In little-noticed comments, the top executive at Charter Communications said the cable operator is looking at offering a lower-cost package to win back customers who may have dropped service because of financial straits.
CEO Michael Lovett said the company is creating "a lower-tier, more economic package. We can go back to those households that are experiencing challenging times in this economy with something that would be better-suited for them," he said, "at least for this phase."
Unlike Time Warner Cable, which seems to have ironed out any objections from content providers, Lovett said Charter still must overcome issues resulting from agreements with programmers.
The TWC budget package includes top-tier cable networks, but fewer of them (TBS but not TNT, for example). It is launching this week in New York for a little more than half the cost of a current low-end offering.
Speaking at an industry event last week, Lovett did not offer details on timing or markets for a Charter rollout.
The Charter initiative is an outgrowth of the company's belief that reductions in subscribers are greater because of the economy. People simply can't afford some cable services; less migration is attributed to "over-the-top" (cord-cutting) opportunities.
"If you look at unemployment rates today, we see people forgoing video entertainment in the household," Lovett said.
He said it is "most significantly" apparent in apartment buildings and other "multidwelling units" within the Charter footprint.
"We don't see 'over-the-top' as a substitution long-term," he said. "We see a near-term impact relative to the economy on the video business."
Lovett said that in previous recessions a similar trend has emerged, where people have first scaled down their packages (cutting tiers and premium services), and then resorted to dropping service altogether for "a period of time."
"We've also seen that bounce back," he added.
Charter saw a 5% decrease in TV subscribers to 4.65 million in the third quarter of this year, compared to the same period last year. The operator has clusters in the Midwest, with St. Louis as a heart; Southern California; Tennessee and eight other areas.
Lovett said Charter continues to experience some erosion in customers in the current quarter.