Cablevision Systems Corporation History

Address:
1111 Stewart Avenue
Bethpage, New York 11714-3581
U.S.A.

Telephone: (516) 803-2300
Fax: (516) 806-2273

Website:
Public Company
Incorporated: 1985
Employees: 15,824
Sales: $3.27 billion (1998)
Stock Exchanges: American
Ticker Symbol: CVC
NAIC: 51321 Cable Networks; 51331 Wired Telecommunications Carriers; 51339 Other Telecommunications; 443112 Radio, Television & Other Electronics Stores; 512131 Motion Picture Theaters, Except Drive-In; 711211 Sports Teams & Clubs; 71399 All Other Amusement & Recreation Industries

Company Perspectives:

Cablevision Systems Corporation is one of the nation's leading telecommunications and entertainment companies. Its portfolio of operations ranges from high-speed Internet access and robust cable television packages to championship professional sports teams and national television program networks. Driving Cablevision's success is the company's vision to enrich and enhance the lives of its customers by providing the greatest choice of entertainment, information and telecommunications services possible utilizing state-of-the-art technology.

Company History:

Cablevision Systems Corporation is one of the largest cable systems operators in the United States, providing service to about 3.4 million subscribers, primarily in the greater New York, Boston, and Cleveland metropolitan areas. Through its state-of-the-art fiber-optic coaxial cable systems, Cablevision has been expanding its telecommunications offerings beyond cable, into the realms of high-speed Internet access and local telephone service. The company also maintains a strong presence in programming through Rainbow Media Holdings Inc., which is 75 percent owned by Cablevision and 25 percent owned by the National Broadcasting Company, Inc. Rainbow Media owns several cable networks, including American Movie Classics, Romance Classics, Bravo, and the Independent Film Channel. Rainbow also holds a majority interest in the Madison Square Garden arena, the New York Knickerbockers professional basketball team, the New York Rangers professional hockey team, and Radio City Music Hall; as well as interests in regional sports networks, the Fox Sports Net national network, and regional news networks. Cablevision's other ventures include ownership of the Wiz chain of New York area consumer electronics stores and the Clearview Cinema Group, operator of movie theaters in the northeastern United States. AT&T Corp. holds a one-third stake in Cablevision, but the founding Dolan family maintains control of 80 percent of the voting shares.

Founding by Cable Pioneer

Charles F. Dolan, the founder and chairman of the board of directors of Cablevision, entered the cable television business in its infancy. A maker of industrial films, he became a pioneer of cable television in 1960 when he began wiring hotels in New York City for reception of his cable news service. In 1965 Dolan's company, Sterling Manhattan, won a franchise to operate a cable television system in the southern half of Manhattan. Sterling had wealthy partners--Time, Inc. in particular--and was able to raise money for the cable system through a stock offering, but he was unable to amass enough funds to complete the system. Sterling's debts multiplied until 1973 when Time, having become the owner of 80 percent of the company, decided to liquidate. Time bought the Home Box Office (HBO) channel--the first nationwide pay-TV channel in the United States, which Dolan had founded in 1970--from Sterling, and HBO went on to become the leading pay-TV channel in the United States.

Although Time had lost faith in the marketability of cable service on Long Island, where many free television channels were already offered, Dolan firmly believed that people wanted the commercial-free television with programming alternatives that cable offered. Using part of the $675,000 he received from Time for his Sterling stock, he bought back the Long Island cable franchises from Time and quickly created another cable company, Long Island Cable Communication Development Company. The company offered a free month of HBO to its 1,500 Long Island customers, and was rewarded when over 90 percent of them opted to continue the service for $6.00 a month.

Such early successes enabled Cablevision to begin raising venture capital and attracting more customers. The densely populated Long Island proved an especially auspicious market. Its proximity to Manhattan made it easy to pick up the microwave signals HBO and other transmitters were still using. Dolan won still more customers by gaining the rights to New York Mets, Islanders, Nets, and Yankees games that were blacked out locally. Cablevision received the highest revenue per subscriber in the United States, partly because Long Island provided an affluent customer base, and partly because of its strategy of selling pay-TV channels in blocks for a lower sum than they would bring individually.

While Cablevision produced significant cash flow, there was little profit due to the capital-intensive nature of the cable business. To keep the company afloat and expanding, Dolan turned to limited partnerships, attracting business magnates such as Hugh Hefner and Milton Friedman as investors. Cablevision slowly expanded, adding systems in Yonkers, New York; New Jersey; and suburban Chicago. By 1980, at about the time the cable industry began receiving significant nationwide attention, Cablevision had 155,000 customers and $14 million of cash flow. It was worth $250 million and had a debt of $45 million. The 50 miles of cable it had owned in 1973 had grown to 4,000 miles.

Formation of Rainbow: 1980

In 1980 Cablevision formed a subsidiary, Rainbow Programming Services, to create cable programming. This programming soon included the American Movie Classics channel, which showed vintage Hollywood films, and Bravo, which showed classic American and foreign films, exclusive Broadway plays, music and dance performances, and educational presentations. In 1983 Cablevision began offering the Newsday Channel, a 24-hour news and information channel produced in conjunction with the New York newspaper Newsday. The station did not attract enough viewer support to survive long, however. Cablevision also started Sports Channel, which broadcast New York Nets basketball games, and Islander and Devils hockey games, in addition to Yankees and Mets games. The channel received revenue from advertisers and subscribers, and became one of the cable industry's most successful sports services.

In 1984 Cablevision moved aggressively to win a cable franchise in Boston. It won the bidding with a basic cable fee of $2.00 a month, considered low for the cable industry. The firm planned to make up for the lost revenue by tiering pay services such as HBO. It ran into construction problems in laying the cable, however, delaying completion of the system--and its capacity for bringing in much-needed revenue--for years. Cablevision was also expanding into New York City, where it won franchises for the Bronx and two-thirds of Brooklyn. Although there were more setbacks--in 1985 Cablevision lost its 47.5 percent stake in a Sacramento cable system when it was unable to pay off a $34 million obligation to partner Scripps Howard Inc.--Cablevision became the 15th largest cable systems operator in the United States in 1986, with 595,000 subscribers.

In 1986, with the price of cable televisions systems at an all-time high, Dolan decided to create a publicly held company with 390,000 of Cablevision's subscribers. The systems going public were in Long Island, Westchester County, New York City, and New Jersey. Systems in Boston and Chicago that had not yet become profitable were not included in the new company until they went into the black. The initial stock price worked out to about $1,700 per subscriber. The stock offering was structured in such a way that it left Dolan with a large percentage of the company's voting rights and control of 75 percent of the board of directors. Dolan received some criticism because the systems he was taking public were believed to have grown about as large as they were going to.

Cablevision's debt stood at about $290 million from acquisitions and the buying out of limited partners. Dolan reportedly wanted to use the $80 million he raised through the offering to pay off part of this debt. Dolan also wanted to spend $25 million on further cable construction in New York City.

In July 1986 Cablevision agreed to acquire two cable systems from Scripps Howard Inc. for $175 million. The systems were also partly held by Dolan, though how much each party owned was not revealed. The systems were located in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and added 120,000 subscribers to the Cablevision system. Later in the year Cablevision acquired the portions of Rainbow Programming Services it did not already own for about $57 million. In 1987 Cablevision bought Adams-Russell Co., a cable TV company based in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Cablevision also expanded its programming services. In December 1986, Cablevision tried again to offer a 24-hour local news channel. News 12, available on all Long Island cable systems, not just Cablevision's, won numerous awards for its news coverage, and became Long Island's premier news service.

In early 1987, Cablevision joined a group of cable operators and investor Kirk Kerkorian in investing $550 million in Turner Broadcasting System Inc. (TBS). The investment in TBS allowed Chairman of the Board Ted Turner to keep control of his company. Cablevision and the other investors desired this because Turner Broadcasting was an important source of programming, and they wanted it to maintain its independence. The group of investors was allowed to name five of TBS's 11 board members.

Increasing its involvement with cable programming, Cablevision bought the Washington Post Company's interests in four of California's Sports Channels in June 1987 for $6 million. At this point, Cablevision had sports channels in Chicago, New York, New England, Philadelphia, and Florida. The firm also increased its expansion out of the eastern seaboard when it bought First Carolina Communication cable systems in Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio.

In 1988 Gulf & Western outbid Cablevision for the rights to Yankees games. To protest, Cablevision dropped Gulf & Western's Madison Square Garden Network, which broadcast the games as part of its regular service. The move angered many of the 400,000 Cablevision subscribers in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, who were unable to watch the games. It also upset many cable systems operators, who worried that the controversy would attract unwanted attention from the U.S. federal government. Congress had just deregulated cable in 1987, and as consumers complained about cable service, some lawmakers considered reregulation. Cablevision settled with Gulf & Western in 1989, agreeing to offer the Madison Square Garden Network as an option in its service package, priced and promoted equally to its own Sports Channel.

In 1989 Cablevision and the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) formed a joint venture to market a national cable network as well as regional news and sports networks. They also agreed to offer the first pay-per-view Olympics coverage of the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona. It was the first time that a broadcast network and a cable system had cooperated in a programming venture, and many industry analysts had doubts that it would work. NBC and Cablevision had competing interests: cable television was a threat to the audiences of NBC's affiliate stations, and cable operators were suspicious of NBC's forays into cable programming. NBC received a 50 percent stake in most of Rainbow's programming services, while Cablevision took 50 percent of NBC's cable venture, Consumer News and Business Channel, and $137.5 million to develop programming for it. The two companies also intended to create a series of regional cable news stations and ten sports channels in addition to the five already operated by Cablevision.

Large Purchases: Late 1980s

Cablevision had borne a high debt load since its inception, having borrowed heavily to lay cable and buy other companies. In the late 1980s the firm's debt increased significantly as it made a number of large purchases. Cablevision bought a regional sports channel in Los Angeles for $18 million. It also bought two cable systems in suburban Cleveland and Long Island from Viacom Inc. for $549 million. Cablevision also received 20 percent of another system under construction in Cleveland and a five percent stake in The Movie Channel and Showtime, two Viacom pay channels. The sale added 120,000 subscribers to the 310,000 Cablevision already had in Long Island and added 75,000 subscribers to the 85,000 it had in Cleveland. Cablevision became the eighth largest cable systems operator in the United States, with over 1.3 million customers in 11 states. But with rising interest payments on its significant debt, Cablevision lost $22.6 million in 1988 on sales of $493 million.

In February 1990 Cablevision announced it would invest $1 billion with three other media companies in Sky Cable, a direct-broadcast satellite service that was to offer up to 108 channels. The plan fell apart in little more than a year, however, due to conflicting interests among the partners.

In the meantime, Cablevision continued to create new programming. It announced plans for a channel that would cover important or sensational court trials. The In Court channel was hampered by a lack of unused channels on most cable systems, as well as a rival channel to be started by American Lawyer Media. Tentative plans to merge the channels were announced before either went on the air. In 1991 the Cablevision and NBC partnership agreed to start a sports-news cable channel. The channel was to be distributed through the Sports Channel America network. Critics pointed out that sports fans wanted to see the games themselves, and that sports news was already covered by a variety of media outlets.

Cablevision and NBC spent $40 million on marketing their pay-per-view Olympics service, and $60 million producing it, but the actual sales were disappointing. The cost of the service to the consumer was high, starting at $95 for weekend coverage, and 160 hours of Olympic coverage was already available on free television. Far fewer subscribers signed up than expected and Cablevision lost $50 million on the venture. Partly as a result of this, Cablevision lost $82.7 million in the second quarter of 1992.

In 1992 Cablevision's debt was more than $1 billion, and the price of its Class A stock declined to the extent that the company canceled a public offering that had been scheduled. But business analysts observed that Dolan continued to think big, and despite its heavy debt, Cablevision continued to grow. In 1991, for instance, Cablevision bought Gateway Cable, a 42,000-subscriber system serving Newark and South Orange, New Jersey. By 1992 Cablevision owned 23 cable systems and had a total of about two million basic subscribers.

Flurry of Acquisitions, Divestments, and Joint Ventures: Mid-to-Late 1990s

The mid-to-late 1990s were marked by a flurry of activity, as Cablevision positioned itself in the center of the convergence of telecommunications, computers, and entertainment. In 1993 Sports Channel America merged with Liberty Media Corporation's Prime Network to form Prime SportsChannel Networks, a collection of regional sports networks that reached about 30 million homes. Through Rainbow, Cablevision owned a 25 percent stake in the new venture. Also in 1993 Cablevision paid about $170 million to gain full control of American Movie Classics, which had been 50 percent owned by Liberty Media. The following year Cablevision launched two new cable channels, Romance Classics and the Independent Movie Channel.

Also in 1994 the company established Cablevision Lightpath as a competitive local exchange carrier and began serving business customers on Long Island. By 1997 the upstart telephone company had more than 1,000 customers in the greater New York City area, with revenue reaching $36.6 million. Continuing to leverage its fiber-optic broadband network, Lightpath in 1998 began offering residential telephone and cable modem Internet access in greater New York and parts of southern Connecticut.

Meanwhile, Cablevision bolstered its presence in the New York sports scene through the early 1995 joint purchase, with ITT Corp., of Madison Square Garden from Viacom Inc. for about $1 billion. Included in the Garden operations were the famous 20,000-seat theater; the MSG Network, a regional sports network; and the National Basketball Association's New York Knickerbockers and the National Hockey League's New York Rangers. In addition, the Garden held the rights to broadcast most of the games played by the Knicks and Rangers, as well as the Major League Baseball's New York Yankees. Also in 1995 Cablevision, through Rainbow, purchased NBC's interests in SportsChannel New York and Rainbow News 12, gaining full control of these operations. In late 1995 James Dolan, son of founder Charles, was named CEO of Cablevision, with the founder remaining chairman.

Increasingly turning to alliances in the rapidly changing, deregulated environment of the late 1990s, Cablevision struck a number of major deals in 1997. In April NBC exchanged its stakes in American Movie Classics, Bravo, the Independent Film Channel, and several SportsChannel sports networks for an overall 25 percent stake in the newly named Rainbow Media. With ITT battling a hostile takeover, Cablevision in June bought most of ITT's stake in Madison Square Garden, paying $650 million to increase its interest (which was held through Rainbow Media) to 89.8 percent. Through a series of 1997 and early 1998 transactions consistent with the general move toward cable clustering, Cablevision transformed its cable systems operations from 2.9 million customers in 19 states to 3.5 million customers in three core clusters--centering around New York City, Boston, and Cleveland--in five states. The company's New York cluster was its most important, and it was substantially beefed up through the acquisition of the New York area cable systems of TeleCommunications Inc. (TCI), which served 829,000 households; TCI thereby gained a 33 percent stake in Cablevision (although the Dolan family maintained 80 percent of the voting shares), while Cablevision also assumed $669 million in debt, adding to its mounting debt load--which reached $4.69 billion by the end of 1997. Despite the debt load, Cablevision had gained a dominant position in the New York cable market--with the exception of Manhattan, where Time Warner held sway--which meshed well with Rainbow Media's exceptionally strong array of Big Apple sports assets.

In December 1997 Cablevision merged its regional sports channels into Fox Sports Net, gaining a 50 percent stake in a new national sports network, which was launched in partnership with News Corp.'s Fox Sports and TCI's Liberty Media. Fox Sports Net began operations with 20 stations in 19 media markets and household penetration of 56 million, enabling it to compete with ESPN, the entrenched cable sports heavyweight. While ESPN broadcast strictly on a national level, Fox Sports Net offered popular coverage of local teams, coupled with national programming, such as news and highlights shows, and national ads. Cablevision pocketed $850 million in the transaction that created the new network. Cablevision rounded out its 1997 dealmaking in December with the $400 million acquisition of Radio City Productions, operator of Radio City Music Hall, the New York landmark and home of the Rockettes. The deal with Rockefeller Group Inc. was handled through Cablevision's Madison Square Garden subsidiary.

Cablevision continued its acquisitive ways in 1998. Taking convergence to the retail level, the company in February paid $80 million to acquire the Wiz, a lossmaking New York City chain of 40 consumer electronics retail outlets. Cablevision viewed the Wiz as a marketing tool to promote its telephone services, cable modems, and such high-tech offerings as high definition TV, the next generation of TV in which the company had also invested. Movie theaters were the next Cablevision venture as the company bolstered its entertainment holdings through the purchase of Clearview Cinema Group in December 1998 as well as the purchase of 16 Loews theaters in March 1999, giving the company about 65 moviehouses in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. In late 1998 and early 1999 the media reported that Cablevision was in talks to acquire first the New York Yankees and then the New York Mets, but neither deal was consummated. Also in late 1998 Cablevision began selling its cable modem service under the At Home brand, having gained a ten percent interest in the high-speed Internet partnership the previous year, a partnership that included TCI, Comcast Corporation, and Cox Communications, Inc.

By the end of the 1990s, Cablevision was one-third owned by AT&T, following the latter's blockbuster acquisition of TCI in 1999. Speculation was rife that Cablevision itself was an acquisition target, perhaps being eyed by AT&T. It was also speculated that Cablevision and NBC would eventually take Rainbow Media public, an event that would help Cablevision pay down its substantial debt. Despite the company's debt load and the fact that it continued to post net losses nearly every year, Cablevision's strong presence in the New York area market and its wide-ranging but interconnected interests positioned it as a major player in the byzantine world of telecommunications/entertainment.

Principal Subsidiaries: CSC Holdings, Inc.; A-R Cable Investments, Inc.; A-R Cable Services, Inc.; Rainbow Media Holdings, Inc.; NYC LP Corp.; Cablevision of New York City--Master L.P.; Cablevision of NYC-Phase I; Cablevision MFR, Inc.; Regional Programming Partners; Regional MSG Holdings, LLC; Madison Square Garden, L.P.

Further Reading:

  • Binkley, Christina, and Mark Robichaux, "ITT to Sell Its MSG Stake to Cablevision," Wall Street Journal, March 7, 1997, p. A3.
  • Bloch, Jeff, "How High Is Up?," Forbes, January 27, 1986.
  • Burgi, Michael, "Dolans' Hard Row to Hoe: Garden Deal Will Take More Than Fertilizer," Mediaweek, February 24, 1997, pp. 4--5.
  • ----, "A Garden of Cable Delight," Mediaweek, March 10, 1997, p. 5.
  • Cauley, Leslie, "Cablevision Gains Control of Home to the Rockettes," Wall Street Journal, December 4, 1997, p. B10.
  • ----, "What's Behind Cablevision's Offbeat Buys?," Wall Street Journal, February 9, 1998, pp. B1+.
  • Cauley, Leslie, and Stefan Fatsis, "Cablevision's Talks Over an Acquisition of New York Yankees Are Broken Off," Wall Street Journal, November 25, 1998, p. B12.
  • Chakravarty, Subrata N., "The Convergence Factor," Forbes, July 27, 1998, p. 46.
  • Fabrikant, Geraldine, "Cablevision, Runner of Risks," New York Times, November 13, 1986.
  • Fatsis, Stefan, and Mark Robichaux, "Cablevision's Accord with ITT Yields a Costly Coup," Wall Street Journal, March 10, 1997, p. B5.
  • Furman, Phyllis, "Storm Clouds Loom for Rainbow Cable: Reigning Niche Programmer's New Women's Channel Faces Tight Market," Crain's New York Business, January 20, 1997, p. 4.
  • Gay, Verne, "Divining the Dolans," Mediaweek, March 2, 1998, pp. 18, 20--21.
  • Goldman, Kevin, "Olympics '92: Some Games Have Begun," Wall Street Journal, July 20, 1992.
  • Henderson, Barry, "Oversize Load: Despite Its Latest Deal, Cablevision Still Has Too Much Debt," Barron's, June 16, 1997, pp. 15--16.
  • Kamen, Robin, "Honor Thy Mogul: Charles Dolan Built Cablevision; Can Son Jim Keep It in the Family?," Crain's New York Business, September 21, 1998, p. 1.
  • Kneale, Dennis, "Cablevision to Buy 2 Cable-TV Systems of Viacom," Wall Street Journal, August 17, 1988.
  • Landro, Laura, "NBC Cable Venture Unites Natural Foes," Wall Street Journal, February 8, 1989.
  • Lentz, Philip, "Sports Network Gains Home Field Advantage," Crain's New York Business, October 6, 1997, p. 3.
  • Lesly, Elizabeth, "Cablevision Loses Its Tunnel Vision," Business Week, October 20, 1997, pp. 106, 108.
  • Lieberman, David, "A Cable Mogul's Darning Dance on the High Wire," Business Week, June 5, 1989.
  • Lippman, John, "Fox-TCI Plan Creates First Serious Rival to ESPN," Wall Street Journal, June 24, 1997, p. B8.
  • Roberts, Johnnie L., "ITT, Cablevision Win Garden Auction with $1.08 Billion Cash Bid to Viacom," Wall Street Journal, August 29, 1994, p. A3.
  • Robichaux, Mark, "Cable Channel for Sports News Is Coming to Bat," Wall Street Journal, August 28, 1991.
  • ----, "Cable Chief Casts His Eye on Competitors' Turf," Wall Street Journal, June 30, 1994, p. B1.
  • ----, "Cablevision May Seek Financial Partner in an Effort to Cut Its Mounting Debt," Wall Street Journal, March 24, 1997, p. B10.
  • ----, "Dolan Holds Court for Suitors of Cablevision Systems: Telephone Companies Woo Cable Operator and Purveyor of Programming," Wall Street Journal, October 27, 1993, p. B4.
  • ----, "Liberty Will Merge Its Sports Network with Rival Channel," Wall Street Journal, January 7, 1993, p. B8.
  • ----, "NBC to Own 25% of a Unit of Cablevision," Wall Street Journal, April 1, 1997, p. B11.
  • ----, "Pay-Per-View Games: Down but Not Out," Wall Street Journal, August 7, 1992, p. B1.
  • Sanders, Lisa, "Somebody Heats the Wiz: Cablevision Formulates First Moves in Revival," Crain's New York Business, May 11, 1998, p. 1.
  • Sloan, Allan, "The Man Who Hated Commercials," Forbes, October 27, 1980.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 30. St. James Press, 2000.

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