Revenue: $8.7 billion
The 34th-largest privately held company in the U.S., family-owned Cox Enterprises’ two biggest business are publicly traded cabler Cox Communications and broadcaster Cox Radio. Cox is the nation’s fifth-largest cable company, with 6.2 million subscribers, and is considered one of the best run and most financially stable.
Given its size and strong balance sheet, many expect Cox to turn into either a buyer or a seller of assets at some point. Deals may have to wait, however, given the rocky economic climate and the dismal state of cable stocks. Cox, like others in the biz, was socked by the high costs of rolling out new services and touched by the woes of rival Adelphia Communications, which filed for Chapter 11 amid a huge financial and accounting scandal (Cox execs said recently they are not planning to make a run for Adelphia). Rising programming costs and a soft advertising market also have taken a toll on cablers.
If Cox sells, AOL Time Warner might be a buyer, but not soon given the state off AOL TW’s shares and cash position. Time Warner Cable could benefit from Cox’s expertise in new telephony services and it would bulk up in subs to counter a merged AT&T-Comcast — which will become the No. 1 cable company if its deal is approved by federal regulators.
The company, however, received a big vote of confidence in August with news that billionaire Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and his charitable foundation had boosted their stake in Cox Communications to 5.8%. That makes Gates the biggest shareholder of Cox outside the family.