Dolan: 'I Vant to Be Alone’

As the Swedish actress Greta Garbo once said, “I vant to be alone.” That seems to be the fervor of the day, as yet another MSO, Cablevision Systems Corp., announced its intention to go private last week.

That puts them with two other distributors — Cox Communications Inc. and Insight Communications Co. — which earlier came to the same conclusion.

It makes infinite sense. Just think of the average stock-market investor, who’s seen his personal portfolio languish since 2000, and why the smart money is now chasing an overheated real estate market — the only place to make real cash, for now.

But for cable, compared to the average investor who got burned, it’s far worse. Time after time when quarterly earnings reports came out, companies that were investing in building premiere telecommunications infrastructure were hammered for spending money.

Common wisdom would reward development — like home- owners who command high resale prices for upgrading their kitchens and bathrooms. But that’s not what happened with cable.

In fact, the day after Cablevison announced its plans to go private, its stock soared 25%.

Something is wrong with the math here. Cable needs to upgrade to thrive in what will become an even more competitive marketplace, as the telcos make their advances.

It’s already lost about 20% of its customer base to satellite services. And while cable companies posture that they’re not fearful of the telcos’ second rally into the marketplace, their actions — going private — bely their bravado.

That’s why three MSOs are going private, and more might do the same. And that is wise. Why let Wall Street keep kicking you down while Verizon trucks are already rolling?

Verizon, in fact, is in my neighborhood — Cablevision’s turf. But well before those trucks rolled, Cablevision had already marketed a discounted voice, video and data package to protect its customer base. Naturally, Wall Street punished the MSO. It later saw the wisdom of the strategy, but still never really rewarded the company for its smarts.

Cablevision knows what lies ahead. If my neighbors, who know zilch about cable, can sense the inevitable price battles that are coming their way, why can’t Wall Street?

Just think how investors would react when Cablevision finds itself in the position of reducing its rates again and investing more in plant infrastructure or costly marketing-retention programs. It would only get slammed again.

Cablevision, Cox and Insight all know what the answer would be. Their moves to go private make sense. It’s refreshing to see that cable, a business built on entrepreneurship, is going back to its roots. And I say hurrah for the pole climbers, and shame on Wall Street for repeatedly reacting with blinders.