Q4 Doomsayers

There's no doubt the U.S. economy is in a sluggish state. And the slowdown, including the economic challenges experienced last year, has caught up with multiplatform companies.

But is it as bad as the pundits have said it is for the media industries?

Late last week, DIRECTV reported fourth quarter results that met (and for some exceeded) expectations. The DBS company netted a healthy 275,000 customers, for a total of 16.83 million, during the three-month period.

What caught Wall Street's scrutinizing eyes was record low churn for DIRECTV at 1.42 percent and an increase in APRU (average revenue per unit) to $87.40. Not bad for a company doing battle in a very competitive pay-TV environment that's impacted by economic uncertainties.

On the cable side, there were no quarterly reporting surprises from the nation's biggest MSO, Comcast. And that was good news. The company, as expected, finished 2007 with a gain of 6 million RGUs (revenue generating units). That's down from a previous company forecast of 6.5 million RGU gains.

Comcast lost 94,000 basic customers in the fourth quarter, yet gained digital video, broadband and phone subscribers during the three-month period.

The numbers had some on Wall Street putting the results in perspective. As Richard Greenfield of Pali Research said, "While Comcast investors breathed a sigh of relief that Comcast did not miss already lowered 2007 expectations, it's important to understand how much lower 2008 expectations are now versus 12 months ago."

The nation's second biggest MSO, Time Warner Cable, is witnessing a rebound among systems it acquired from bankrupt Adelphia in 2006. Operations in Los Angeles and Dallas had dogged the company with steep subscriber losses. But they appeared to have turned a corner in the fourth quarter, adding to Time Warner's broadband and phone customer counts.

While the fourth quarter news so far hasn't been terrible, the business is not through with the reporting. A much better indication of how multiplatform companies are performing in challenging times will surface next week when about a half-dozen reports are released.

DISH starts the Q4 circus with a numbers release early Tuesday. Sirius also reports that day along with Mediacom. Charter details fourth quarter numbers Wednesday and Cablevision releases results Thursday.