Employee headcount: The rise and fall of job numbers at Comcast, Charter, Altice and more

The industry’s top two operators, Comcast and Charter, have revealed headcount data to the SEC on a yearly basis. (Image: 20th Century Fox)

What has happened to the employee ranks and leading U.S. cable companies as the industry has rapidly consolidated and transformed over the last five years?

Using Securities and Exchange Commission data, we’re able to get some idea of how each of the top publicly traded U.S. cable companies have grown or retrenched in terms of headcount over the last five years.

FierceWireless performed this exercise rather elegantly last month in regard to the wireless industry. With each of the top four carriers providing headcount to the SEC on a quarterly basis dating back five years, we were able to get a clean snapshot of an industry that has been, by and large, flat over the last several years.

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Headcount information on the cable industry is a little hazier, however. The industry’s top two operators, Comcast and Charter, have revealed headcount data to the SEC going back well beyond 2012, but on a yearly and not quarterly basis. This provides the core of our analysis. 

However, the No. 3 carrier, Cox Communications, is privately held and wouldn’t reveal headcount data to FierceCable.

Number four carrier Altice USA just had its IPO. While we don’t have any 10-K filings on hand, it is interesting to compare the company’s current staff level to figures for Cablevision and Suddenlink, the two acquisitions that formed Altice USA.

Finally, to flesh out our snapshot, we also looked at some publicly traded small- and mid-sized MSOs: WideOpenWest, Mediacom and Cable One provide interesting snapshots of smaller end of the top 10 U.S. MSOs.

Comcast

Comcast has steadily grown its employee ranks from 129,000 workers at the end of 2012 to approximately 159,000 as of December 31, 2016.

With federal regulators rejecting its bid to acquire Time Warner Cable in 2015, Comcast hasn’t made a transformative purchase that has dramatically impacted its staffing situation since it bought NBCUniversal in 2011. 

But there have been plenty of short throws over the last five years, ranging from ad tech companies FreeWheel and Visible World, to home automation and security company iControl Networks. 

Despite the overall 23% increase in headcount over the last five years, Comcast’s cable business staff hasn’t grown that explosively, despite significant expansion of areas like business services and home security and automation. 

Comcast said earlier this year that its cable division employs around 91,000 workers. In 2011, the year it acquired NBCU, Comcast told the SEC that it had around 126,000 employees, 85,000 of which were tied to the cable communications business. 

Comcast continues to use independent contractors and subcontractors for tasks such as residential installation. This strategy has spurred several class-action suits.

The company doesn't disclose in its SEC filings how many of its staffers, if any, are repped by unions. 

Comcast representatives didn’t respond to inquiries seeking comment for this story. 

Comcast scored 3.5 stars out of five stars based on over 2,200 employee reviews on career site Glassdoor.com

Charter Communications

Charter saw its headcount more than triple when it closed on its purchases of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in May 2016.

The MSO, which didn’t respond to inquires for this article, is also increasing its ranks amid an insourcing campaign that its says will eliminate subcontracted overseas call centers and import 20,000 full-time customer service jobs to the U.S. 

In fact, that insourcing strategy began at legacy Charter five years ago, when Tom Rutledge moved over from Cablevision to become CEO of the Stamford, Connecticut-based Charter. The strategy is built around the notion that improved technology and customer service will result in lower churn and higher customer retention. 

Charter confirmed several weeks ago that it’s looking for a bigger headquarters facility within Stamford as ranks continue to swell. 

Charter said in its most recent 10-K filing that 2,500 of its workers are represented by labor unions. This includes 1,700 technical workers inherited from TWC working in New York and represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. These workers have been on strike since March. 

Charter scored 3.1 out of five stars based on over 1,200 employee reviews on career site Glassdoor.com

Altice USA

Coming off the finest IPO for an American-based telecom in 17 years, Altice USA boasts 15,300 employees, 217 of which are covered under collective bargaining. 

Altice NV pitched its $17.7 billion takeover of Cablevision and its $9.1 buyout of Suddenlink based on finding efficiencies. And we can plainly see that the operator has found more than a few by comparing its current headcount figure to the combined Cablevision and Suddenlink ranks going back five years. 

As of Dec. 31, 2015, Cablevision and Suddenlink reported a combined 19,269 workers—around 4,000 more than Altice USA employs today. In fact, the ranks at Suddenlink were pretty stable going back to 2012. However, under the watch of former CEO James Dolan, Cablevision saw its ranks decline from 16,443 full-time workers, 852 part-time employees and 471 temporary workers at the end of 2012 to 12,920 full-timers, 636 part-timers and 621 temps at the end of 2015. 

So the cutting had already begun at Cablevision before Altice USA CEO Dexter Goei and his team took over in May 2016. Also factoring is Altice's divestment of Newsday. 

Notably, Cablevision reported that 1,374 of its full-time, part-time and temporary workers were covered under collective bargaining at the time of its last 10-K filing. Altice reports having only 217 workers covered under union agreement. 

Altice scored 2.5 out of five stars based on over 209 employee reviews on career site Glassdoor.com

Cable One 

Executives for the 10th largest U.S. cable operator have proudly stated in earnings call that, since embarking in 2012 on a strategy of emphasizing residential internet and business services, and marginalizing video, they have gradually reduced their staff size from a high of 2,254 workers to 1,877 employees at the end of 2016 without ever conducting a layoff. 

In fact, former Cable One CEO Thomas Might boasted that the Phoenix-based operator’s operating costs were lower in 2016 than they were in 2010.

“Forget about gross margins, and focus on adjusted EBITDA,” Might told investors, describing what he called the “Cable One math.”

Cable One scored 3.3 out of five stars based on over 105 employee reviews on career site Glassdoor.com

Mediacom

Headcount has remained remarkably stable at the New York-based operator, which is a private company. In fact, the staff is only 2.5% larger than it was in 2012, with ranks across Mediacom’s two operating units reported at 4,342 at the end of 2016.

Mediacom reports no employees under collective bargaining. And it says in its financial reports that it considers its relationship with its workers “satisfactory.”

Mediacom scored 3.3 out of five stars based on 85 reviews on career site Glassdoor.com.

WideOpenWest

WideOpenWest (WOW) CEO Steven Cochran described the 10% staff reduction that the Englewood, Colorado-based operator endured back in 2014 as wrenching.

“It wasn’t easy and we wouldn’t want to do it again,” he told FierceCable in an interview conducted last month. 

But after raising $309 million through an IPO and sorting out its debt situation, WOW is on a growth track again, reporting a 7% uptick in headcount from 2015 to 2016. 

WideOpenWest scored 3.2 out of five stars based on 230 reviews on career site Glassdoor.com

 

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