Altice USA, Inc. (NYSE:ATUS) Q1 2020 Earnings Conference Call April 30, 2020 4:30 PM ET
Nick Brown - Investor Relations
Dexter Goei - Chief Executive Officer
Mike Grau - Chief Financial Officer
Conference Call Participants
Philip Cusick - JPMorgan
Craig Moffett - Moffett and Nathanson
Brett Feldman - Goldman Sachs
Benjamin Swinburne - Morgan Stanley
John Hodulik - UBS
James Ratcliffe - Evercore ISI
Michael Rollins – Citi
Jonathan Chaplin - New Street Research
Doug Mitchelson - Crédit Suisse
Thank you for standing by, and welcome to the Altice USA Q1 2020 Results Presentation. All lines are in a listen-only mode. After the speakers’ remarks, there will be a question and answer session. [Operator Instructions]
Thank you. I would now like to turn the call over to your host, Nick Brown. Please go ahead, sir.
Hello everyone, and thank you for joining. In a moment, I’ll hand over to Altice USA’s CEO, Dexter Goei; and CFO, Mike Grau, who will take you through the presentation. And then we’ll move to Q&A. As today’s presentation may contain forward-looking statements, please read the disclaimer on Page 2. The slides are available on the Company’s website and a replay of the call will be made available.
And now I’ll hand over to Dexter.
Thanks, Nick. Hello, everyone. I’m starting to – jumping straight into Slide 3. My first point to take a moment to thank the entire Altice USA team who have been working tirelessly to keep our communities connected. As an essential service in this time of crisis, our products, broadband, TV, mobile, news, play critical role and it’s a responsibility we take very seriously.
Through a variety of programs including Free Altice Advantage, Broadband For Students, free Wi-Fi for students, schools and first responders and the FCC pledge we’ve been keeping customers and communities safe and connected during this time of needs. While it certainly an unprecedented time for all, I am inspired by the ongoing dedication and work ethics displayed by our teams each and every day.
I’ll go into more detail about our community efforts shortly, so let me summarize our Q1 highlights. Total revenue growth of 2.2% in Q1 was driven by the strength of our core broadband business, which grew 14% year-over-year. We have seen a record demand for our broadband service achieving the best ever quarterly performance with 50,000 broadband net additions excluding Altice Advantage.
Additionally, the pace of voluntary broadband speed upgrades almost doubled in March month-on-month and was our 24% increase in network data usage. To support this ongoing network demand, we accelerated our deployment of 1 gig speeds which is now available in more than half of our Optimum footprint and over 75% of the Suddenlink footprint.
Adjusted EBITDA was flat year-over-year and up 1% excluding mobile losses and with our strong growth in free cash flow up 80% year-over-year. Given the severe dislocation in our share price following this market sell-off, we opportunistically accelerated our share repurchases for this year, completing $750 million in the first quarter and over $1 billion including April 30, this means that we retired almost 7% of total shares outstanding and 14% of our free flows in only four months.
Our buyback target for this year remains $1.7 billion, so you should expect a bit of a slowdown in the pace of repurchases from here on as we remain committed to our year-end leverage target of 4.5 to 5 times net debt-to-EBITDA.
As an organization, we are well positioned giving the increasing reliance in our networks and services which has been performing very well. There are though some uncertainties around our SMB and advertising businesses, as many of our peers have highlighted as well. For that reason, we intend on providing an update on the outlook for revenue and EBITDA expectations later this year as we gain more visibility.
However, as Mike will outline later, we remain confident in our ability to deliver revenue, EBITDA and free cash flow growth in 2020 driven by ongoing cost management, reduced CapEx expectations, reduced interest cost and improvement in working capital.
Moving on to Slide 4, although the impacts from COVID-19 were relatively limited in Q1, we wanted to spend a minute highlighting where we expect to see more of an impact in Q2, as well as some of our recent initiatives to respond to the pandemic. First, on the positive side, we’ve seen significant increases in demand for higher broadband speeds within both our residential and SMB businesses.
However, stay-at-home restrictions, many of our SMB customers have had to temporarily close their retail operations, which raises the possibility to increase bad debt and it’s impacting local advertising revenues.
Additionally, we’ve closed 86% of our own retail outlets and reduced our own marketing spends, which is impacting our mobile sales and handset volumes in particular. We are taking this as an opportunity to accelerate the digitization of our whole business from thriving more digital sales to adding online support tools for payments and account management.
Elsewhere, we are seeing some permitting delays impact our Fiber-To-The-Home network roll outs, which is driving reduced CapEx expectations for this year. The health and well-being of our employees and customers are paramount, so we’ve established programs such as enhanced employee safety initiatives and remote working solutions and we’ve taken many steps to support customers and local communities.
For example, we signed the FCC’s pledge to help consumers and business they connected during this time. We’ve been collaborating with hospitals, schools and government agencies to ensure that we have connectivity services they need to assist the public including waiving fees for first responders and other critical entities.
We have made several programs like Altice Advantage, Internet and Student Wi-Fi available at no cost through the end of the school year for students.
Finally, the company has committed $10 million in community relief to support our small business customers and their recovery efforts. Additionally, our management team has pledge a percentage of our salaries to support charities like Feeding America, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, which are also committed to supporting our local communities.
In summary, although this is a challenging time, we think this is time that presents a lot of opportunity for us as a business.
Moving on to Slide 5 and speaking of our business, we continue to see solid revenue performance in Q1. We continued to perform well in our core residential business, which is about 80% of our total revenues. Residential revenue grew 0.5% year-over-year, which was driven by broadband revenue growth of 14%
This strong broadband growth is being driven by mix shift towards standalone broadband products, ongoing uptiering to higher broadband speeds and our recent rate events from which we saw about a half quarter impact in Q1. Business services grew at 3.9% in Q1, news and advertising grew at 11.4% in Q1 driven mainly by growth of our targeted ad advertising business a4 and Cheddar.
Turning to Slide 6, we illustrate the best ever quarterly performance for our core residential business at the customer relationship and broadband addition. We added 35,000 unique residential customer relationships or 44,000 including 9,000 Altice Advantage Student customers. This translates to a record 50,000 net additions or 60,000 including Altice Advantage. This compares to 37,000 broadband additions in Q1 2019, which was in itself an exceptionally good performance last year and we’ve seen also good performance continue through April.
On video, we continue to see an accelerated pace of declines with 42,000 losses in Q1 as we highlighted last quarter. This is driven mainly by bigger pass-throughs of programming cost inflation with our rate event this year and a lower video attachment rate for gross ad customer additions.
The lower attachment rate on gross additions is actually a very positive free cash flow trend for us with the reduced CapEx outlays and better margins as bundled video on promo is not attractive economic as well. However, in April, we have seen these losses also flow down materially.
Additionally, we rolled out Altice One in Suddenlink at the end of 2018, which contributed to better video performance in Q1 2019. However, video remains an important business to us and we still have a significant number of customers that are long tenured and highly valuable double and triple play bundled customers.
For example, approximately half of our customers have been with us for five years or more. One third have been with us for ten years or more. Those customers are paying closer to our rack rate for videos and customers coming in on promo.
Moving on to Page 7, you can see the exceptionally strong demand for our broadband offering underpinning our customer and revenue growth. As I mentioned before, our broadband speed upgrades more than doubled in Optimum in March month-over-month, penetrating from stay-at-home restrictions put in place.
Total data usage was up 24% over the same period averaging close to 400 gigabits per customer in March. This growth was driven mainly a similar percentage increase in video streaming. We also saw material increases in the usage of other popular applications such as online gaming, VPN and video conferencing services as many of our peers have seen, as well.
We are also seeing a resurgence of fixed voice line usage in a reduction in out-of-home mobile roaming costs as many of our customers are currently working from home. We invested a lot in our network in the last two years and it’s performing very well right now with plenty of capacity to handle these increased usage trend.
With the continued deployment of cable DOCSIS 3.1 and Fiber Technologies, we have now made 1 gigabit broadband service available in more than half of the Optimum footprint. As a result, we’ve already seen an acceleration in 1 Gig sales, up 56% in March, whereas the next slide shows we are only starting to get started right now.
Turning to Slide 8, you can even more clearly see the long-term progression of higher speeds among our customers. The average broadband speeds taken by Altice USA’s customer base is now 222 megabits down, more than triple what we saw just three years ago.
But more importantly, about two-thirds of our base still only takes 200 megabits or less. That’s about 2.8 million subscribers that we are certain will upgrade over time. We have rapidly deployed 1 gigabit of capability with the expansion across Optimum footprint more than doubling our overall availability in Q1 2020, to 63% including Suddenlink across Altice USA.
The 1 gig sell-in rate was 13% of all gross additions in areas where available. Increasing 1 gig availability to the rest of Optimum’s footprint through the rest of 2020 increases our opportunity to continue to upsell higher broadband speeds. And we are still on track for commercial launch of bundled fiber offerings later this year.
Our long-term Fiber-to-the-Home opportunity will allow us to deliver even faster speeds to our customers with significant opportunities for additional CapEx and OpEx savings.
In summary, we remain very optimistic about our core connectivity business.
Slide 9 provides an update on our mobile business. We’ve had good momentum in Q1 with 41,000 subscribers net additions reaching a 110,000 total lines since we launched in September last year. That’s almost a 3% penetration of our broadband subscriber base.
However, since we have ended our introductory offer and retail stores closed in March, we have seen a slowdown in volume. So Q1 will likely be lighter in terms of lines added and revenue. There are two positive impacts on our margins though, first, we’ve seen a 20% decline in cellular data consumption in the last month reducing our RAN costs from increased Wi-Fi network offloads during stay-at-home.
And secondly, we have reduced our sales and marketing spend while the stores are closed. We remain focused on improving customer experience and broadening our product offering with the continued expansion of our handset line-up and preparations well underway for 5G service launch. We are also very excited to share that we’ve begun our new partnership with T-Mobile and are actively working with them to accelerate opening up their network to all of our customers.
On Slide 10, turning to business services, we wanted to provide some color on how the business is performing given this unique time. First of all it’s important to flag that business services is only 15% of our total revenues. Of that, roughly two-thirds of our markets and business services is SMB, but only a small percentage is in effective sectors such as restaurants, hospitality and auto dealers.
We expect our SMB customers maybe more impacted by COVID-19 than some of our other enterprise customers. We have seen a slowdown in gross additions since March, however churn strength remains stable, which is very encouraging.
Additionally, similar to our residential business, we are seeing increased demand for higher broadband speeds from our SMB customer base. It is also important to note that the vast majority of our SMB customers take voice and use our service for connectivity to their alarm systems. Both of these elements increase the utility and retention value of our services to our SMB customers during this difficult time.
We have been extremely focused on retention efforts, including introducing customer credits during the shutdown and our community relief program aimed at small businesses. Our large enterprise customer base, which is Lightpath accounts for about one-third of our total business services revenue in key verticals such as government, education, healthcare, and Carrier wholesale represents over half of this as we are the leading provider by market share in our footprint in these sectors.
These verticals have been less affected by COVID-related closures and we expect that to continue to be the case. We are also seeing an increase in the number of Enterprise customers upgrading their service to support remote work with management services like secured Internet and conferencing solutions.
At this point, we have limited visibility into when all of our markets will reopen. With that said, however, Texas and Arkansas are already in the process of reopening this week, which will provide a good early indicator for us on how businesses perform. You can see in the chart here that Suddenlink, SMB represents about 22% of our business services revenue.
Overall, we are confident that our telecom’s infrastructure and secured network services are central services to these businesses.
Turning to Slide 11, for our News and Advertising business. Like our peers, we have seen some local ad cancellations in some of the most affected industries such as hospitality and auto. It’s important to put in perspective that news and advertising represents only 4% of our total revenue and local advertising, which is the most affected makes up roughly only one-third of that 4%.
As these businesses typically order one to two months ahead, this is likely to impact Q2 more than what’s seen in Q1. The outlook for national advertising partly depends on duration of stay-at-home restrictions.
For example, we’ve seen national brands with retail presence suspend their marketing spends altogether. Our full year expectations for the business will depend on a lot of factors, namely the return of large national advertisers to their normal schedules and spend levels. The good news is that some of our west markets are in a process of reopening as I noted earlier, which is a necessary leading indicator of advertising coming back. Remember, political advertising is still likely to contribute positively in the second half, which was roughly about $40 million in incremental revenue in the last political year back in 2018.
And on the news side of the business, we are seeing very positive viewership trends with a 577% increase in Cheddar website traffic, a 131% increase in Cheddar TV viewership and a 48% increase in news12 TV viewership.
And now, I’ll hand over to Mike, who will take you through the financials in more detail.
Thank you, Dexter, and thank you everyone for joining our call. We certainly hope you are all staying safe and well.
On Slide 12, you can see that Altice USA’s adjusted EBITDA margins in the first quarter of 2020 are in line with last year excluding mobile losses at 43.1%. Our margins would be higher except for the recent Cheddar acquisition, which has slightly diluted the margins and this business only just turned breakeven.
And we remember, this represents about a ten percentage point increase from when we first acquired Suddenlink and Cablevision and we have been able to sustain margins at these elevated levels, while investing in all around new growth initiatives.
In Q1, our net EBITDA impact from COVID was relatively low and we estimate it to be less than $10 million. Our EBITDA less CapEx margin reflects added capital outlays related to our fiber investments beginning toward the end of 2018, but we expect additional opportunity to expand our operating free cash flow margin going forward.
As Dexter mentioned earlier, the mix shift towards broadband is also contributing positively, offsetting the video customer loss and programming cost inflations and aided further by additional efficiency measures which we continue to adapt every year.
Turning to Slide 13, we can see a breakdown of cash capital expenditures, which decreased year-over-year, partly due to lower mobile investments given the initial associated launch CapEx costs. Our total capital intensity was 12.2% in Q1, but without fiber and new home build investments, this would have been less than 9%.
We still expect that upon the completion of our fiber builds, we will be able to reduce CapEx significantly with additional opportunity of further reducing OpEx as well. With given the permitting delays that Dexter mentioned, the fiber roll out will likely be slower than we anticipated entering the year, which is the primary reason we are lowering our CapEx expectations to be sub $1.3 billion for the year.
We are currently more focused on expanding 1 gig availability with our DOCSIS 3.1 upgrade enabling more bandwidth and delivering on the next generation of Gig capable broadband gateways. Additionally, we are excited for the commercial launch of our fiber double and triple play products later this year and look forward to updating you on progress there.
In the same that COVID has given us an opportunity to evaluate digital e-transforming our business, we expect that many of our customers are also rethinking the manner in which they manage and utilize their broadband connections. Accordingly, we are investing in our network, anticipating that we will see some permanent changes in consumption behaviors among our customers. We will be ready to accommodate their preferences.
Turning to Slide 14, you will see our free cash flow in more detail. We generated $294 million of free cash flow in Q1, which is up 80% year-over-year, in large part driven by lower cash CapEx as we just discussed, and improved working capital cash flows. Remember, cash interest is higher in the first and third quarters because of the timing of coupon payments.
We are seeing a benefit from refinancing that we executed on last year from the recent fall in our floating rate of debt and from the benefit of amending prior interest rate swap contracts. We also still have some large bonds becoming callable later in 2020, which depending on market conditions should bring further cash interest savings into 2021.
Cash tax payments were just $1 million in Q1. I want to highlight that the recently passed Cares Act allows us to extend our NOLs by more than a year. We now do not expect to be a significant Federal cash tax payer until 2022.
Taken in summation, we are confident that we will be able to deliver our free cash flow growth in 2020, even with slightly more revenue uncertainty in some parts of our business.
Turning to share repurchases, we repurchased $750 million of stock in Q1 and approximately $300 million additional through April having opportunistically accelerated our buyback this year as Dexter explained in order to take advantage of the volatility in the market. We still expect to complete $1.7 billion in share buybacks this year.
As shown on Slide 15, we continue to have a very strong balance sheet position. We have no significant bond maturities greater than $1.1 billion until 2025. As you can see on the maturity schedule, in the appendix to this presentation, with none in 2020, and a weighted average life of debt of 6.2 years.
We have significant liquidity of $2.5 billion at the end of Q1 with an undrawn revolver and cash on hand on the balance sheet. That’s on top of the free cash flow we continue to generate from our recurring revenues every day. Our weighted average cost of debt is now at 5.6%, compared to 5.9% at the end of 2019.
As I already mentioned, we have additional opportunities to further reduce our cost of debt. We will continue to proactively manage maturities, but we can afford to wait and be opportunistic about when we go to market in that regard.
Finally, on Slide 16, we provide our updated financial outlook for 2020, most of which we have already touched upon. Due to the current market uncertainty, we intend to provide an update to our revenue and margin guidance later this year.
We are taking down guidance on cash capital expenditures to below $1.3 billion, and I would reiterate that we continue to expect to grow EBITDA less CapEx and free cash flow this year with ongoing close management activities, lower capital expenditures, and improvements in working capital cash flows.
Lastly, our year-end leverage target remains 4.5 to 5 times on a last two quarters annualized basis and we are reaffirming our annual share buyback target at $1.7 billion.
And with that, we will take any questions.
[Operator Instructions] The first question comes from the line of Philip Cusick with JP Morgan.
Hey guys. Thanks. One clarification first. Dexter, I think you say in your prepared remarks that you are looking for growth in revenue and EBITDA, as well as free cash flow this year. Did I hear that right? Or was I mistaken?
Yes, I mean, listen, we’ve obviously withdrawn our guidance since the – in this level of uncertainty today. We can’t really forecast what we think is going to happen throughout the rest of the year. But what we see today, we continue to expect to see revenue and EBITDA growth this year.
Got it. Okay. Things are relatively improving. And then, maybe just talk about the strength of broadband in the first quarter, did you see go forward of seasonality in the sort of summer months or summer home to reach in Long Island? Or was there other things going on sort of pre-COVID that was driving that?
No, I think – and I think there was obviously some acceleration of people who are coming back to their summer homes quicker than usual. But by and large, we saw a lot of new subscribers coming on board. People that typically have been not connected to us or I would assume also not connected to anyone who used to – use most of their broadband connectivity in the office or on mobile.
And so, we saw a resurgence there significant. And it’s really a tale of two little ships in terms of prime series, which is the Optimum footprint went into lockdown with, call it, much – the probably more like middle of March and so we saw very strong increased activity in the Optimum footprint going through the end of March, going at the beginning of April.
And then, many of our western and mid-western states didn’t come into lockdown until towards the end of March, beginning of April. And so, we are seeing right now, a very, very strong performance coming from the west markets today.
What is clear is there is one additional trend that’s happening, which is as the gross add numbers start to slowdown on the Optimum footprint given the resurgence in March, we are seeing churn rates fall is even quicker, right which does not surprise us given that people on lockdown, people are not moving.
There is much, much less voluntary churn and people want to maintain the stability of their existing service. So, we are really seeing benefits from all fronts in terms of the lockdown relative to our essential business.
Okay. And one more if I can. You saw broadband revenue per user accelerated pretty dramatically. How much of that is either the price increase or a change in allocation versus sort of real incoming demand if people shifting upward? Or is that shift material at the growth rate?
Yes, so, if you just try to break it down a little bit, about 4 to 5 percentage points of that ten of that – sorry – that 14 is allocation based on our lock rates, right. That’s an accounting change. But we’ve been consistently in double-digit revenue growth numbers, but true cash numbers is about 10%.
The remainder of it is about half of it is uptiering, true uptiering and subscriptions. About a quarter of it is volume-based and a quarter of it is the price increase.
Okay. That’s helpful. Thank you.
The next question comes from the line of Craig Moffett with Moffett and Nathanson.
Yes, hi. Two questions if I could. One, just a follow-up on the last question. How much headroom do you think there is with respect to broadband ARPU? You are now over $70. I know there is an allocation element of that that hides that to some extent from at least bundled customers.
But, what have you learned about broadband price sensitivity and how do you think about the sustainability of broadband price increases going forward?
Hey, Craig. Listen, I think, we continue to be very optimistic of our product runway. In terms of where our subscribers were four, four and a half years when we showed up and where they are today, they’ve increased their speeds about three times, three and a half times, but really going from, particularly on the Optimum footprint on an average speed of closer to 50 megs moving up nicely to on average now in total LTC would save about 220.
But if you look at our subscriber base today, one, everyone is on the gross add side is primarily taking 200 megabits and above and the 1 gig product is starting to get very strong traction in its early days here in the Optimum footprint. But more importantly, we have about 2.8 million of our subscribers who are taking 200 megs or below today.
And in terms of the rate of that we are seeing in terms of upsell, and gross adds taking higher speeds, we would anticipate that that continues to grow very nicely to higher speeds. And we are at the cusp really of doing a very strong launch in our Fiber-to-the-Home. That starts really kind of with a couple of products, but really the centerpiece being the 1 gig fiber product.
But obviously with the ability to go up all the way up to 10 gig based on our current infrastructure that we are building out today. All right, so, the product roadmap gets – obviously, people keep on saying, why do I need more, but everyone keeps on getting more and more, all right.
And so, we feel very good about the medium-term here that we are going to continue to stay in very good ARPU growth here on broadband.
Thanks, Dexter. And on video, if I could just pivot to video for a second, there has been a lot of talk lately about sports and who owes who money, I wonder if you could just comment a bit on what your latest thinking is with respect obligations to regional sports network when games are off the air and national sports networks like ESPN when games are off the air and how you think those disputes are likely to be resolved?
Well, to be clear, we owe people money, all right. It’s a lot of people owing us money on this stuff. Listen, we’ve had initial discussions with all the major sports programmers, both on a regional and national basis. So we are engaging with them currently on this discussion. You may have seen the New York AG has reached out to distributors to start providing some relief to customers given that there is a lack of sports programming. We are in complete agreements with New York AG.
And so, this becomes a contract-by-contract discussion with each one of the providers. I can’t give you particular insights, because every single contract looks quite different from the other. But we’d expect to get some relief for sure.
The next question comes from the line of Brett Feldman with Goldman Sachs.
Thanks. I am going to follow-up on video. I thought I heard you say in your prepared remarks that video losses had moderated this quarter a bit, but maybe I misheard. And so, I am curious if that’s correct. And then, just even thinking beyond that, that you consider the country being in a recession and New York market is pretty tough in particularly, obviously, we don’t have sports.
I think a lot of people assume that that’s going to lead to greater pressures on video subscriptions over time. I am wondering if you agree and maybe just more broadly, are you rethinking where video fits in your bundle? Are you may be motivated to the bundling some of the OTT offers brought often video here would be really appreciated. Thank you.
Sure, Brett. Listen, I think to be clear, we published the numbers in Q1 and in April, we’ve seen a slowdown in those losses, right. So, I can’t call it for the rest of the year nor even in the rest of the quarter, but given the trends that we are seeing in the those sorts of business where we are continually seeing very good traction on the broadband product and a slowdown in churn rates by and large period and then a slowdown in our video losses, as well.
It bodes well at least in terms of a video performance relative to what we saw in the first quarter, right. We are showing in the first quarter about a 5.4% loss for the year, which is a couple hundred basis points north of where we typically have been for the last two or three years.
And so, hopefully, we will do better than that, but that’s probably our high watermark for the year, based on what we see today in terms of video losses.
In terms of how we think about the products, I mentioned that we do have – we continue to have a very, very attractive video customer base in terms of aging and profitability. So, that’s the product and service dynamic that we will continue be very focused on. What’s clear and I think it was very clear with our peers is that the gross add dynamics are not very attractive, right.
And so, to your point, do we want to start teaming up more OTT providers? Absolutely. We are in all those discussions as you may expect. And clearly, video on promo in terms of onboarding double and triple plays are less attractive for us today and it shows really in our attachment rates, which is the loss that we’ve seen in terms of acceleration of video RGU losses is really a reduction in the attachment rates on gross adds.
But more importantly, it’s not related to an acceleration in cord shaving at all. Right, so we are not seeing a massive acceleration in cord shaving. The product continues to have very strong stickiness, particularly in our Optimum footprint and given that in our Suddenlink footprint, there is less attractive, what’s called a competition from satellites.
We are seeing very good resilience on our existing base in terms of the churn of the video product. We are all about trying to make sure that we maximize profitability and cash flow. So, this whole focus on making sure that we are harvesting our existing subscriber base profitably and making sure that we are giving alternatives to our customers, attractive alternatives to our customers on the gross add side is really the dynamic that we are going into right now.
The next question comes from the line of Benjamin Swinburne with Morgan Stanley.
Hi, Dexter. How are you doing?
Two questions, maybe on broadband to start, obviously real strength in the business. I am just curious the ability of your company to continue to install at the same rate you’ve been going at in terms of self-installation capacity labor force. I know you guys have taken – I think some wages up for your frontline workers.
It seems like there is a real opportunity, particularly against Fios to take a lot of share. I know you mentioned marketing spending is down for you guys. I am just wondering how you are thinking about taking advantage of this opportunity and also the capacity of the organization to sort of meet demand in broadband during this sort of stay-at-home pandemic that we are working through.
And then I have a follow-up for you guys.
Sure. Listen, on the broadband side, I think it’s very clear. We’ve taken a lot of safety precautions here in terms of customer-facing technicians with the proper PP&E, making pre-calls to ensure customers aren’t sick, prioritizing and limiting residential services, visits within urban and hotspot areas.
So all of those things, we feel as if we have done everything that we can to properly put safety first for our technicians. To that end, yes, it’s true, we understand that Fios has reduced significantly its install workforce. And we may have seen some benefit from that. But the reactions that we’ve seen in Q1 really March and we’ve continued to see here in April has got nothing to do really with the Fios zone versus a non-Fios zone.
We’ve seen a great demand across the board, across all of our geographies, right. So, I think our ability to continue to install, yes, it is a challenge, particularly with all the safety measures that we are putting in place.
Now there is a percentage of our workforce that is offline on the technician side that we are continuing to look to either replenish or use subcontractors to help us meet the strong demand. What we have seen in April is relative to March is a slowdown in the gross adds coming in the east, but an even slower slowdown in the churn rates in the east, which has really driven great economics for the east in the month of April.
And throughout the Suddenlink footprint, we continue to see very, very strong demand on the gross add side and we are meeting that. I would think that, as they look to reopen here, let’s call it over the next couple of months, we will continue to be able to meet nicely through workforce management of the demand and the service requirements.
I think that the opportunity remains obviously on self-install going forward, which we do very little of today. So that is clearly an upgrade, as we continue to roll out new products, new set-top-boxes, new technologies with Fiber-to-the-Home, we haven’t really focused on the self-install because we don’t have a ubiquitous product necessarily to go after in terms of big volumes.
But that is clearly on our roadmap of workforce training is to get that up and running.
Got it. Thank you for the disclosure in the deck on advertising and your B2B business. It’s very helpful. I am just curious I realize visibility is low. But do you have any update for us on how either advertising and/or commercial revenue trends are in early Q2, one month in, just help us think about the pace of the year?
Yes, listen, I think it’s clear at least in terms of our expectations today based on what we see that the advertising business is going to go to its trough this year in the second quarter, right. April is down significantly relative to expectations that we started the year on and down year-over-year. I think probably, I don’t know what the right numbers are going to be.
But somewhere around 30% plus, down in advertising revenues year-over-year in Q2, probably makes – it’s a good starting point, right. We’ll see how that develops and as certain markets open up quicker than others, particularly, obviously, the Optimum markets that will lead to a quicker recovery of that. We’ve run a bunch of scenarios internally in terms of when we think the markets continue – or start to come back on the advertising side.
And I think we feel pretty comfortable in terms of the down case scenario, which is leading us to withdraw revenue guidance, but basically call for revenue growth, no matter what for the year.
On the commercial side, the interesting thing is, we don’t see an acceleration necessarily in churn, not material, at least, in any shape or form, but obviously gross adds are down. Now gross adds, particularly in the Optimum footprint are a small number given that we do have 70% of the SMB markets in the Optimum footprint. So it’s not a huge revenue impactor that gross adds are slowing.
And on the west side, we continue to see very good performance since they were late on lockdown and are going to be early in terms of reopening, right. So, the SMB Suddenlink seems very resilient. The enterprise side, Lightpath seems very resilient, obviously, gross new orders which have on approximately six month lead time to install have slowed down.
So, that’s going to impact revenues in the second half of the year and going into 2021 but not materially. It’s really SMBs in the Optimum footprint. And we are monitoring very closely, obviously, pledge and New Jersey has gone out – has no disconnect policy.
All of these are impacting what we call typically non-pay disconnects or forecasts on what potentially bad debt could be. But today it’s too early to call in terms of what the impact is. But we are not seeing a draconian effect on our SMB business today.
Okay. Great. Thanks a lot.
The next question comes from the line of John Hodulik with UBS.
Yes, thanks. First of all, a couple of follow-ups on the high speed data side. Actually, you just finished off at the Keep America Connected Number or idea. Do you have a number for the number of subs that had sort of appealed to that program? Is that included within the net adds that you guys announced?
Number two, obviously a lot of great datapoints that you gave on that side is, is there – putting all together, can that 14% high speed data revenue growth accelerate as we look from first quarter into second quarter? And then, second question is on the mobile strategy. When do you think you will get access to the T-Mobile network? What has to happen?
And can we expect, give the store closures just sort of relatively few net adds until we get to that point and start adding, open the stores and add those new subscribers on that new network? Thanks.
Sure. On the pledge, we had about 6,000 subscribers in the first quarter. That number has accelerated going into April. What we are seeing towards the end of April now is that number slowing down, we are in kind of the mid-20,000. Right now as of the end of April. But the rate of the, call it, pledgers has slowed down materially over the last week.
It’s interesting to say that about 30% of our pledgers are actually paying their bills and are current on their bill. So, people have – it’s a little bit weird, which is once people identify themselves as a pledger, they are classified as a pledger, even though they are paying which should probably take them out of the pledger, right.
So, but the stats are about 30% of those guys are actually paying their bills and are current. In terms of HFC revenue growth, I don’t want to call that we think we can accelerate it. It’s a very, very strong number. Again, it’s more like 9% to 10% on a cash basis versus 14% on an accounting basis. But we do clearly view this double-digit, high-single-digit pathway as very sustainable for the medium-term given our product roadmap and given where our subscriber base is in terms of average speeds today.
And given that, we do have 2.8 million subscribers that are taking 200 megabits or less today. So that’s important to continue to remember.
On the T-Mobile side, I can’t call it in terms of when we're going to be on their network. We’ve started discussions about a month ago. They’ve been very productive. We are in discussions on 5G as well.
The letter of the contract is, we need to be treated like other spring customers who get shifted over on to their networks. So I suspect that T-Mobile, given their experience and integrations and what they’ve done historically is they are going to try and move people as quickly as possible on to their networks. I just can’t give you a timeframe.
In terms of Q2, clearly, you are going to see lower gross adds in mobile given that we’ve shutdown about 40% of our gross adds are coming through retail. And so, given that we’ve shutdown our entire retail operation pretty much, we are going to see much lower gross adds. And we also stopped our promo, our $20 and promo for life towards the end of the first quarter and so that has obviously dampened a demand as well.
We are going to relaunch a promo. I believe it is May 11th. Don’t hold me to that. But sometime before May 15th we’ll be in the market with a brand new promo really driving it through our inbound call center and through e-commerce.
We are cautiously optimistic that that’s going to be very productive, which is really going to drive obviously OpEx savings going forward in terms of what we can do with the business in terms of the digitization of our OpEx.
Was that – did I answer all your questions, John?
Yes, I think you did. Thanks, Dexter.
The next question comes from the line of James Ratcliffe with Evercore.
Good afternoon. Thanks for taking the question. Two if I could. One, following up on mobile. Can you talk about how is the sales that go on gross adds and subscribers for Optimum customers versus non- Optimum and if that matched your expectations on that front? And secondly, to be clear on the CapEx we spend, so, should we basically think about the lower CapEx guidance as dollars that will be spent, that just got – get spent in 2021 rather than 2020? Thanks.
Sure. On the gross add side, listen, we are trending about two times quicker than our peers in terms of the attachment rate relative to our existing subscriber base since launch. So that's been great in terms of just pure statistics. But I think, as I’ve mentioned on previous calls – in the last call, we were hopeful for a better take up rates on mobile period.
And so, we are clearly looking at all our distribution channels and trying to see how we can accelerate the penetration there. We are very focused on our existing subscriber base. And so, the $20 price point was very attractive. We’ve come off that and so that is now $30 or $35 and we are going to go back to a promo coming back in May.
So we’ll see on how that does, but this is a business that we want to continue to develop. Obviously, what we were guiding towards in terms of mobile losses for the year, we expect to beat that number given what’s happening right now in terms – our marketing spends have come down, our cost of doing business has come down given the retail closures, et cetera.
So, this is going to be a continued work in progress, but we are cautiously optimistic about the success on mobile, because we’d like to push volumes a lot more quicker.
In terms of our CapEx, is there some time shift in CapEx? Absolutely. As Mike mentioned, we are running to permitting issues on FTTH, which given that many of the communities are shut and so, that is going to get shifted. That CapEx spend is going to get shifted into 2021 as we continue to accelerate.
But there are other things that we are doing in terms of CapEx that is reducing our CapEx budgets. As an example, just as I mentioned, the video attachment rates for gross adds have come down, particularly in the Optimum footprint. That’s driving lower CPE costs, right. And so, that in itself is helping also as we guide you guys to sub $1.3 billion of CapEx this year.
I suspect that as we move into 2021, that those trends of lower attachment rate will probably hanging there as well. And so, just purely on terms of CPE cost, our CPE costs are going to be coming down.
Great. Thank you.
The next question comes from the line of Michael Rollins with Citi.
All right. Good afternoon. Two questions if I could. First, just going back to the video discussion, if we look at video revenues year-over-year, they are down about 7% in dollars programming, expense dollars of 4%.
Can you talk about what you are doing on the video pricing to try to recover some of the programming cost increases and maybe why, this variance that's happening between the video revs and the programming expenses? And then secondly, did you mentioned earlier and I apologize if I missed it that specific bad debt expense or reserves that we’ve taken to-date? Thanks
So, I’ll let Mike to talk about the reserves. Just to be clear on the video ARPU, as we mentioned, we saw a 4% to 5% increase on the 14% increase in data accounting ARPU growth. That is coming straight out of video ARPU right. It’s really in terms of the accounting allocation of our rack rates, and we can’t get any more scientific than that it.
It is the way it is. So, in terms of our 7% video revenue ARPU declines, that is way overstated. It’s about 2% to 3% of that is accounting. And then, on top of that obviously you have the sub numbers that are coming down, that’s driving video ARPU because the difference between an existing subscriber and a gross add subscriber is material in terms of the ARPU that’s allocate on video.
So, how are we dealing? We are trying to catch-up on some of this differential where our programming is up 4% and accounting video ARPU is down 7%. We are very, very focused on the gross margin and EBITDA equation there, very, very focused on making sure that the bundle economic makes sense as we roll up promos and look at the survivability - the medium to long-term survivability of our customers and really emphasizing broadband plus OTT options as a real alternative to a bundle, because the data subscriber or the triple play subscriber funnily enough are the more attractive subscribers in the long-term basis in terms of the values that the lifetime value of a subscriber.
The double-play guy tends to be less attractive, right. That really depends on pricing and mix of what you are doing to your promos. And so, we are very, very focused on that. And then, obviously on the programming cost side of the equation, this is something where we think we continue to work very well at trying to push the growth rates down.
And given the trends in this business, I do think the entire sector with our peers feels like there is an opportunity for us to continue to make that slowdown in the programming cost inflation.
On the allowance of bad debt, you asked about, we did not disclosed the specific number around that and nor are we going to. But we did disclosed the estimated COVID impacts on our 1Q EBITDA was somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million or a little less than that. Any incremental bad debt reserves would be captured in there.
We are looking at this closely. We are monitoring it literally every day, looking it. The things you would expect us to be looking at the daily cash receipts and how that’s trending month-to-month versus prior year. We are looking at the aging of our receivables. To-date, we are not seeing a lot of differences.
So we’ve been kind of reassured by that. Now the kind of pressures that are building in the economy around this, like they build. They don’t diminish over time. So we could see a little more pressure in 2Q. We are not seeing it to-date through April.
In terms of our trending cash receipts, so and I think we tried to make the point in our presentation that the sectors where we are most vulnerable being news and advertising, specifically, local advertising and then the SMBs are relatively small portions of our revenue base. So, we've looked at it very critically.
We've looked at a lot of different data points and we’ve – we had our best judgment on what we needed to do. We did book some incremental bad debt expense in the quarter. It’s a relatively modest number and we’ll keep monitoring it going through 2Q, like so many other things we are talking about, a lot is dependent, of course on how soon the economy in the different states start to open up their markets.
The next question comes from the line of Jonathan Chaplin with New Street Research.
Thanks for taking the question. Dexter, I am wondering if you can give us an update on what the average usage have grown for broadband-only subs and for the guys that have – that take video from you. And I am wondering, as you look at the guys that have connected over the course of the last month that were wireless-only, how much of the shift in usage you think is structural?
Actually, how many of those previously wireless-only households do you think you might be able to hang on to when isolation ends? And then also, a quick follow-up on broadband subscriber trends. They were obviously phenomenal this quarter.
Do you think you pulled growth forward from the second half of the year into the first half of the year? Or do you think you could end up with record net adds for the entire year? Thank you.
My team is going to kill me on my last answer to that question, Jonathan. On the updates relative to usage, I mean we clearly were on broadband-only about 400 gigabits of usage per subscriber before the pandemic. We are now above 500 gigabits, right.
So, that’s let’s call it a 25% increase in usage of broadband-only subscribers and I am not calling the peak, because that’s going to continue to grow. But it's very good statistic point relative to the entire data usage of our network is about up 24%. We’ve seen surge is in the east which have gone up about 35%, it was 40% at times.
But in the west, we’ve only seen surge is about 15% in the first quarter. And that again, I think, that we will update that number for the second quarter, because the west was slow in the lockdown and so the subscriber dynamics that we saw in the east in March, we are seeing in the west now in April. In terms of lockdown ending and those who are wireless-only subscribers before, funnily enough, I am cautiously optimistic here.
I don’t think those guys unsubscribe from us. I think given what’s happened and given the dynamics that we expect for the very near and medium future, that work from home is going to be clearly part of our lives for quite a bit of time until obviously, testing comes in and vaccinations and those types of things.
But that’s – those are going to be, I think time periods are a lot longer than just reopening dates that states are throwing out there. So, I believe that we are going to hold on to super majority of those customers that used to not be our customers or anyone’s customer.
Relating to our record numbers, did we pulled forward? I don’t believe so. I think that we are going to continue to see very strong numbers. And where we may see a slowdown in gross adds, to your point, I do think we are going to see a continued slowdown in churn numbers, as people know what they have.
They’ve been in lockdown, even if they are in semi-lockdown for the next six months, I don’t see people voluntarily changing providers, nor do I see an acceleration in movers. And so, I do think that we are going to see very, very strong numbers coming out this year. I don’t know how strong we’ve been trending around mid-70,000 broadband net adds per year over the last couple of years.
We are at 50,000 right now. Obviously, the second quarter tends to be a weaker quarter as does the third quarter going into back-to -school. But that whole dynamic of back-to-school and you could throw that off the door given that we don’t really know what’s going to happen to schools. So I just think that, this is a essential product.
And I think that our peers, even though probably won’t want to – don’t make a call here either, but the numbers continue to be very, very strong.
Great. Thanks, Dexter.
The final question comes from the line of Doug Mitchelson of Crédit Suisse.
Thanks, so much. Few questions, Dexter. You sort of stuck my curiosity on the self installs. Do you talk about the lack of ubiquitous products hold you back sort of historically from pursuing self-installs, but it’s on the math. Could you just give us a sense of the timing or – this would take a year, two years, three years?
I know you're very focused on efficiencies. And you also said broadband-only are more attractive lifetime value customer now. Is that really sort of a difference in just acquisition cost going to the home and putting a couple of set-top-boxes in and I don’t know if you are willing to share the difference in acquisition cost between a double play and a single play.
But it’s really kind of a remarkable state of play to be at the point where you could say, sort of broadband-only is higher lifetime and I’ve got one follow-up.
Sure. Listen, on the self-install, I think that given all the things we are doing from a network standpoint and from a user interface standpoint, which the mix is changing and that we are extremely stable on the Altice One side today and we are - I think we are at about 18% penetration going at 1% to 2% per quarter.
We are probably within 12 months starting a real push on the self-install side, right. So, I would expect that 2021 in terms of our customer service roadmap, we are going to have a fiber box and a gateway available for people to think about self-installing and then also the Altice One or straight modem product on the DOCSIS product.
It’s just that we’ve been so focused that so many balls up in the air, but this is something that has not been a priority for us given all those things we are doing.
On the broadband-only side, I think what’s happening is, as bundling has gotten more aggressive, particularly on the double play, those economics are getting worse and worse, right. So, you’d much rather take a single play, whether it’s 200, 300, 400 megabit or even 1 gig at a promo offer, then at a very aggressive promo offer on double play where the economics when it comes to set-top-boxes, cost of installs, and the programming cost and the continued growth of those programming costs over the lifeline of the subscriber as you model that out, even though the churn rates are better on the double-play relative to single-play based on today.
And I think we need to fast forward a couple of years from now to see if those churn rates really are better on the double play. But the promo economics are not very attractive, right? So as you run your numbers, and you look at a free cash flow IRR, your free cash flow IRR is more attractive on the single broadband.
Super interesting. And so the last thing is I am trying to relate the stock buyback to leverage versus the leverage guidance, if I use your current net debt, you would need about 5% EBITDA growth in the second half of the year to hit the five times leverage ratio. And I know want to be a penny down on EBITDA growth in the back half of the year.
And I think you get a couple points from political there, as well. The way I guess, we wanted to ask it is, is there any sort of change to debt throughout the year or anything that we can put in our pockets beyond political in the back half of the year that we should think about when we are doing that relationship between sort of the buyback ability and the leverage guidance?
Well, I mean, you are right. I mean the advertising sector is in terms of revenue and EBITDA growth is a biggest question mark in terms of volatility of our numbers. And then the secondary concern is really all about bad debt, non-pays and conversion of, let’s call it pledgers and those types of things.
So, it’s really difficult for us to talk very with a lot of transparency around our EBITDA numbers. Because, even though you do see a big fall-off in advertising revenue associated in your margin that you want to deal with it, we are doing a lot of things on the OpEx side, right? And we’ve listed a lot of things that we’ve talked about in terms of cost of distribution has come down significantly.
Media spend has come down. Work from home obviously has led to reduced OpEx cost. We are revisiting all of our real estate-related stuff. We’ve obviously also visited employee, employee benefits, employee salaries, lots of things. It's a whole laundry list of things that we are dealing with.
So the OpEx savings is what you can’t see today in your numbers. So I do think about a 5% EBITDA growth number that gets you to the $1.7 billion and you are focusing on revenues, you can’t just focus on revenues. There is a lot of things happening on the OpEx side.
Yes, I don’t think we are ready to give you more clarity than that today. But we’ve made a lot of, lot of decisions over the last six weeks within OpEx that are going to continue to flow through the year, which is why we’ve kept the guidance relating to EBITDA margins, we believe EBITDA margins are going to continue to grow.
I would echo Ben. Thanks for all the transparency.
I think that’s…
I would now turn it back over for closing remarks.
Thank you everyone for joining. Let us know if you've any follow-up questions. Otherwise, we look forward to catching up with you virtually in the next few weeks. Thank you.
This concludes today's conference call. You may now disconnect.