Cabler mulling how to spend Dish settlement money

Cablevision said that Sandy-related costs will be much higher than the squeeze incurred as a result of Hurricane Irene a year ago. It wouldn’t hazard a figure, but the tidings spooked Wall Street, with the shares closing down 6.3% at $15.49.

CEO James Dolan said Cablevision and AMC are discussing how to divvy up their $1.4 billion victory settlement from litigation with Dish Network; they are also pondering how to spend it.

And the company is considering a sale of Optimum West, formerly Bresnan Communications, after several unsolicited offers. Execs on an earnings call had no update on Clearview Cinemas, which has been on the block for months.

More than half-a-million Cablevision subscribers still lack power, and some coastal homes in New Jersey and Long Island have been entirely obliterated.

“We had $16 million in impact from Hurricane Irene, and we certainly will have a substantially higher impact this time around,” said CFO Gregg Siebert.

The company swung to a $3.9 million loss from a $40 million profit the year before on $300 million in capital spending to improve its network. Current quarter investments will remain hefty. Most of the hit from Sandy will also come this quarter.

Revenue nosed up 1.4% to $1.5 billion as the operator lost fewer video subscribers and added more high-speed customers that the year before. Cablevision ended the year with 3.6 million subs. It lost 10,000 video subs, half as many as it lost in the 2011 quarter. It added 28,000 data subs, up 70%, and 22,000 voice customers.

Dolan noted that Cablevision’s inked sweeping new programming deals with NBC, CBS, Disney and ESPN, the NFL, Univision and Tribune in recent months. Asked how that would impact programming costs, he said, “Well, it won’t lower them.”

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