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Ascent Capital's largest stockholder sells half of his preferred shares

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Some intriguing financial news out of the Monitronics/Ascent Capital camp. Ascent Capital Group’s largest direct stockholder, media mogul John Malone, recently sold half his preferred shares—worth $32.7 million in cash—back to the company, according to a news release from Ascent Capital. The divestment comes nearly three years after Ascent acquired Monitronics in a $1.2 billion deal.

Malone, who sold 351,734 shares, now owns the same number of Series B shares, plus 198,540 Series A shares, which together comprise 21.6 percent of the Ascent shareholder vote, the release noted.

In an email exchange, Henry Edmonds, president of The Edmonds Group, a St. Louis-based investment bank, indicated that the move would likely please shareholders. "Ascent has had plenty of cash on its balance sheet so this is not a bad use of funds to help stock price," he said.

It will be interesting to see what (if any) effect this has on operations at Monitronics, a wholly owned operating subsidiary of Ascent. An investor I contacted seemed to believe it would not have much effect. Yesterday, the company announced that it will report its earnings on Nov. 12, 2013. On that date, the company will host a conference call in which management will give an update on Ascent’s operations, including the financial performance of Monitronics, and “may also discuss future opportunities,” the release said.

In all likelihood I’ll be dialing into that conference call, which I’m hoping will shed some light on what those opportunities might be. 

ESA Leadership Summit homes in on growth

Event will bring together perspectives from inside and outside the industry
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10/08/2013

IRVING, Texas—The design of the 2014 ESA Leadership Summit is as inclusive as it is basic: The summit will cater to companies, whatever their size or revenue, with ambition to grow their accounts.

Dynamark Convention: day two

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Embrace new technology. Adapt. Preserve a human connection in sales and seize the opportunities provided by a market that's bound to become more aware of your products and services. Those were some of the words of wisdom offered by Wayne Alter, founder of Dynamark, and Wade Moose, CEO of The Systems Depot and Elk Products, in the keynote speeches at the Dynamark Convention 2013.

A spirit of optimism pervaded the basic message, and both Alter and Moose were engaging speakers, knowledgeable and honest, with a penchant for weaving helpful and often funny personal stories into their advice for dealers. Early into Alter’s keynote, he predicted the penetration rate for the market would see a spike between 5-8 percent in the not-too-distant future. It’s a lofty projection, but one grounded in the likelihood that market awareness stands to rise appreciably in the coming years due to the influx of new players, specifically the cablecos and telecoms, whose advertising clout could prove a boon to the entire industry. This development, together with a gradually recovering economy and a profusion of home management services that boost RMR and curb attrition, might be enough to nudge that stubborn penetration rate in an upward direction. I’ll be keeping a close eye on market reports to see if Alter’s prediction bears itself out. 

Another point of emphasis in both speeches, particularly Alter’s: The industry has come full circle. “It’s new in some ways, and it’s old in others,” Alter told attendees. While the technology and the means of reaching customers have undergone dramatic transformations recently, some of the original principles of salesmanship remain as essential as ever, Alter noted. He mentioned Vivint’s door-knocking summer sales model as an example of this, as well as the DIY monitoring systems, which Alter originally thought would appeal more to hobbyists than general customers.

Another two-part prescription Alter provided to dealers: Expand the number of people in your business and train them well. It’s a tested formula for building an account base, if not always an easy one to enact. This piece of advice again harkens back to the recurring theme of the keynote—the theme of keeping pace with the evolution of the industry while preserving certain core requirements that have always been conducive to growth.  

In a funny anecdote, Alter drove home the point that many of the same sales practices that work best now were the same sales practices that worked best when he started his business in 1975, a time when he had to scour phonebooks for sales leads.  

There’s much more to say about my experience at the Dynamark Convention. But since this space is reserved for a blog rather than a dissertation, I’ll have to save these thoughts for my next post. Tomorrow I'll discuss my inaugural central station visit at Dynamark's Hagerstown, Md.-based facility, along with some other goings-on at the convention. 

Is the 2G sunset causing outages?

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Friday, September 27, 2013

AT&T’s 2012 announcement that it would phase out 2G service left most in the alarm industry, well, unfazed. With wireless technology, such changes come with the territory. Moreover, it’s not the alarm industry but the mobile phone industry that dictates network “sunsets.” As Lou Fiore, Chairman of the Alarm Industry Communications Commission, put it in a recent conversation: “As long as you go cellular, there is no endgame here.”

A few months after the initial announcement, AT&T attached a deadline (Jan 1, 2017) to its 2G sunset. Since that time, the AICC has established a regular line of communication with AT&T, which sends a representative to attend the organization’s quarterly meetings.

AT&T informed AICC that, while interim changes would take place in advance of the 2G sunset, the changes would not affect the alarm industry. AICC members, Fiore said, were “skeptical.”

“We tried to impress upon [AT&T] the fact that our control sets hang on the wall, and if you change the operating parameters of that network, it may not work anymore,” Fiore said. “You can’t ask the homeowner to move the unit around to see if it works.”

Fiore, who is in the process of gathering information regarding possible outages for units tied to AT&T’s 2G network, said that in given locations, customers might still get 2G coverage but that there’s a chance it “won’t be as deep as it was before.”

Fortunately, there are some steps alarm companies can take to mitigate outages. Companies can switch to AT&T's 3G or 4G network by choosing matching hardware from a cellular alarm communicator, or to one of AT&T's competitors (the 3G and 4G networks of Verizon and Sprint are an option, Fiore said). Certain companies may be able to go with a wired network, but this is highly contingent upon business model, Fiore noted.

Still three years from the deadline, AT&T’s 2G sunset promises to be a story with several more chapters. I’ll be watching closely to see what kind of ripple effects it has on the industry.

IP forwarding services seeing greater demand

As IP panels proliferate, central stations are finding more reasons to have their own IP addresses—and to resell individual IP addresses to their dealer base
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08/27/2013

YARMOUTH, Maine—As the IP revolution continues to reshape the alarm industry, those in the monitoring space are finding some non-traditional ways to boost RMR and improve operations in an increasingly IP-centric world.

NICE Systems launches PSAP tool

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08/16/2013

RA’ANANA, Israel—NICE Systems recently announced the launch of NICE Inform Version 6, which enables Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) to evaluate the quality of service delivered across an entire emergency incident, according to a company statement.

Credit scores and attrition: Correlation?

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Monday, July 15, 2013

The quest to reduce the dreaded attrition rate remains a high priority for anyone in the monitoring space, and companies continue to explore new ways to predict and prevent cancellations. Companies don’t just track attrition rates; they look for clues, like usage patterns, that could yield information about whether certain customers may be more prone to stay or go. 

While usage patterns remain a valuable tool for evaluating customers and forming effective business strategies (conventional wisdom says upsell to active users, and reduce prices to the less engaged), it’s not the only predictor companies use. There is also a significant correlation between credit scores, or Beacon scores, and attrition rates, according to Michael Barnes, a partner in the consulting and advisory firm Barnes Associates, who in a response on the CSAA’s Accent forum, said his firm reviewed data on over 2 million accounts. Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

“Generally speaking, the correlation changes over four ranges of scoring. Below 600, the statistical experience is very bad. That is, the accounts have a very high cancellation rate. Between 600 and 650 the results improve dramatically, with a general inflection point around 620+/-, which is why so many dealer programs (and, in some cases credit facilities) have restrictions around this area of scoring.”

Barnes added that scores above 700, in terms of attrition and retention, tend to behave the same as scores around 800. Scores in the ballpark of 650 tend to have poor cumulative performance, with the rates of cancellation almost twice as high over the first four years, Barnes notes. Unsurprisingly, rates of “infant mortality’—cancellations within the first year of existence—were exceedingly high among those with sub-650 Beacon scores, according to Barnes’ data.

While the data sample is large enough to provide a thorough understanding of the relationship between credit scores and attrition, Barnes points out that some qualifications are needed, since a slew of factors can create exceptions. Some of these key variables include installation fees, services provided, pricing and payment method, and even geographic location.

The above graph, made for SSN in 2009 by the Edmonds Group, also charts the correlation between attrition rates and Beacon credit scores. 

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