National Services has approximately $1.3 billion of debt and $277 million available under its revolving credit facility.

The ratio under its bond leverage test as of March 31 was 3.9 times. Before we open the call to questions, I would like to reiterate that we will not be able to address at this time any questions related to the recently announced merger agreement.

Operator, we would now like to open the call for questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Our first question comes from Craig Moffett of Sanford C. Bernstein.

Craig Moffett - Sanford C. Bernstein

Hi, good morning. First just a question about cable margins, Tom. The margins contracted a little bit; can you just talk about what the source of that contraction? Was it programming cost, or something else? And then just more broadly about the capital intensity of the business going forward.

You said that, a real driver of the drop in capital intensity is that you no longer need to get any additional standard definition digital set-top boxes. Wonder if you could talk more about that, and talk about what the real economic life of those boxes is, how long do they last and what's the kind of replacement cycle that you are saying for digital set-top boxes?

Tom Rutledge

Okay. With regards to margin. In the first quarter we did have programming increases, and this quarter we did do a rate increase of any size. We did have a slight equipment increase. But the overall rate driven quarterly increase this quarter was smaller than historically has been taken. And we did have particularly SportsChannel New York, programming cost, which were not in last years’ quarter affecting the margin.

But basically, you have rate increases on programming services occurring at the beginning of the year and steady growth of revenue, and that’s why the margin is slightly down in the first quarter.

With regard to capital intensity and box life, you are right. As our digital penetration approximates a 100%, approaches 100%, obviously, capital intensity goes down. The capital cost of modems is less than set-top boxes, and we've been buying these boxes for five years. They are from an accounting perspective treated as five year life asset. And they have digital and solid state, we don’t know how long they will last, but they haven’t started the fail in any significant way today.

Craig Moffett - Sanford C. Bernstein

Hey, that’s helpful thank you. If I could just ask one housekeeping question, and I know you want to discuss the transaction. But can you at least name a date for when a vote might be taken?

Mike Huseby

No, not at this time.

Craig Moffett - Sanford C. Bernstein

Okay, thanks.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question is coming from Vijay Jayant of Lehman Brothers.

Vijay Jayant - Lehman Brothers

Thanks. Your data in telephony growth accelerated. Any data you could share on how much of that was commercial, and what the ARPUs are for that business? And just to follow-up, any aggressive push for digital boxes in the second quarter in anticipation of the integration ban on July 1? Thanks.

Tom Rutledge

Well, we don't break out our business data and [release] from our residential, and so we're not going to during this call. And with regard to the integration ban, no we have actually received an exemption from the entertainment [branch] because we use a SmartCard technology which is different than most of the rest of the industry, so we have no obligation to comply with the integration ban in July.

Vijay Jayant - Lehman Brothers

Thanks.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Doug Mitchelson of Deutsche Bank.

Doug Mitchelson - Deutsche Bank

Thanks very much, good morning. Tom, since we're lapping the investment you made to increase your high-speed data speed, can you give us a sense of what percentage of your high-speed data subs have taken the higher speed tier?

And then secondly for Mike, can you give us a sense of how much your developing network such as the VOOM HD channels are losing on an annual basis, I think we estimate obtained about $150 million, and any update on the process regarding the Madison Square Garden and selling the Air Rights and potentially building a new garden would be helpful? Thanks.

Tom Rutledge

Doug we don't break out the high-speed, higher data customer base, so I can't report that to you.

Doug Mitchelson - Deutsche Bank

Can I substitute a question as to what you're selling for triple players these days?

Tom Rutledge

63%.

Doug Mitchelson - Deutsche Bank

Thank you.

Mike Huseby

Doug also we don't breakout each and every single business that we have within the major sectors. So, we are not going to do that for the developing networks. The earnings release indicates what we're going to do in terms of disclosure and our 10-Q which is to be filed shortly will have lot of detail on those businesses that we want to disclose at this time.

Tom Rutledge

And on the new garden, we have complete renovation plans. We also continue to try and see if there is a deal for us to build a new garden inside the Farley Post Office building. And at this time those are still our two options and they are both great options, and that's all we have at this time.

Doug Mitchelson - Deutsche Bank

Alright, thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Geoff Wlodarczak of Wachovia.

Geoff Wlodarczak - Wachovia Capital Markets

Thanks. Good mornings. Tom, can you provide more granularity on the competitive environment where FiOS is rolled out aggressive? How are your win back efforts going? Thanks.

Tom Rutledge

The FiOS footprint has expanded a little bit since we last talked. The video service footprint is about 660,000 homes at the moment. And they're having an impact on our business, which you can see in our subscriber growth. And we think that what we reported last time after a year is consistent with our expectations.

Geoff Wlodarczak - Wachovia Capital Markets

Thanks.

Operator

Our next question comes from Bryan Goldberg of Bear Stearns. Bryan your line is live.

Bryan Goldberg - Bear Stearns

Sorry about that. Quick question on Rainbow, historically you have mentioned the [RSN] outside your footprint, as being helpful chips in negotiating carriage agreements for the Rainbow National Services. Now that the Bay Area New England interest are leaving the Cablevision portfolio, should we view the Rainbow National Services as strategically impacted by this move or not? Thank you.

Josh Sapan

I think we are in very good shape with our affiliation agreements. The services are strong, their ratings are up, and we are deploying on VOD, which is meeting with appreciation by our distributors and we feel we are in a position of strength.

Bryan Goldberg - Bear Stearns

Thanks.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Ben Swinburne of Morgan Stanley.

Ben Swinburne - Morgan Stanley

The name’s [Guenterberg]. Two questions, on the margin trends, Tom, your guidance implies a ramp for the rest of the year, and you talked about the lack of a rate increase in the first quarter. Are there plans for rate increases later in the year on the basic tier or anything significantly you should be thinking about? And then a question for Jim there has been press reports about the family looking at the Yankees. Any commentary you can provide on your interest there?

Tom Rutledge

We have no plans for rate changes now or throughout the year.

Jim Dolan

And we have no plans for the Yankees. The report you saw was or came out of this day was a lunch between two old friends nothing more than that.

Ben Swinburne - Morgan Stanley

Thanks a lot.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Brian Kraft of Credit Suisse.

Brian Kraft - Credit Suisse

Thank you. It looks like basic and broadband churn increased in the quarter and the highest its been in the first quarter since '04. Just wanted to find out, should we see this a competition from FiOS or is it something else driving in the quarter? And can you comment just on what level of customer losses you have seen in the areas where FiOS is rolled out, particularly in some of the earlier launched markets? Thanks.

Tom Rutledge

Well, I gave a report in the last call about what had happened after a year.

Brian Kraft - Credit Suisse

5% figure.

Tom Rutledge

Yes, it did. And yes, I think our churn is impacted by FiOS competition. At the end of the fourth quarter a large expanse of territory was activated particularly New Jersey in a single franchise and the initial suite of that has been initiated by rise in the first quarter. So, it has an impact on our numbers.

Brian Kraft - Credit Suisse

Do you think that serves, Tom kind of levels off from here and this is indicative of where the churn is going forward or do you think it gets a little worse before it gets better. Just wanted to know, what you are expecting there?

Tom Rutledge

Well, I think it’s a function of how franchises are granted and when they are granted. And as I explained in the last call, what had happened over a year and I speak for the [Nyac]. Other than our experience there, we have no information. But that’s what happened last year, and we have no evidence to suggest that anything is different going forward.

Brian Kraft - Credit Suisse

Great, thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Anthony Noto of Goldman Sachs.

Anthony Noto - Goldman Sachs

Thank you very much. I was wondering if you have considered or you have done this at all in terms of giving away digital boxes, especially as we get closer to the digital transition.

And then second question is on, our retransferred broadcast network signals. Are you currently paying cash retrans, and in the future do you think you will have to pay cash retrans. There is lot of chatter coming out of the broadcast network, that they will get paid returns, its just not clear if you are getting paid cash retrans or some other in time value, thank you?

Tom Rutledge

With regard to giving away digital boxes, we've been marketing our way to digital penetrations that we've achieved, we've achieved 80%. However, occasions do arise where we want to reclaim spectrum, for instance, in certain communities and we have given away boxes for promotional period in order to get enough digital penetration to reclaim some analogue spectrum. But as in general proposition, we don't need to do that and haven't done it.

With regard to retransmission consent, we don't break out whether we pay or whether we don't, but the situation with regard to retrans varies by marketplace and we feel very comfortable about the assets we've put together in the New York market and our relative bargaining position in that space.

Anthony Noto - Goldman Sachs

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Jessica Reif, Merrill Lynch.

Jessica Reif - Merrill Lynch

Thank you, two questions. Tom, what supplier markets will be coming up for the balance of the year or how many homes are you expecting to add for the balance of the year? And could you give us an update on what you're doing in terms of interactive advertising, where are you focusing, and when do you think it might be meaningful?

Tom Rutledge

Again, what I said in the last call is that, they've been building about 6% of our passing the year, at least the last couple of years. What they'll do this year is unknown to us. They have covered with construction activity, [$990,000] approximately to-date. They haven't activated all of that, and they don't have video franchises for more than 660,000 of it at the moment, but they'll get them.

With regards to advertising, we are continuing to try to develop new advertising opportunities and create new inventory opportunities, because we do have very high penetration and very high subscriber relationships for homes passed. And we think we can build new forms of advertising, so we developed a separate department within our company to explore opportunities in that area.

We've launched classified advertising in autos and homes, begun selling of video-on-demand services to a variety of advertisers. And while we are not breaking that out separately in our financials, we have expectations in the long run that it can be a positive contributor to our business.

Jessica Reif - Merrill Lynch

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our final question from Rich Greenfield of Pali Capital.

Rich Greenfield - Pali Capital

Hi, a couple of questions. One, Tom, could you just talk to what the organic CapEx growth actually was, when I look at the $156 million you reported for the full company this quarter. What was that number last year, excluding the one-time step up that you had from the high-speed data build out?

Two, in terms of the impact from FiOS, where do you feel it most, is it caused by the underlying move churn, so when people are moving into a new apartment or home, is that when they are signing up for FiOS most or is it occurring whether actually picking off existing subscribers and getting them to switch actively from Cablevision to FiOS?

And then just a last follow-up question, a last thing, you said you had 900,000 homes passed out of your 4.5 million homes passed exposed to Verizon? Thanks.

Tom Rutledge

Mike, do you want to answer the capital question?

Mike Huseby

With respect to the first question on how much was spend. If you look at our earnings release on page 11, that has a breakdown of CapEx in the various line items, which we’ll tell you how that change from the first quarter of last year to the first quarter of this year. And outside of that I don't think we are going to get into specific projects in terms of CapEx spend?

Tom Rutledge

With regards to FiOS marketing, again we gave numbers in the last call of what had happened last year and we haven’t seen any difference [to-date] that we can identify in their performance. So I don’t really want to expand on that. And the last question about the passing account it was correct.

Rich Greenfield - Pali Capital

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. We have no further questions at this time.

Pat Armstrong

Thank you for joining us this morning. This conference call will be available on Cablevision’s website and on streetevents.com through May 10th.

Operator

Thank you. This does conclude today’s teleconference. You may disconnect your lines at this time and have a great day.

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