Charter Communications beat Wall Street’s estimates for earnings in the fourth quarter, but the company reported a slowdown in acquiring internet and video customers.
Net income of $6.05 per share nearly doubled the $3.28 of a year ago and far surpassed analysts’ consensus expectation for $4.83. Revenue essentially matched forecasts at $12.6 billion for the quarter, up from $11.7 billion in the same period in 2019.
The company, which is the No. 2 cable provider in the U.S., added 19,000 video customers, a reversal of the year-earlier quarter’s decline of 484,000. When TV is combined with internet, the company’s overall customer relationships grew at a slower rate than it did a year earlier, with 167,000 more customers joining the fold. That compares with 416,000 additions in the third quarter and a gain of 240,000 in the 2019 period.
In its earnings release, Charter blamed the slowdown on “lower sales activity caused by adding 1.9 million residential Internet customers in the prior three quarters as well as lower market churn.”
On a conference call with analysts, CEO Tom Rutledge said the rare increase of video customers was unlikely to point to a trend for the rest of the year. He said across the industry he expects “video growth to decline at a moderate pace.”
Internet providers saw spectacular surges in business in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Charter added 1.8 million residential customer relationships in 2020, compared with 1 million additions in 2019.
Rutledge cautioned, “I don’t think we’ll have quite the internet growth in 2021 that we had in 2020.” Executives on the call said 2022 was shaping up to be a growth year after a bit of a pause for the rest of 2021.