As someone who covers the profession purportedly through an unbiased lens, I’ll admit to more than a passing feeling of malicious satisfaction after reading about some accounting irregularities at, inarguably one of my least favorite companies on the planet — Cablevision.
And trust me, my animus is purely personal.
For those outside the greater New York area and blessed with an actual choice of cable service providers, let me regale you with a brief schematic of who and what Cablevision is. Cablevision Systems Corp. is, for lack of a better description, your garden-variety entertainment and telecommunications oligopoly. It provides cable television service to roughly 3 million customers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
And a quick poll of any subscriber would reveal that Cablevision’s monthly fees and customer service levels travel in opposite directions. I mean, doesn’t everyone love to pay higher rates, while receiving a fuzzier signal or waiting three days for a service call? If you do, then this is the carrier for you.
The company’s other holdings include American Movie Classics and the Independent Film Channel as well as a controlling interest in Madison Square Garden and its primary sports tenants — the Knicks and the Rangers.
In other words, it’s fairly large.
Well, the largest cable operator in New York (which incidentally is how it often refers to itself) recently revealed that federal regulators have opened a formal probe into improper accounting at its Rainbow Media Group unit. The five-month investigation, which began internally and with the help of independent auditor KPMG, but sort of gained speed when the company dismissed some 14 employees at the division in question, including the long-time president of the unit — not exactly, if you’ll pardon the pun, a signal that everything is okay.
Cablevision’s probe, which examined accounting at the division from 1999 through 2002, found that employees at the unit in question had improperly accelerated the accrual of marketing expenses and also fabricated invoices. The company said it voluntarily reported the problems to a New York-area office of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The probe to date has found that $6.2 million in 2003 expenses were improperly accelerated and accrued in 2002. Sort of insignificant when you compare it to the company’s mammoth revenues.
Apparently, Cablevision didn’t think it was all that minor, hiring the securities and fraud specialist firm of Willkie Farr & Gallagher and PricewaterhouseCoopers as its forensic accountant.
The company also retained former SEC enforcement lawyer, William McLucas, now of Wilmer Cutler & Pickering, to oversee the company's internal investigationl.
Now to be fair, Cablevision’s accounting irregularities may end at one of its smaller divisions. If the scope of fraud is systemic, well, that’s another matter entirely.
Either way, Cablevision is now just another corporate giant reporting “irregularities” on its balance sheet.
Can another rate hike be far behind?
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