Cable Operators

Cebridge Suddenly Becomes Suddenlink

4/23/2006 11:00 PM Eastern

About one week before his cable company is expected to officially surpass the 1 million-subscriber mark, Jerry Kent decided to drop a superstition that has followed him throughout his career.

The 24-year cable veteran will head up a company with a name that does not start with the letter “C.”

By the end of the summer, Cebridge Connections, which he now heads as CEO, will become Suddenlink Communications as part of a consolidation of acquisitions set to be completed in May and July that will put it past the million-subscriber milestone.

That may seem like a minor sacrifice. But to Kent, it meant a fair amount of soul-searching.

Personally, he has been affiliated with four companies that began with the letter “C”: Cencom Cable, Charter Communications Inc., Cequel III and Cebridge Connections. Cebridge is operated by Cequel.

Industrially, there’s also a certain mythology. Four of the six largest cable-system operators are Comcast Corp., Charter, Cox Communications Inc. and Cablevision Systems Corp., all of which begin with the letter C.

“We’ve been superstitious over time,” Kent said in an interview earlier this month. “I guess the string is broken.”

Kent said the time was right to rebrand the company. Late last year, Cebridge announced its deal to buy about 940,000 subscribers in four states from Cox for about $2.55 billion, according to federal filings. In February, the company announced its plan to acquire another 240,000 subscribers in West Virginia from Charter for $770 million.

Cebridge itself got its first big boost in 2003 when Cequel struck a deal to take over management of another cable operator with a name that started with a C, Classic Communications. Since then, Kent trimmed Cebridge’s footprint from about 480,000 subscribers three years ago to about 285,000 today. The vast majority of those systems were sold to other parties. The rest were shut down.

About 70% of Suddenlink’s cable systems are in five states: Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas. The Charter West Virginia systems would make up another 17% of the subscriber base. “This means that 87% of our systems will be in six key states,” Kent said.

Suddenlink expects to shed about 90,000 subscribers when the acquisition of the Cox systems closes in May. After both deals closes and the shedding ends, Suddenlink expects to have about 1.4 million customers.

That would make it the ninth-largest cable operator in the country, by Kent’s calculations. Insight Communications Co. Inc., which would be No. 10, currently has about 1.3 million subscribers.

Kent hired San Francisco-based branding agency Landor Associates to come up with a name in January. After several focus-group sessions, Landor came up with Suddenlink.

Suddenlink was chosen because it performed well in surveys of more than 500 customers and potential customers -- respondents wanted to do business with the company and learn more about its products and services, Cebridge spokesman Pete Abel said.

Suddenlink also conveyed a sense that the service was technologically advanced, high-quality and user-friendly, and it matched up well with Cebridge’s marketing strategy.

Cebridge senior vice president of marketing Mary Meier said the soft launch of the Suddenlink name will begin May 1 -- the same day the Cox deal is expected to close -- with a hard launch in July, when the Charter deal is supposed to conclude.

She added that the transition to the Suddenlink name should be completed in the Cox systems in about 90 days.

The holding company for Suddenlink will be renamed Cequel Communications, technically keeping up Kent’s streak of C-branded cable companies. “So it still will start with a C on Wall Street,” Kent said.

For more on Suddenlink Communications, please see Mike Farrell’s story on page six of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.

September