range of programming that we believe will appeal to both existing and potential
customers of basic and premium services. We rely on extensive market research,
customer demographics and local programming preferences to determine channel
offerings in each of our markets. See "-- Sales and Marketing."
PROGRAMMING SOURCES. We obtain basic and premium programming from a number
of suppliers, usually pursuant to a written contract. We obtain approximately
50% of our programming through contracts entered into directly with a
programming supplier. We obtain the rest of our programming through TeleSynergy,
Inc. which offers its partners contract benefits in buying programming by virtue
of volume discounts available to a larger buying base. Programming tends to be
made available to us for a flat fee per customer. However, some channels are
available without cost to us. In connection with the launch of a new channel, we
may receive a distribution fee to support the channel launch, a portion of which
is applied to marketing expenses associated with the channel launch. The amounts
we receive in distribution fees are not significant. For home shopping channels,
we may receive a percentage of the amount spent in home shopping purchases by
our customers on channels we carry. In 1998, pro forma for our merger with
Marcus Holdings such revenues totalled approximately $5 million.
Our programming contracts generally continue for a fixed period of time,
usually from three to ten years. Although longer contract terms are available,
we prefer to limit contracts to three years so that we retain flexibility to
change programming and include new channels as they become available. Some
program suppliers offer marketing support or volume discount pricing structures.
Some of our programming agreements with premium service suppliers offer cost
incentives under which premium service unit prices decline as certain premium
service growth thresholds are met.
PROGRAMMING COSTS. Our cable programming costs have increased in recent
years and are expected to continue to increase due to factors including:
- system acquisitions;
- additional programming being provided to customers;
- increased cost to produce or purchase cable programming; and
- inflationary increases.
The combined programming cost of Charter Holdings, CCA Group and CharterComm
Holdings were equal to approximately 21% of revenues in 1998. In every year we
have operated, our costs to acquire programming have exceeded customary
inflationary and cost-of-living type increases. Sports programming costs have
increased significantly over the past several years. In addition, contracts to
purchase sports programming sometimes contain built-in cost increases for
programming added during the term of the contract which we may or may not have
the option to add to our service offerings.
Under rate regulation of the Federal Communications Commission, cable
operators may increase their rates to customers to cover increased costs for
programming, subject to certain limitations. See "Regulation and Legislation."
We now contract through TeleSynergy for more approximately 50% of our
programming. We believe our partnership in TeleSynergy limits increases in our
programming costs relative to what the increases would otherwise be, although
given our increased size and purchasing ability, the effect may not be material.
This is because some programming suppliers offer advantageous pricing terms to
cable operators whose number of customers exceeds thresholds established by such
programming suppliers. Our increase in size in 1999 should provide increased