Charter Communications Names Chris Winfrey as New CEO, Replacing Tom Rutledge Who is Retiring After 50-Year Career

Charter Communications Sept. 21 announced that Chris Winfrey has been named president and CEO, effective Dec. 1. Winfrey most recently served as COO after more than a decade as the cabler’s CFO. As CEO, Winfrey will report to board of directors. 

Tom Rutledge

Current CEO Tom Rutledge, who announced his plans to retire as CEO after a 50-year career, beginning as a technician in 1972 while in college, will serve as executive chairman through the end of his contract in November 2023. Rutledge will maintain oversight of Charter’s government affairs during that time and provide his guidance to ensure a smooth and successful transition. 

Rutledge helped grow Charter to a pay-TV, broadband and telecom operator with more than 30 million subscribers. He grew the company both organically and through transformative acquisitions, which included Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks and Optimum West (Bresnan).

“It has been an honor and a pleasure to lead Charter and this incredible team over the past 10 years,” Rutledge said in a statement. “We have grown the company through innovation and strategic investments and have positioned Charter to provide the best converged connectivity products and services available today.”

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Chris Winfrey

Winfrey joined Charter as CFO in 2010, added oversight of Spectrum Enterprise in 2019, and operational leadership of the residential and SMB sales and marketing organization, and Spectrum Community Solutions in 2021. Later in 2021, he was named COO. 

Prior to joining Charter, Winfrey served as CFO, and as managing director for cable operations, broadcasting and satellite entities at Unitymedia GmbH, Germany’s second-largest cable operator. Earlier in his career, Winfrey served as SVP of corporate finance and development at Cablecom, GmbH. He was previously a director of financial planning and analysis and director of operations services of NTL Incorporated’s continental European operations, and a senior associate in the private equity group at Communications Equity Associates. He has spent nearly 25 years in the cable industry, and in 2015 received The Internet & Television Association’s (NCTA) Vanguard Award for Young Leadership.

Charter CEO Upbeat on Comcast Streaming Video Joint Venture

Charter Communications chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge has high hopes for the upcoming joint venture Charter and Comcast Cable announced in April.

The JV is aimed at offering video app developers, streamers, retailers, operators, and hardware manufacturers a platform to better reach their customers in major markets across the country.

Comcast would license Flex, its aggregated streaming platform and hardware to the joint venture, XClass TVs, the company’s branded smart-TV platform and include Xumo, the ad-supported streaming service it acquired in 2020. Charter is funding the venture with $900 million over multiple years.

With a marketing mindset, “build it and they will come,” Charter and Comcast contend third-party content distributors would have access to a larger retail footprint — in exchange for a fee and share of advertising revenue.

Charter CEO Tom Rutledge

Speaking at  a Sept. 14 Goldman Sachs + Technology confab in San Francisco, Rutledge said the joint venture gives the companies an opportunity to monetize video and create an advertising and transaction business that directs consumers to content and media companies get more customers.

Of course, delivering the platforms to end-users requires high-speed internet, which both Charter and Comcast dominate the market.

“We’ll make further investments to drive advertisers and conveyors of content and have us sell their content on that platform,” Rutledge said. “So, yeah, we’re going to deploy that.”

Charter and Comcast combined have more than 62 million broadband subscribers, accounting for more than 66% market share. The companies have more than 35 million combined pay-TV subscribers.

“If you want to have a job, you need broadband. If you want to be entertained, you need broadband,” Rutledge said, adding that high-speed internet is almost inflation proof.

“If you think about all the things, you could spend your money on if you don’t have very much, [high-speed internet] is the best value there is,” he said. “And we can make it even more valuable. I’m not really worried about our ability to interact with consumers and to grow in a negative market environment.”

Rutledge said voluntary subscriber churn (customers who do not renew service) is still “incredibly” low.

“It’s well below historic norms. Consumers still have money and unemployment is still low. I think our ability to sell to consumers will still be good. That said, we’ll still do rate increases,” he said.

Charter Loses 133,000 Q3 Pay-TV Subscribers

Charter Communications Oct. 29 announced that its Spectrum TV service lost 133,000 residential subscribers in the third quarter (ended Sept. 30). That compared with a gain of 77,000 pay-TV subs in the previous-year period. Charter ended the quarter with 15.3 million Spectrum subs — down from 15.7 million in the previous-year period.

The company added 243,000 high-speed internet subs, to end the quarter with 27.9 million subs. That compared with a gain of 494,000 broadband subs and 26.8 million overall in the previous-year period.

Charter was one of first multichannel video distributors to offer broadband-only subscribers with an online TV option — Spectrum TV Plus — that included a free Roku player.

“The value of our connectivity products allowed us to add over 1 million customer relationships over the last year,” CEO Tom Rutledge said in a statement. “Looking forward, we remain focused on improving both the quality and value of our products as demand for more advanced services
grows. As data usage both inside and outside the home continues to increase, so do our network and product capabilities.”

Charter Spectrum Added Pay-TV Subs in 2020

In a trend reversal, Charter Communications Jan. 29 announced it added 19,000 residential video customers in 2020, compared with a decline of 484,000 subs in 2019. Residential video customers decreased by 66,000 in the fourth quarter, ended Dec. 31, while fourth-quarter 2019 residential video customers decreased by 105,000.

Charter ended the year with 16.2 million Spectrum video subs, up from 16.14 million subs in 2019.

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Charter CEO Tom Rutledge

Similarly to other pay-TV operators, Charter is a major high-speed Internet provider, the lifeline to delivering burgeoning over-the-top video consumption in subscriber homes. The company said it ended 2020 with 28.9 million residential and business Internet subscribers, with 2.2 million subs added in 2020 versus 1.4 million added in 2019. Charter added 246,000 broadband subs in the fourth quarter compared to 339,000 during the fourth quarter of 2019.

“Our 2020 performance demonstrates that our customer-friendly operating strategy works well for Charter communities, employees and shareholders, even in challenging economic and operating
environments,” CEO Tom Rutledge said in a statement.

Charter in 2015 was one of the first providers to offer broadband-only subscribers an online TV platform — Spectrum TV Plus — that afforded users access to premium channels for $20 monthly and a free Roku player.

Charter Spectrum Loses 77,000 Q3 Video Subs; Ups Criticism of Shared Passwords

Charter Spectrum joined other pay-TV distributors reporting ongoing subscriber losses of traditional linear video entertainment in the home.

The company Oct. 25 said it lost 77,000 video subs in the third quarter, ended Sept. 30. That compared with a loss of 66,000 subs in the previous-year period.

The service has jettisoned 415,000 video subs in the past fiscal year, ending the period with 15.7 million.

Charter did add 351,000 broadband subscribers, underscoring ongoing consumer migration towards over-the-top video services such as Netflix and online TV. It added 266,000 high-speed Internet subs during the previous-year period.

The service ended the period with 24.5 million broadband subs, up from 23.3 million subs a year ago.

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With the onslaught of high-profile SVOD services from Disney and Apple, in addition to WarnerMedia early next year, CEO Tom Rutledge was asked about the growing industry concern regarding the sharing of user passwords among non-subscribers.

Without naming offending OTT services, Rutledge alluded to third-party streaming services affording simultaneous access to five separate users with no location-based security.

“I feel like I’m beating my head against the wall talking about privacy or piracy, password sharing and pricing, but they’re all inter-related issues,” Rutledge said on the fiscal call.

Charter CEO Tom Rutledge

He criticized content creators entering the distribution market seemingly indifferent to where their programming is going.

Indeed, Netflix, which has heretofore turned a blind eye toward password sharing, has begun looking into the practice.

“It has not been part of their DNA [worrying about it],” Rutledge said. “Most households in the United States have two or less people in them. And as a result of that, there are more streams available [for free] than there are households.”

The executive contends that until there is increased scrutiny on video access in and out of the home on a single account, “it’s just too easy to get the product without paying for it.”

“When we look at data consumption, we can see that video consumption isn’t going down even when people disconnect their paid video,” Rutledge said. “And as a result of that, it makes the [subscription] price value relationship really difficult when it’s free.”

Separately, Rutledge said Spectrum was considering partnering with Comcast’s Flex SVOD service for broadband-only subscribers.

Charter several years ago bowed Spectrum TV Plus, a $12.99 monthly online TV service for its broadband-only subs. The service included a free Roku player.

In 2018, the service was changed to $14.99 Spectrum TV Plus. Last year Charter unveiled “TV Essentials,” a $15 monthly “skinny bundle” option for pay-TV subs.

“We have a significant number of app based relationships that we’ve developed on multiple devices, and that strategy is working for us,” Rutledge said. “And putting inexpensive devices out with your service makes some sense to us.”