Don’t Call Us, Says Cox

Our first clue that Cox Communications Inc. and Cox Enterprises Inc. had come to terms on CEI’s buyback of its cable subsidiary came last week, in answer to a question about when the MSO would hold a conference call to discuss its third-quarter earnings.

We might not be having a call, a Cox spokesman said.

No call? No occasion to answer mostly polite, occasionally probing questions from the cadre of Wall Street analysts who follow cable companies and, over the years, have rated Cox among the best of the breed?

Over the years, quarterly earnings reports — and the calls executives hold to explain them — have been the scenes of some disasters. Fortunately, none of them have come close to the problems posed for Adelphia after management couldn’t answer bond analyst Oren Cohen’s April 2001 question about some money the Rigas family had borrowed.

But I’m sure nobody at Cox will miss dealing with the hassles that followed the July 2000 second-quarter earnings report that mentioned U S West had signed up about 50,000 video customers, using a fledgling phone-line technology, in parts of the Phoenix market where Cox hadn’t upgraded. Cox’s share price fell about $8, off a $44 base, after that came out. Other cable stocks took hits, too.

Private companies don’t have to spend days and weeks explaining why a relatively small operational issue — how many video digital-subscriber-line customers does U S West (now Qwest) have now? — shouldn’t cause such an overreaction.

Usually, Cox executives are more than up to the task of telling the company’s story, to Wall Streeters or anyone else. Here’s one cogent soundbite from the company’s last quarterly conference call, this past July, as transcribed by FD (Fair Disclosure) Wire:

“[W]e are not going downmarket on price to compete, nor are we compromising our margins,” COO Pat Esser said. “We believe these steps will ensure that we continue to compete effectively, retain our loyal customers, and take back share from satellite. We continue to leverage our superior video product, our robust and flexible network, and the conveniences of true bundling afforded by our unique back-office capabilities. These assets will allow us to grow the customer base while increasing our profitability.”

Later on, during the Q-and-A, marketing chief Joe Rooney had a chance to point out that DirecTV Inc. had been making a big deal out of being able to offer 100 National Football League games in high-definition this season — to customers that bought the $249 “Sunday Ticket” pay package.

“In our markets, because we’ve got eight to 12 high-def channels, including ESPN and the local broadcaster, our customers can get about 100 high-def NFL games for free,” Rooney said.

I’ll miss these chats.