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The aggregate market value of the voting stock held by nonaffiliates of Qurate Retail, Inc. computed by reference to the last sales price of Qurate Retail, Inc. common stock, as of the closing of trading on June 28, 2019, was approximately $
The number of outstanding shares of Qurate Retail, Inc.'s common stock as of January 31, 2020 was:
Series A common stock
Series B common stock
Documents Incorporated by Reference
The Registrant's definitive proxy statement for its 2020 Annual Meeting of Stockholders is hereby incorporated by reference into Part III of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.
QURATE RETAIL, INC.
2019 ANNUAL REPORT ON FORM 10‑K
Table of Contents
Item 1. Business.
General Development of Business
Qurate Retail, Inc. ("Qurate Retail", the “Company”, “we”, “us” and “our”), formerly known as Liberty Interactive Corporation prior to the Transactions (defined and described below), owns interests in subsidiaries and other companies which are primarily engaged in the video and online commerce industries. Through our subsidiaries and affiliates, we operate in North America, Europe and Asia. Our principal businesses and assets include our consolidated subsidiaries QVC, Inc. ("QVC"), which includes HSN, Inc. (“HSN”) following the transfer of ownership of HSN to QVC (described below), Cornerstone Brands, Inc. (former subsidiary of HSN prior to the transfer of ownership of HSN to QVC), Zulily, LLC (“Zulily”) and other cost and equity method investments.
On September 23, 2011, Qurate Retail completed the split-off (the "LMC Split-Off") of a wholly owned subsidiary, Liberty Media Corporation ("LMC"). Following the LMC Split-Off, Qurate Retail and LMC operate as separately publicly traded companies and neither has any stock ownership, beneficial or otherwise, in the other.
Qurate Retail and LMC entered into certain agreements in order to govern certain of the ongoing relationships between the two companies. These agreements include a reorganization agreement, a services agreement (the “Services Agreement”), a facilities sharing agreement (the “Facilities Sharing Agreement”) and a tax sharing agreement. Pursuant to the Services Agreement, LMC provides Qurate Retail with general and administrative services including legal, tax, accounting, treasury and investor relations support. See below for a description of an amendment to the services agreement entered into in December 2019. Qurate Retail reimburses LMC for direct, out-of-pocket expenses incurred by LMC in providing these services and for Qurate Retail's allocable portion of costs associated with any shared services or personnel based on an estimated percentage of time spent providing services to Qurate Retail. Under the Facilities Sharing Agreement, Qurate Retail shares office space with LMC and related amenities at LMC's corporate headquarters.
In December 2019, the Company entered into an amendment to the Services Agreement with LMC in connection with LMC’s entry into a new employment arrangement with Gregory B. Maffei, the Company’s Chairman of the Board (the “Chairman”). Under the amended Services Agreement, components of his compensation will either be paid directly to him by each of the Company, Liberty TripAdvisor Holdings, Inc. (“TripAdvisor Holdings”), GCI Liberty, Inc. (“GCI Liberty”), and Liberty Broadband Corporation (“Liberty Broadband”) (collectively, the “Service Companies”) or reimbursed to LMC, in each case, based on allocations among LMC and the Service Companies set forth in the amended Services Agreement, currently set at 19% for the Company. The new agreement provides for a five year employment term which began on January 1, 2020 and ends December 31, 2024, with an aggregate annual base salary of $3 million (with no contracted increase), an aggregate one-time cash commitment bonus of $5 million, an aggregate annual target cash performance bonus of $17 million, aggregate annual equity awards of $17.5 million and aggregate equity awards granted in connection with his entry into his new agreement of $90 million (the “upfront awards”). A portion of the grants made to our Chairman in the year ended December 31, 2019 related to our Company’s allocable portion of these upfront awards.
On August 9, 2012, Qurate Retail completed the approved recapitalization of its common stock through the creation of the Liberty Interactive common stock and Liberty Ventures common stock as tracking stocks. Effective June 4, 2015, the name of the “Liberty Interactive common stock” was changed to the “QVC Group common stock.”
A tracking stock is a type of common stock that the issuing company intends to reflect or "track" the economic performance of a particular business or "group," rather than the economic performance of the company as a whole. Prior to the Transactions, Qurate Retail had two tracking stocks, QVC Group common stock and Liberty Ventures common stock, which were intended to track and reflect the economic performance of Qurate Retail’s QVC Group and Ventures Group, respectively. While the QVC Group and the Ventures Group had separate collections of businesses, assets and liabilities attributed to them, no group was a separate legal entity and therefore no group could own assets, issue securities or enter into legally binding agreements. Holders of tracking stock had no direct claim to the group's stock or assets and were not represented by separate boards of directors. Instead, holders of tracking stock were stockholders of the parent corporation, with a single board of directors and subject to all of the risks and liabilities of the parent corporation.
On October 1, 2015, Qurate Retail acquired zulily, inc. (now known as Zulily, LLC) for consideration of approximately $2.3 billion, comprised of $9.375 of cash and 0.3098 newly issued shares of Series A QVC Group common stock for each Zulily share, with cash paid in lieu of any fractional shares. Zulily is an online retailer offering customers a fun and entertaining shopping experience with a fresh selection of new product styles launched every day.
On May 18, 2016, Qurate Retail completed a $2.4 billion investment in Liberty Broadband in connection with the merger of Charter Communications, Inc. and Time Warner Cable Inc. ("TWC"). The proceeds of this investment were used by Liberty Broadband to fund, in part, its acquisition of $5 billion of stock in the new public parent company (“Charter”) of the combined enterprises. Qurate Retail, along with third party investors, all of whom invested on the same terms as Qurate Retail, purchased newly issued shares of Liberty Broadband Series C common stock at a per share price of $56.23, which was determined based upon the fair value of Liberty Broadband's net assets on a sum-of-the-parts basis at the time the investment agreements were executed. Qurate Retail's investment in Liberty Broadband was funded using cash on hand and was attributed to the Ventures Group prior to the Transactions.
Qurate Retail also exchanged, in a tax-free transaction, its shares of TWC common stock for shares of Charter Class A common stock, on a one-for-one basis, and Qurate Retail granted to Liberty Broadband a proxy and a right of first refusal with respect to the shares of Charter Class A common stock held by Qurate Retail following the exchange, which proxy and right of first refusal was assigned to GCI Liberty in connection with the Transactions.
On July 22, 2016, Qurate Retail completed the spin-off (the “CommerceHub Spin-Off”) of its former wholly-owned subsidiary CommerceHub, Inc. (“CommerceHub”) to holders of its Liberty Ventures common stock. The CommerceHub Spin-Off was accomplished by the distribution by Qurate Retail of a dividend of (i) 0.1 of a share of CommerceHub’s Series A common stock for each outstanding share of Qurate Retail’s Series A Liberty Ventures common stock as of 5:00 p.m., New York City time, on July 8, 2016 (such date and time, the “Record Date”), (ii) 0.1 of a share of CommerceHub’s Series B common stock for each outstanding share of Qurate Retail’s Series B Liberty Ventures common stock as of the Record Date and (iii) 0.2 of a share of CommerceHub’s Series C common stock for each outstanding share of Series A and Series B Liberty Ventures common stock as of the Record Date, in each case, with cash paid in lieu of fractional shares. This transaction has been recorded at historical cost due to the pro rata nature of the distribution. The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) completed its review of the CommerceHub Spin-Off and notified Qurate Retail that it agreed with the nontaxable characterization of the CommerceHub Spin-Off. CommerceHub is included in Qurate Retail’s Corporate and other segment through July 22, 2016 and is not presented as a discontinued operation as the CommerceHub Spin-Off did not have a major effect on Qurate Retail’s operations and financial results.
On November 4, 2016, Qurate Retail completed the split-off (the “Expedia Holdings Split-Off”) of its former wholly-owned subsidiary Liberty Expedia Holdings, Inc. (“Expedia Holdings”) to holders of its Liberty Ventures common stock. At the time of the Expedia Holdings Split-Off, Expedia Holdings was comprised of, among other things, Qurate Retail’s former interest in Expedia Group, Inc., formerly known as Expedia, Inc. (“Expedia”) and Qurate Retail’s former wholly-owned subsidiary Bodybuilding.com, LLC (“Bodybuilding”). On November 2, 2016, Expedia Holdings borrowed $350 million under a new margin loan and distributed $299 million, net of certain debt related costs, to Qurate Retail on November 4, 2016. The Expedia Holdings Split-Off was accomplished by the redemption of (i) 0.4 of each outstanding share of Qurate Retail’s Series A Liberty Ventures common stock for 0.4 of a share of Expedia Holdings Series A common stock at 5:00 p.m., New York City time, on November 4, 2016 (such date and time, the “Redemption Date”) and (ii) 0.4 of each outstanding share of Qurate Retail’s Series B Liberty Ventures common stock for 0.4 of a share of Expedia Holdings Series B common stock on the Redemption Date, in each case, with cash paid in lieu of any fractional shares of Liberty Ventures common stock or Expedia Holdings common stock (after taking into account all of the shares owned of record by each holder thereof, as applicable). The IRS completed its review of the Expedia Holdings Split-Off and informed Qurate Retail that it agreed with the nontaxable characterization of the Expedia Holdings Split-Off.
Qurate Retail viewed Expedia and Bodybuilding as separate components and evaluated them separately for discontinued operations presentation. Based on a quantitative analysis, the split-off of Qurate Retail’s interest in Expedia had a major effect on Qurate Retail’s operations, primarily due to one-time gains on transactions recognized by Expedia during 2015. Accordingly, Qurate Retail’s interest in Expedia is presented as a discontinued operation. The disposition of Bodybuilding as part of the Expedia Holdings Split-Off did not have a major effect on Qurate Retail’s historical results nor
is it expected to have a major effect on Qurate Retail’s future operations. Accordingly, Bodybuilding is not presented as a discontinued operation.
On December 29, 2017, Qurate Retail acquired the approximate remaining 62% of HSN it did not already own in an all-stock transaction, making HSN its wholly-owned subsidiary, attributed to the QVC Group. On December 31, 2018, Qurate Retail transferred our 100% ownership interest in HSN to QVC, Inc. through a transaction among entities under common control. References throughout this annual report to “QVC” refer to QVC, Inc., which includes HSN, QVC U.S. and QVC International. Cornerstone remains a subsidiary of Qurate Retail.
On March 9, 2018, Qurate Retail completed the transactions contemplated by the Agreement and Plan of Reorganization (as amended, the “Reorganization Agreement,” and the transactions contemplated thereby, the “Transactions”) among General Communication, Inc. (“GCI”), an Alaska corporation, and Liberty Interactive LLC, a Delaware limited liability company and a direct wholly-owned subsidiary of Qurate Retail (“LI LLC”). Pursuant to the Reorganization Agreement, GCI amended and restated its articles of incorporation (which resulted in GCI being renamed GCI Liberty and effected a reclassification and auto conversion of its common stock. After market close on March 8, 2018, Qurate Retail’s board of directors approved the reattribution of certain assets and liabilities from Qurate Retail’s Ventures Group to its QVC Group, which was effective immediately. The reattributed assets and liabilities included cash, Qurate Retail’s interest in ILG, Inc., certain green energy investments, LI LLC’s exchangeable debentures, and certain tax benefits.
Following these events, Qurate Retail acquired GCI Liberty through a reorganization in which certain Qurate Retail interests, assets and liabilities attributed to the Ventures Group were contributed (the “contribution”) to GCI Liberty in exchange for a controlling interest in GCI Liberty. Qurate Retail and LI LLC contributed to GCI Liberty their entire equity interest in Liberty Broadband, Charter, and LendingTree, the Evite, Inc. (“Evite”) operating business and other assets and liabilities attributed to Qurate Retail’s Venture Group (following the reattribution), in exchange for (a) the issuance to LI LLC of a number of shares of GCI Liberty Class A Common Stock and a number of shares of GCI Liberty Class B Common Stock equal to the number of outstanding shares of Series A Liberty Ventures common stock and Series B Liberty Ventures common stock on March 9, 2018, respectively, (b) cash and (c) the assumption of certain liabilities by GCI Liberty.
Following the contribution, Qurate Retail effected a tax-free separation of its controlling interest in the combined company (the “GCI Liberty Split-Off”), GCI Liberty, to the holders of Liberty Ventures common stock in full redemption of all outstanding shares of such stock, in which each outstanding share of Series A Liberty Ventures common stock was redeemed for one share of GCI Liberty Class A common stock and each outstanding share of Series B Liberty Ventures common stock was redeemed for one share of GCI Liberty Class B common stock. Simultaneous with the closing of the Transactions, QVC Group common stock became the only outstanding common stock of Qurate Retail, and thus QVC Group common stock ceased to function as a tracking stock. On April 9, 2018, Liberty Interactive Corporation was renamed Qurate Retail, Inc. On May 23, 2018, Qurate Retail amended its charter to eliminate the tracking stock capitalization structure and reclassify each share of QVC Group common stock into one share of the corresponding series of new common stock of Qurate Retail. Throughout this annual report we refer to our Series A and Series B common stock as “Qurate Retail common stock” and “QVC Group common stock.” In July 2018, the IRS completed its review of the GCI Liberty Split-Off and informed Qurate Retail that it agreed with the nontaxable characterization of the transactions. Qurate Retail received an Issue Resolution Agreement from the IRS documenting this conclusion.
Qurate Retail viewed LendingTree, Evite and Liberty Broadband as separate components and evaluated them separately for discontinued operations presentation. Based on a quantitative analysis, the split-off of Qurate Retail’s interest in Liberty Broadband had a major effect on Qurate Retail’s operations. Accordingly, Qurate Retail’s interest in Liberty Broadband is presented as a discontinued operation. The disposition of Evite and LendingTree as part of the GCI Liberty Split-Off did not have a major effect on Qurate Retail’s historical results nor is it expected to have a major effect on Qurate Retail’s future operations. Accordingly, Evite and LendingTree are not presented as discontinued operations.
* * * * *
Certain statements in this Annual Report on Form 10-K constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, including statements regarding business, product and marketing strategies; QRG Initiatives (as defined below); remediation of a material weakness; new service offerings; revenue growth at QVC; synergies; the recoverability of goodwill and other intangible assets; projected sources and uses of cash; repayment of debt; fluctuations in interest rates and foreign currency exchange rates; and the anticipated impact of certain contingent liabilities related to legal and tax proceedings and other matters arising in the ordinary course of business. In particular, statements under Item 1. "Business," Item 1A. "Risk-Factors," Item 2. "Properties," Item 7. "Management's Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations" and Item 7A. "Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk" contain forward-looking statements. Where, in any forward-looking statement, we express an expectation or belief as to future results or events, such expectation or belief is expressed in good faith and believed to have a reasonable basis, but there can be no assurance that the expectation or belief will result or be achieved or accomplished. The following include some but not all of the factors that could cause actual results or events to differ materially from those anticipated:
|●||customer demand for our products and services and our ability to anticipate and to adapt to changes in demand;|
|●||competitor responses to our products and services;|
|●||increased digital TV penetration and the impact on channel positioning of our programs;|
|●||the levels of online traffic to our businesses' websites and our ability to convert visitors into consumers or contributors;|
|●||uncertainties inherent in the development and integration of new business lines and business strategies;|
|●||our future financial performance, including availability, terms and deployment of capital;|
|●||our ability to successfully integrate and recognize anticipated efficiencies and benefits from the businesses we acquire;|
|●||the cost and ability of shipping companies, suppliers and vendors to deliver products, equipment, software and services;|
|●||the outcome of any pending or threatened litigation;|
|●||availability of qualified personnel;|
|●||changes in, or failure or inability to comply with, government regulations, including, without limitation, regulations of the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), and adverse outcomes from regulatory proceedings;|
|●||changes in the nature of key strategic relationships with partners, distributors, suppliers and vendors;|
|●||domestic and international economic and business conditions and industry trends;|
|●||changes in tariffs, trade policy and trade relations and the United Kingdom’s (“U.K.”) exit from the European Union (“Brexit”);|
|●||consumer spending levels, including the availability and amount of individual consumer debt;|
|●||advertising spending levels;|
|●||changes in distribution and viewing of television programming, including the expanded deployment of personal video recorders, video on demand, streaming and Internet protocol (“IP”) television and their impact on home shopping programming;|
|●||rapid technological changes;|
|●||failure to protect the security of personal information about our customers, subjecting us to potentially costly government enforcement actions or private litigation and reputational damage;|
|●||the regulatory and competitive environment of the industries in which we operate;|
|●||threatened terrorist attacks, political unrest in international markets and ongoing military action around the world; and|
|●||fluctuations in foreign currency exchange rates.|
These forward-looking statements and such risks, uncertainties and other factors speak only as of the date of this Annual Report, and we expressly disclaim any obligation or undertaking to disseminate any updates or revisions to any forward-looking statement contained herein, to reflect any change in our expectations with regard thereto, or any other change in events, conditions or circumstances on which any such statement is based. When considering such forward-looking statements, you should keep in mind the factors described in Item 1A, "Risk Factors" and other cautionary statements contained in this Annual Report. Such risk factors and statements describe circumstances which could cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in any forward-looking statement.
This Annual Report includes information concerning companies in which we have controlling and non-controlling interests that file reports and other information with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) in accordance with the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. Information in this Annual Report concerning those companies has been derived from the reports and other information filed by them with the SEC. If you would like further information about these companies, the reports and other information they file with the SEC can be accessed on the Internet website maintained by the SEC at www.sec.gov. Those reports and other information are not incorporated by reference in this Annual Report.
Narrative Description of Business
The following table identifies our subsidiaries:
Cornerstone Brands, Inc.
On December 29, 2017, Qurate Retail completed the acquisition of the remaining 62% ownership interest of HSN in an all-stock transaction. On December 31, 2018, Qurate Retail transferred our 100% ownership interest in HSN to QVC, Inc. through a transaction among entities under common control. References throughout this Annual Report to “QVC” refer to QVC, Inc., which includes HSN, QVC U.S. and QVC International. On October 17, 2018, Qurate Retail announced a series of initiatives designed to better position its HSN and QVC U.S. businesses (the “QRG Initiatives”). As a result of changes in internal reporting from the QRG Initiatives, during the first quarter of 2019 the Company changed its reportable segments to combine HSN and QVC U.S. into one reportable segment called “QxH.”
QVC curates and sells a wide variety of consumer products via highly engaging, video-rich, interactive shopping experiences distributed to approximately 216 million worldwide households each day, through its broadcast networks. QVC also reaches audiences through its websites (including QVC.com, HSN.com and others), its applications via streaming video (Facebook Live, Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire), its mobile applications, its social pages and over-the-air broadcasters. QVC believes it is a global leader in video retailing, e-commerce, mobile commerce and social commerce, with operations based in the U.S., Germany, Japan, the U.K. and Italy. QVC’s operating strategies are to (i) Curate special products at compelling values; (ii) Extend video reach and relevance; (iii) Reimagine daily digital discovery; (iv) Expand and engage its passionate community; and (v) Deliver joyful customer service. In addition, QVC is exploring opportunities to evolve the International operating model to pursue growth opportunities in a more leveraged way across markets. For the year ended December 31, 2019, approximately 93% of its worldwide shipped sales were from repeat and reactivated customers (i.e., customers who made a purchase from QVC during the prior twelve months and customers who previously made a purchase from QVC but not during the prior twelve months). In the same period, QVC
attracted approximately 4.3 million new customers and the global e-commerce operation comprised $5.8 billion, or 53%, of its consolidated net revenue for the year ended December 31, 2019.
In the U.S., QVC distributes its programming live 20 hours per day, 364 days per year. The QVC and HSN brands present on average 710 products and 580 products, respectively, every week. Internationally, QVC distributes live programming 8 to 24 hours per day, depending on the market. QVC operates fifteen distribution centers and eight call centers worldwide. In 2019, QVC's work force consisted of approximately 20,400 employees who handled approximately 120 million customer calls, shipped approximately 233 million units globally and served approximately 15.2 million unique customers. QVC believes its long-term relationships with major U.S. television distributors, including cable operators (e.g., Comcast, Charter and Cox), satellite television providers (e.g., DISH Network and DIRECTV) and telecommunications companies (e.g., Verizon and AT&T), provide it with broad distribution, favorable channel positioning and significant competitive advantages. QVC believes that its significant market share, brand awareness, outstanding customer service, repeat customer base, flexible payment options, international reach and scalable infrastructure distinguishes QVC from its competitors.
QxH's live programming is distributed nationally, 20 hours per day, 364 days per year, to approximately 92 million television households and distributes its programming to approximately 99% of households subscribing to services offered by television distributors. QxH’s televised shopping programs, including live and recorded content, are broadcast across multiple channels nationally on a full time basis, including the main QVC and HSN channels as well as the additional channels of QVC2, QVC3, and HSN2. These additional channels offer viewers access to a broader range of QxH programming options as well as more relevant programming for viewers in different time zones. During the first quarter of 2019, QxH transitioned its Beauty iQ broadcast channel to QVC 3 and Beauty iQ content was moved to a digital only platform. QxH also has over-the-air broadcasting in designated U.S. markets that can be accessed by any household with a digital antenna in such markets, regardless of whether it subscribes to a paid television service. This allows QxH to reach customers who previously did not have access to the program through other television platforms.
QxH's programming is also available through QVC.com and HSN.com (collectively, QVC’s “Websites”), as well as applications via streaming video (Facebook Live, Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire), mobile applications, social pages and over-the-air broadcasters (collectively, QVC’s “Digital Platforms”). QxH’s Digital Platforms enable consumers to purchase goods offered on its broadcast programming along with a wide assortment of products that are available only on its Websites. QxH’s Websites and other Digital Platforms are natural extensions of its business model, allowing customers to engage in its shopping experience wherever they are, with live or on-demand content customized to the device they are using. In addition, its Websites and mobile applications allow shoppers to browse, research, compare and perform targeted searches for products, read customer reviews, control the order-entry process and conveniently access their account. For the year ended December 31, 2019, approximately 80% of new QxH customers made their first purchase through QxH’s Digital Platforms. QxH, including its Digital Platforms, contributed $8.3 billion, or 75%, of consolidated QVC net revenue, $1,120 million of operating income and $1,536 million of Adjusted OIBDA (defined below) for the year ended December 31, 2019. QxH’s Digital Platform usage as a percentage of total QxH net revenue has increased from 53.3% in 2017 to 56.9% in 2019.
QVC International brings the QVC shopping experience to approximately 124 million households outside the U.S., primarily in Germany, Austria, Japan, the U.K., the Republic of Ireland and Italy. Similar to the U.S. business QVC’s international business engages customers via multiple platforms, including broadcast networks, websites, mobile applications and social pages. QVC International product sourcing teams select products tailored to the interests of each local market. For the year ended December 31, 2019, QVC International, including its Digital Platforms generated $2.7 billion, or 25%, of consolidated QVC net revenue, $354 million of operating income and $446 million of Adjusted OIBDA (defined in Part II, Item 7 of this report) and QVC International’s Digital Platform usage generated $1,114 million, or 41.2%, of its total international net revenue.
QVC’s global merchandise mix features: (i) home, (ii) apparel, (iii) beauty, (iv) accessories, (v) electronics and (vi) jewelry. Many of its brands are exclusive, while others are created by well-known designers. QVC’s global sales mix is provided in the table below:
Years ended December 31,
|(1)||For the year ended December 31, 2017 in the table above, the sales mix does not include HSN.|
Unlike traditional brick-and-mortar retailers with inventories across a network of stores, QVC is able to quickly adapt its offerings in direct response to changes in its customers purchasing patterns. QVC utilizes a test and re-order model to determine initial customer demand. Through constant monitoring, QVC manages its product offerings to maximize net revenue and fulfill current demand in large growth segments where it can gain a greater share of its customers' purchases. QVC’s merchandising team is dedicated to continually researching, pursuing and launching new products and brands. With a mandate to deliver hard-to-find value, its merchants find and curate collections of high quality goods from manufacturers with the scale to offer sufficient supply to QVC’s existing and future customers. QVC maintains strong relationships with its vendors, which are attracted by the showcasing and story-telling elements of its programming, and the volume of sales during featured presentations.
QVC purchases, or obtains on consignment, products from U.S. and foreign manufacturers and wholesalers, often on favorable terms based upon the volume of the transactions. QVC has attracted some of the world's most respected consumer brands as well as celebrities, entrepreneurs and designers to promote these brands. Brand leaders such as Dell, Dooney & Bourke, Dyson, Judith Ripka and Philosophy reach a broad audience while product representatives share the stories behind these brands. QVC has agreements with celebrities, entrepreneurs and designers such as Isaac Mizrahi, Rachael Ray and Martha Stewart enabling it to provide entertaining and engaging programming that develops a lifestyle bond with its customers. These celebrity personalities and product representatives often provide pre-appearance publicity for their QVC products on their own social pages and broadcast shows, enhancing demand during their QVC appearances. QVC presents and promotes across its networks, websites, mobile applications and social platforms, allowing shoppers to engage with QVC on multiple platforms and devices.
QVC does not depend on any single supplier or designer for a significant portion of its inventory purchases.
QVC distributes its programming via satellite and optical fiber, to cable television and/or direct-to-home satellite system operators for retransmission to their subscribers in the U.S., Germany, Japan, the U.K., Italy and neighboring countries. QVC also transmits its programming over digital terrestrial broadcast television to viewers throughout Italy, Germany, and the U.K. and to viewers in certain geographic regions in the U.S. In the U.S., QVC uplinks its digital programming transmissions using a third-party service, or internal resources. The transmissions are uplinked to protected, non-preemptible transponders on U.S. satellites. "Protected" status means that, in the event of a transponder failure, the signal will be transferred to a spare transponder or, if none is available, to a preemptible transponder located on the same satellite or, in certain cases, to a transponder on another satellite owned by the same service provider if one is available at the time of the failure. "Non-preemptible" status means that, in the event of a transponder failure, QVC's transponders cannot be preempted in favor of a user of a failed transponder, even another user with "protected status." The international
business units each obtain uplinking services from third parties and transmit their programming to non-preemptible transponders on international satellites and terrestrial transmitters. The transponder service agreements for the U.S. transponders expire at the earlier of the end of the lives of the satellites or the service agreements. The service agreements for QxH expire between 2020 and 2025. The service agreements for QVC International transponders and terrestrial transmitters expire between 2020 and 2029.
QVC continually seeks to expand and enhance its broadcast and e-commerce platforms, as well as to further its international operations and multimedia capabilities. QVC offers native high definition (“HD”) programming in addition to standard definition programming, which provides additional channel locations and allows QVC to utilize a typically wider screen with crisper and more colorful images to present a larger “storefront,” which QVC believes captures the attention of channel “surfers” and engages its customers. In the U.S., QVC’s HD programming reaches approximately 80 million households. QVC continues to develop and launch features to further enrich the viewing experience.
QVC enters into long-term affiliation agreements with certain of its television distributors who downlink its programming and distribute the programming to customers. QVC's affiliation agreements with distributors have termination dates ranging from 2020 to 2024. QVC's ability to continue to sell products to its customers is dependent on its ability to maintain and renew these affiliation agreements in the future. Although QVC is typically successful in obtaining and renewing these agreements, it does not have distribution agreements with some of the distributors that carry its programming. QVC is currently providing programming without affiliation agreements to distributors representing approximately 5.8% of its QVC channel distribution in the U.S. and 1.1% of its HSN channel distribution. Some of its international programming may continue to be carried by distributors after the expiration dates on its affiliation agreements with such distributors have passed.
In return for carrying QVC's signals, each programming distributor for its U.S. distribution receives an allocated portion, based upon market share, of up to 5% of the net sales of merchandise sold via the television programs and from certain Internet sales to customers located in the programming distributor's service areas. In some cases, pay television operators receive additional compensation in the form of commission guarantees in exchange for their commitments to deliver a specified number of subscribers, channel placement incentives and advertising insertion time. QVC International programming distributors predominantly receive an agreed-upon annual fee, a monthly or yearly fee per subscriber regardless of the net sales, a variable percentage of net sales or some combination of the above arrangements.
In addition to sales-based commissions or per-subscriber fees, QVC also makes payments to distributors primarily in the U.S. for carriage and to secure channel positioning within a broadcast area or within the general entertainment area on the distributor's channel line-up. QVC believes that a portion of its sales are attributable to purchases resulting from channel “surfing” and that a channel position near broadcast networks and more popular cable networks increases the likelihood of such purchases. As technology evolves, QVC will continue to monitor optimal channel placement and attempt to negotiate agreements with its distributors to maximize the viewership of its television programming.
Demographics of customers
QVC enjoys a very loyal customer base, as demonstrated by the fact that for the twelve months ended December 31, 2019, approximately 86% of its shipped sales came from repeat customers (i.e., customers who made a purchase from QVC during the prior twelve months), who spent an average of $1,281 each during this period. An additional 7% of shipped sales in that period came from reactivated customers (i.e., customers who previously made a purchase from QVC, but not during the prior twelve months).
QVC had slight decline in customer count during 2019. On a trailing twelve month basis, total consolidated customers were approximately 15.2 million which includes 10.6 million QxH customers and 4.6 million QVC International customers. QVC believes its core customer base represents an attractive demographic target market. Based on internal customer data for QxH, approximately 44% of its 10.6 million customers for the twelve months ended December 31, 2019 were women between the ages of 35 and 64.
QVC does not depend on any single customer for a significant portion of its revenue.
Ordering and fulfillment
QVC takes a majority of its orders via its websites and via mobile applications on iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Android and other devices. QxH and QVC International customers placed approximately 39% and 32%, respectively, of all orders directly through their mobile devices in 2019.
QVC has three customer contact centers in the US and five international customer contact centers that can direct calls, e-mail contacts and social contacts from one center to the other as volume mandates. Many markets also utilize home agents to handle calls, allowing staffing flexibility for peak hours. In addition, QVC utilizes computerized interactive voice response order systems for telephonic orders, which handle approximately 28% of all orders taken on a worldwide basis. QxH has eleven distribution centers and QVC International has four distribution centers. QVC’s distribution centers and drop ship partners shipped, on average, 454,000 units per day at QxH and 183,000 units per day at QVC International during 2019. Refer to Item 2. “Properties” for further details.
QVC has built a scalable operating infrastructure focused on sustaining efficient, flexible and cost-effective sale and distribution of its products. Since its physical store locations are minimal, QVC requires lower inventory levels and capital expenditures compared to traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. In recent years, QVC has made and continues to make significant investments in its distribution centers that it believes will accommodate its foreseeable growth needs. Further, since QVC has no set “floor plan” and can closely manage inventory levels at its centralized warehouses, QVC believes it has the flexibility to analyze and react quickly to changing trends and demand by shifting programming time and product mix. QVC's cost structure is highly variable, which QVC believes allows it to consistently achieve attractive margins relative to brick-and-mortar retailers.
Third party carriers transport QVC's packages from its distribution centers to its customers. In each market where QVC operates, it has negotiated long-term contracts with shipping companies, which in certain circumstances provides for favorable shipping rates.
QVC operates in a rapidly evolving and highly competitive retail business environment. QVC has numerous and varied competitors at the national and local levels, ranging from large department stores to specialty shops, e-commerce retailers, direct marketing retailers, wholesale clubs, discount retailers, infomercial retailers, and mail-order and catalog companies. Some of QVC’s competitors, such as Amazon and Walmart, have a significantly greater web-presence. QVC believes that the principal competitive factors for its web-commerce operations are high-quality products, brand recognition, selection, value, convenience, price, website performance, customer service and accuracy of order shipment.
QVC believes that QxH is a leader in video shopping, e-commerce, mobile commerce and social commerce by curating quality products at outstanding values, providing exceptional customer service, establishing favorable channel positioning and multiple touchpoints across digital platforms and generating repeat business from its core customer base and that it also compares favorably in terms of sales to general, non-video based retailers due to its extensive customer reach and efficient cost structure. QxH's closest video shopping competitor is ShopHQ (formerly referred to as Evine) and QVC International operations face similar competition in their respective markets, such as Jupiter Shop Channel in Japan, HSE 24 in Germany, Austria, and Italy, and Ideal World in the U.K.
QVC also competes for access to customers and audience share with other providers of broadcast, digital and hard copy entertainment and content. The price and availability of other programming and the conversion to digital programming platforms may unfavorably affect the placement of its programming in the channel line-ups of its distributors, and may affect its ability to obtain distribution agreements with small cable distributors. Competition from other programming also affects the compensation that must be paid to distributors for carriage. Principal competitive factors for QVC include (i) value, quality and selection of merchandise; (ii) customer experience, including customer service and speed, cost and reliability of fulfillment and delivery services; and (iii) convenience and accessibility of sales channels.
QVC regards its tradenames, service marks, patents, copyrights, domain names, trade dress, trade secrets, proprietary technologies and similar intellectual property as critical to its success. QVC relies on a combination of tradename, patent and copyright law, trade-secret protection, and confidentiality and/or license agreements with its employees, customers, suppliers, affiliates and others to protect these proprietary rights. QVC has registered, or applied for the registration of, a number of tradenames, service marks, patents, copyrights and domain names through U.S. and foreign governmental authorities and vigorously protects its proprietary rights against infringement.
Domestically, QVC has registered tradenames and service marks including, but not limited to its brand names and logo, "QVC," "Quality Value Convenience," "Find What You Love, Love What You Find," the "Q Logo," and "Q" and tradenames for its proprietary products sold such as "Arte D'Oro," "Cook's Essentials," "Denim & Co.," "Diamonique," “Nature’s Code,” "Northern Nights" and "Ultrafine Silver." Similarly, foreign registrations have been obtained for many tradenames and service marks for its brand names, logo and propriety products including, but not limited to, "QVC," the "Q Logo," "Q," "Cook’s Essentials," "Denim & Co.," "Diamonique" and "Northern Nights."
HSN has numerous tradename registrations or pending applications in the United States which help to expand HSN’s brand awareness. These registrations and applications include the “HSN” brand name and the “HSN logo” as well as registrations for HSN’s proprietary products and services, including, but not limited to, “HSN Shop By Remote,” “Technibond,” and “Concierge Collection.”
QVC considers the "QVC" and “HSN” names the most significant tradenames and service marks it holds because of their impact on market awareness across all of its geographic markets and on customers' identification with QVC. As with all domestic tradenames or service marks, QVC's tradename and service mark registrations in the U.S. are for a ten year period and are renewable every ten years, prior to their respective expirations, as long as the tradenames or service marks are used in the regular course of trade.
QVC's business is seasonal due to a higher volume of sales in the fourth calendar quarter related to year-end holiday shopping. In recent years, QVC has earned, on average, between 22% and 23% of its global revenue in each of the first three quarters of the year and 32% of its global revenue in the fourth quarter of the year.
On October 1, 2015, we acquired 100% of Zulily. Zulily is an online retailer offering customers a fun and entertaining shopping experience with a fresh selection of new product styles every day. The Zulily website was launched in January 2010 with the goal of revolutionizing the way consumers shop. Through its app, mobile and desktop experiences, Zulily helps its customers discover new and unique products at great values that they would likely not find elsewhere. Zulily’s merchandise includes women’s, children’s and men’s apparel and other products such as home, accessories and beauty products. Zulily sources its merchandise from thousands of vendors, including emerging brands and smaller boutique vendors, as well as larger national brands. By bringing together millions of customers and a daily selection of products chosen from its broad vendor base, Zulily has built a large scale and uniquely curated shopping destination.
Every morning, Zulily launches a variety of flash sales events. These events feature thousands of product styles from different vendors and typically last for 72 hours. Product offerings are typically only available for a limited time and in a limited quantity, creating urgency to browse, discover and purchase.
Before Zulily launches an event, Zulily obtains photographs of the merchandise and its editorial team writes about the merchandise based on the product details provided by the vendor. Zulily strives to offer the lowest price points for its customers, with the average item offered for a significant discount off the manufacturer’s suggested or comparison retail price. Zulily then uses its proprietary technology, data analytics and personalization tools to segment its audience, offering each customer a curated and optimized shopping experience that features brands, products and events that it believes are most relevant for that customer.
Zulily acquires new customers through a diverse set of paid and unpaid marketing channels, including affiliate channels and partners, customer referrals, direct navigation, display advertising, key word search campaigns, search engine optimization, social media and television ads. Core to its business model is that Zulily acquires customers via paid and unpaid sources, and then drives engagement and repeat purchases from those customers over a long period of time through diversified marketing channels.
Continual innovation through investment in technology is core to Zulily’s business. Zulily uses its technology platform to improve the experience of its customers and vendors, increase the purchase frequency and average order size and optimize the efficiency of its business operations. Zulily’s technology team is focused on rapid innovation through advanced agile software development processes. Investment in machine learning and data science helps place the right product in front of the right customer at the right time. Zulily’s scalable platform uses custom-built and third-party technologies to support its specific customer and vendor requirements, including handling significant spikes in site traffic and transactions on a daily basis, and the rapid and complex order supply chain needs that are unique to Zulily’s flash sales and minimal inventory model. Zulily believes it can quickly scale its infrastructure to accommodate significantly higher volumes of site traffic, customers, orders and the overall growth in its business.
To best serve its customers and vendors, Zulily has a custom, fully integrated fulfillment infrastructure consisting of receiving, sorting, inventory management and repackaging systems which are driven by proprietary fulfillment management software. Zulily’s supply chain solution efficiently handles the small-to-medium lot sizes and high inventory turnover required by constantly changing, limited-time product offerings. Zulily operates a minimal inventory, intermediary model where it typically takes customer orders before purchasing inventory from vendors. As a result, Zulily is able to offer a much larger selection of products to customers and to generate greater sales for vendors, who are able to match a broader range of their product supply to actual customer demand. In addition, Zulily also offers third party fulfillment services to its vendors. This program allows vendors to store their inventory in Zulily’s warehouses and fulfill orders for Zulily’s events or other retail channels and has helped reduce shipping times to Zulily customers.
Zulily views its target market broadly and competes with any retailer where its customers shop. It faces significant competition from both online and offline retailers, competing on: product curation and selection, personalization, price, convenience, ease of use, consumer experience, vendor satisfaction and shipping time and cost.
Zulily relies on laws and regulations, contractual restrictions, copyrights, and tradenames to protect its intellectual property and proprietary rights. Zulily’s employees and contractors also typically enter into agreements to assign to Zulily the inventions and content they produce in performing their jobs. Zulily controls access to confidential information by entering into confidentiality agreements with its employees, contractors and third parties, such as vendors, service providers, individuals and entities that may be exploring a business relationship with Zulily. Despite the protection of general intellectual property law and its contractual restrictions, it may be possible for a third party to copy or otherwise obtain and use Zulily’s intellectual property without Zulily’s authorization.
Zulily has registered numerous Internet domain names related to its business. In addition, Zulily pursues the registration of its tradenames in the U.S. and certain other locations outside of the U.S.; however, effective intellectual property protection or enforcement may not be available in every country in which Zulily’s products and services are made available in the future. In the U.S. and certain other countries, Zulily has registered or has applications pending for its key tradenames, including: Zulily, the Zulily design mark and designs associated with its mobile applications and branded social channels.
Zulily’s results are impacted by a pattern of elevated sales volume during the holiday shopping season in the fourth quarter. The fourth quarter accounted for approximately 28.8% and 30.3% of Zulily’s revenue for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2018, respectively.
Cornerstone consists of a portfolio of aspirational home and apparel brands, prominent in the direct marketing and retail space, including catalog distribution and related websites. Although there is some overlap in the product offerings, the home brands are comprised of Ballard Designs, Frontgate, and Grandin Road. Garnet Hill and Ryllace focus primarily on apparel and accessories and are categorized as apparel brands. There are also 20 retail and outlet stores located throughout the United States.
Frontgate features premium, high quality indoor (including bed, bath, kitchen, dining and living room) and outdoor (including patio, garden and pool) furnishings and accessories. Ballard Designs features European-inspired bed, bath, dining, outdoor and office furnishings and accessories, as well as rugs, shelving and architectural accents for the home. Grandin Road offers an affordable style assortment of products ranging from occasional furniture, accessories, holiday décor and outdoor furniture.
The Cornerstone brands generally incorporate on-site photography and real-life settings, coupled with related editorial content describing the merchandise and depicting situations in which it may be used. Branded catalogs are designed and produced in-house, which enables each individual brand to control the production process and reduces the amount of lead time required to produce a given catalog.
New editions of full-color catalogs are mailed to customers several times each year, with a total annual circulation in 2019 of approximately 177 million catalogs. The timing and frequency of catalog circulation varies by brand and depends upon a number of factors, including the timing of the introduction of new products, marketing campaigns and promotions and inventory levels, among other factors.
Cornerstone also operates websites for each of its featured brands, such as BallardDesigns.com, Frontgate.com, GarnetHill.com, GrandinRoad.com and Ryllace.com. These websites serve as additional storefronts for products featured in related print catalogs, as well as provide customers with additional content and product assortments to support and enhance their shopping experience. Additional content provided by these websites, which differs across the various websites, includes decorating tips, measuring information, online design centers, gift registries and travel centers, as well as a feature that allows customers to browse the related catalog online. In addition, a growing number of customers use mobile devices to shop the Cornerstone brands.
The Cornerstone brands differentiate themselves by offering customers an assortment of innovative proprietary and branded apparel and home products. In many cases, Cornerstone seeks to secure exclusive distribution rights for certain products. Cornerstone employs in-house designers and partners with leading manufacturers and designers to aid in the development of its unique, exclusive product assortment. The Cornerstone brands use their respective websites and e-mail marketing to promote special offers, including cross-promotions for other Cornerstone brands. In addition, Cornerstone partners with third parties to offer promotional events such as sweepstakes and/or enter into other advertising agreements. Cornerstone believes that these affiliations enhance the awareness of the Cornerstone brands among consumers as well as strengthen its various brands overall. Cornerstone has also been extending its distributed commerce platform through both its experiential and more traditional retail and outlet stores, as a marketing tool to increase demand in the overall regions where the stores reside.
Programming and Interactive Television Services
Although QVC, a wholly owned subsidiary, markets and sells consumer products through a variety of outlets, it does so, in large part, through live video programming services distributed by cable television systems, satellite systems and over-the-air broadcasters. Consequently, regulation of programming services and the entities that distribute it can affect QVC. In the U.S., the FCC regulates broadcasters, the providers of satellite communications services and facilities for the transmission of programming services, the cable television systems and other multichannel video programming distributors (“MVPDs”) that distribute such services, and, to some extent, the availability of the programming services themselves through its regulation of program licensing. Cable television systems in the U.S. are also regulated by
municipalities or other state and local government authorities. Regulatory carriage requirements also could adversely affect the number of channels available to QVC.
Regulation of Program Licensing. The Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992 (the “1992 Cable Act”) directed the FCC to promulgate regulations regarding the sale and acquisition of cable programming between MVPDs (including cable operators) and satellite-delivered programming services in which a cable operator has an attributable interest. The 1992 Cable Act and implementing regulations generally prohibit a cable operator that has an attributable interest in a satellite programmer from improperly influencing the terms and conditions of sale to unaffiliated MVPDs. Further, the 1992 Cable Act requires that such affiliated programmers make their programming services available to cable operators and competing MVPDs such as multi-channel multi-point distribution systems and direct broadcast satellite system (“DBS”) distributors on terms and conditions that do not unfairly discriminate among distributors, and the FCC has established complaint enforcement and damages remedy procedures. FCC rules attribute the ownership interest in Charter of Liberty Broadband, and Liberty Latin America Ltd.’s ownership interest in Liberty Cablevision of Puerto Rico LLC to us, thereby subjecting us and satellite-delivered programming services in which we have an interest to the program access rules. Our subsidiary QVC is subjected to program access rules as a result of our attributable interest in Charter under FCC rules. We are also subject to the program access rules as a condition of FCC approval of Qurate Retail’s transaction with News Corporation in 2008.
In 2014, the FCC released a notice of proposed rulemaking seeking comment on a proposal to revise the definition of MVPD in its rules to include services, such as Internet-based services, that make available for purchase by viewers, multiple linear streams of video programming, regardless of the technology used to distribute the programming. If the FCC were to adopt its proposed definition and determine that the program access rules apply to such MVPDs, QVC potentially would be required to negotiate with, and license their programming services to, such MVPDs and to comply with other related regulatory requirements.
Regulation of Carriage of Programming. Under the 1992 Cable Act, the FCC has adopted regulations prohibiting cable operators from requiring a financial interest in a programming service as a condition to carriage of such service, coercing exclusive rights in a programming service or favoring affiliated programmers so as to restrain unreasonably the ability of unaffiliated programmers to compete. The FCC has established program carriage complaint rules. Our subsidiary QVC is subjected to program carriage rules as a result of our attributable interest in Charter under FCC rules.
Regulation of Ownership. The 1992 Cable Act required the FCC, among other things, (1) to prescribe rules and regulations establishing reasonable limits on the number of channels on a cable system that will be allowed to carry programming in which the owner of such cable system has an attributable interest and (2) to consider the necessity and appropriateness of imposing limitations on the degree to which MVPDs (including cable operators) may engage in the creation or production of video programming. Although the FCC adopted regulations limiting carriage by a cable operator, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (“D.C. Circuit”) vacated the channel occupancy limits adopted by the FCC and remanded the rule to the FCC for further consideration in 2001. In response to the D.C. Circuit’s decision, the FCC subsequently issued further notices of proposed rulemaking to consider channel occupancy limitations, but has not adopted any rules.
Regulation of Carriage of Broadcast Stations. The 1992 Cable Act granted broadcasters a choice of must carry rights or retransmission consent rights. The rules adopted by the FCC generally provided for mandatory carriage by cable systems of all local full-power commercial television broadcast signals selecting must carry rights and, depending on a cable system's channel capacity, non-commercial television broadcast signals. Such statutorily mandated carriage of broadcast stations coupled with the provisions of the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, which require cable television systems with 36 or more "activated" channels to reserve a percentage of such channels for commercial use by unaffiliated third parties and permit franchise authorities to require the cable operator to provide channel capacity, equipment and facilities for public, educational and government access channels, could adversely affect QVC by limiting the carriage of such services in cable systems with limited channel capacity.
Closed Captioning Regulation. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 also required the FCC to establish rules and an implementation schedule to ensure that video programming is fully accessible to the hearing impaired through closed captioning. The rules adopted by the FCC require substantial closed captioning, with only limited exemptions. In 2012,
the FCC adopted regulations pursuant to the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 that require, among other things, video programming owners to send caption files for IP delivered video programming to video programming distributors and providers along with program files. In 2014, the FCC adopted closed captioning quality standards regarding captioning accuracy, synchronicity, completeness and placement, and captioning best practices for programmers. In 2016, the FCC amended its closed captioning regulations to assign captioning compliance responsibility to programmers jointly with distributors, and to adopt certain registration, certification and complaint procedures applicable to programmers. The video programmer registration and compliance certification requirements of the amended rules have not yet become effective. As a result of these captioning requirements, QVC may incur additional costs for closed captioning.
Our online commerce businesses are subject, both directly and indirectly, to various domestic and foreign laws and governmental regulations. Certain of these businesses engaged in the provision of goods and services over the Internet must comply with federal and state laws and regulations applicable to online communications and commerce. For example, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act ("COPPA") prohibits web sites from collecting personally identifiable information online from children under age 13 without parental consent and imposes a number of operational requirements. The Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") has adopted regulations implementing COPPA. Certain email activities are subject to the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003, commonly known as the CAN-SPAM Act. The CAN-SPAM Act regulates the sending of unsolicited commercial email by requiring the email sender, among other things, to comply with specific disclosure requirements and to provide an "opt-out" mechanism for recipients. Both of these laws include statutory penalties for non-compliance. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act limits, but does not eliminate, liability for listing or linking to third party websites that may include content that infringes on copyrights or other rights so long as our Internet businesses comply with the statutory requirements. Various states also have adopted laws regulating certain aspects of Internet communications. In 2016, Congress enacted a permanent moratorium on state and local taxes on Internet access and commerce.
Our online commerce businesses also are subject to laws governing the collection, use, retention, security and transfer of personally-identifiable information about their users. In particular, the collection and use of personal information by companies has received increased regulatory scrutiny on a global basis. The enactment, interpretation and application of user data protection laws are in a state of flux, and the interpretation and application of such laws may vary from country to country. For example, the European Union’s (“EU”) General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) which established new data laws that give customers additional rights and impose additional restrictions and penalties on companies for illegal collection and misuse of personal information, took effect in May 2018. Further, in 2015, the Court of Justice of the European Union invalidated the “Safe Harbor Framework,” which had allowed companies to collect and process personal data in EU nations for use in the U.S. A new data transfer framework, the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, became fully operational on August 1, 2016, but is the subject of litigation. The Court of Justice of the European Union is expected to rule on the challenges to the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield this year. Finally, the European Commission proposed new regulations in 2017 regarding privacy and electronic communications, which would remain pending, including additional regulation of the Internet tracking tools known as “cookies.” Finally, countries in other regions, most notably Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America, are increasingly implementing new privacy regulations, resulting in additional compliance burdens and uncertainty as to how some of these laws will be enforced.
the Company’s business. Technical violations of certain privacy laws can result in significant penalties, including statutory penalties. In 2012, the FCC amended its regulations under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act ("TCPA"), which could subject our Internet businesses to increased liability for certain telephonic communications with customers, including but not limited to text messages to mobile phones. Under the TCPA, plaintiffs may seek actual monetary loss or statutory damages of $500 per violation, whichever is greater, and courts may treble such damage awards for willful or knowing violations. Data collection, privacy and security are growing public concerns. If consumers were to decrease their use of our Internet businesses' websites to purchase products and services, such businesses could be harmed. Congress, individual states and foreign authorities may consider additional online privacy legislation.
Goods sold over the Internet also must comply with traditional regulatory requirements, such as the FTC requirements regarding truthful and accurate claims. Other Internet-related laws and regulations enacted in the future may cover issues such as defamatory speech, copyright infringement, pricing and characteristics and quality of products and services. The future adoption of such laws or regulations may slow the growth of commercial online services and the Internet, which could in turn cause a decline in the demand for the services and products of our online commerce businesses and increase their costs of doing business or otherwise have an adverse effect on their businesses, operating results and financial conditions. Moreover, the applicability to commercial online services and the Internet of existing laws governing issues such as property ownership, libel, personal privacy and taxation is uncertain and could expose these companies to substantial liability.
In 2015, the FCC adopted open Internet rules that reclassified wireline and wireless broadband services as Title II common carrier services and regulate broadband services offered by Internet service providers (“ISPs”) under Title II, Title III and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Among other things, the regulations prohibited ISPs from: (1) blocking access to, or impairing or degrading, legal content, applications, services or non-harmful devices; and (2) favoring selected Internet traffic in exchange for consideration. On December 14, 2017, the FCC adopted a Declaratory Ruling, Report and Order and Order (“2017 Order”) that, among other things, eliminates these prohibitions. The 2017 Order does require ISPs to disclose information to consumers regarding practices such as throttling, paid prioritization and affiliated prioritization. On October 1, 2019, the D.C. Circuit ruled on numerous appeals by interested parties and largely upheld the 2017 Order. However, the D.C. Circuit vacated that portion of the 2017 Order that preempted inconsistent state and local regulations and remanded the 2017 Order for further consideration of its effects on public safety, pole attachment regulation and the Lifeline support program. The D.C. Circuit’s ruling may be subject to further judicial review. Legislative proposals regarding the open Internet rules are pending in Congress.
Proposed Changes in Regulation
The regulation of programming services, cable television systems, DBS providers, Internet services, online sales and other forms of product marketing is subject to the political process and has been in constant flux over the past decade. Further material changes in the law and regulatory requirements must be anticipated and there can be no assurance that our business will not be adversely affected by future legislation, new regulation or deregulation.
Our businesses that engage in video and online commerce compete with traditional brick-and-mortar and online retailers ranging from large department stores to specialty shops, electronic retailers, direct marketing retailers, such as mail order and catalog companies, and discount retailers. Due to the nature of these businesses there is not a single or small group of competitors that own a significant portion of the overall market share. However, some of these competitors, such as Amazon and Walmart, have a significantly greater web-presence than our e-commerce subsidiaries and equity affiliates. We believe that the principal competitive factors in the markets in which our electronic commerce businesses compete are high-quality products, brand recognition, selection, value, convenience, price, website performance, customer service and accuracy of order shipment. Our businesses that offer services through the Internet compete with businesses that offer their own services directly through the Internet as well as with traditional offline providers of similar services. We believe that the principal competitive factors in the markets in which our businesses that offer services through the Internet engage are selection, price, availability of inventory, convenience, brand recognition, accessibility, customer service, reliability, website performance, and ease of use.
Pursuant to a services agreement between LMC and the Company, 86 LMC corporate employees provide certain management services to the Company for a determined fee. Additionally, as of December 31, 2019, our consolidated subsidiaries had an aggregate of approximately 25,228 full and part-time employees. We believe that our employee relations are good.
All of our filings with the SEC, including our Form 10-Ks, Form 10-Qs and Form 8-Ks, as well as amendments to such filings are available on our Internet website free of charge generally within 24 hours after we file such material with the SEC. Our website address is www.qurateretail.com.
Our corporate governance guidelines, code of business conduct and ethics, compensation committee charter, nominating and corporate governance committee charter, and audit committee charter are available on our website. In addition, we will provide a copy of any of these documents, free of charge, to any shareholder who calls or submits a request in writing to Investor Relations, Qurate Retail, Inc., 12300 Liberty Boulevard, Englewood, Colorado 80112, Tel. No. (866) 876-0461.
The information contained on our website and the websites of our subsidiaries and affiliated businesses mentioned throughout this report are not incorporated by reference herein.
Item 1A. Risk Factors
The risks described below and elsewhere in this annual report are not the only ones that relate to our businesses or our capitalization. The risks described below are considered to be the most material. However, there may be other unknown or unpredictable economic, business, competitive, regulatory or other factors that also could have material adverse effects on our businesses. Past financial performance may not be a reliable indicator of future performance and historical trends should not be used to anticipate results or trends in future periods. If any of the events described below were to occur, our businesses, prospects, financial condition, results of operations and/or cash flows could be materially adversely affected.
Our subsidiary QVC depends on the television distributors that carry its programming, and no assurance can be given that QVC will be able to maintain and renew its affiliation agreements on favorable terms or at all. QVC currently distributes its programming through affiliation or transmission agreements with many television providers, including, but not limited to, Comcast, AT&T/DIRECTV, Charter, DISH Network, Verizon and Cox in the U.S., Vodafone Kabel Deutschland GmbH, Media Broadcast GmbH, SES ASTRA, SES Platform Services GmbH, Telekom Deutschland GmbH, Unitymedia GmbH, Tele Columbus and Primacom in Germany, Jupiter Telecommunications, Ltd., Sky Perfect and World Hi-Vision Channel, Inc. in Japan, A1 Telekom Austria AG and UPC Telekabel Wien GmbH in Austria, British Sky Broadcasting, Freesat, Freeview and Virgin Media in the U.K., and Mediaset, Hot Bird and Sky Italia in Italy. QVC’s affiliation agreements with its distributors are scheduled to expire between 2020 and 2024.
As part of normal course renewal discussions, occasionally QVC has disagreements with its distributors over the terms of its carriage, such as channel placement or other contract terms. If not resolved through business negotiation, such disagreements could result in litigation or termination of an existing agreement. Termination of an existing agreement resulting in the loss of distribution of QVC’s programming to a material portion of its television households may adversely affect its growth, net revenue and earnings.
The renewal negotiation process for affiliation agreements is typically lengthy. In some cases, renewals are not agreed upon prior to the expiration of a given agreement while the programming continues to be carried by the relevant distributor without an effective agreement in place. QVC does not have distribution agreements with some of the cable operators that
carry its programming. In total, QVC is currently providing programming without affiliation agreements to distributors representing approximately 5.8% of its QVC U.S. distribution, and approximately 1.1% of its HSN distribution. Some of QVC’s international programming may continue to be carried by distributors after the expiration dates on its affiliation agreements with such distributors have passed.
QVC may be unable to obtain renewals with its current distributors on acceptable terms, if at all. QVC may also be unable to successfully negotiate affiliation agreements with new or existing distributors to carry its programming and no assurance can be given that they will be successful in negotiating renewals with these distributors or that the financial and other terms of these renewals will be acceptable. Although QVC considers its current levels of distribution without written agreement to be ordinary course, no assurance can be given that QVC will be successful in negotiating renewals with all these operators or that the financial and other terms of renewal will be on acceptable terms. The failure to successfully renew or negotiate new affiliation agreements covering a material portion of television households on acceptable terms could result in a discontinuation of carriage that may adversely affect its viewership, growth, net revenue and earnings.
Our programming and online commerce businesses depend on their relationships with third party suppliers and vendors and any adverse changes in these relationships could adversely affect our results of operations. An important component of the success of our programming and online commerce businesses is their ability to maintain their existing, as well as build new, relationships with a limited number of local and foreign suppliers, manufacturers and vendors, among other parties. There can be no assurance that our subsidiaries and business affiliates will be able to maintain their existing supplier or vendor arrangements on commercially reasonable terms or at all or, with respect to goods sourced from foreign markets, if the supply costs will remain stable. In addition, our subsidiaries and business affiliates cannot guarantee that goods produced and delivered by third parties will meet applicable quality standards, which is impacted by a number of factors, some of which are not within the control of these parties. Adverse changes in existing relationships or the inability to enter into new arrangements with these parties on favorable terms, if at all, could result in lost sales or cause a failure to meet customer expectations and timely delivery of products, which could in turn have a significant adverse effect on our results of operations.
Our programming and online commerce businesses rely on distribution facilities to operate their business, and any damage to one of these facilities, or any disruptions caused by incorporating new facilities into their operations, could have a material adverse impact on their business. Our programming and online commerce businesses operate a limited number of distribution facilities worldwide. Their ability to meet the needs of their customers depends on the proper operation of these distribution facilities. If any of these distribution facilities were to shut down or otherwise become inoperable or inaccessible for any reason, these businesses could suffer a substantial loss of inventory and disruptions of deliveries to their customers. In addition, they could incur significantly higher costs and longer lead times associated with the distribution of their products during the time it takes to reopen or replace the damaged facility. Any of the foregoing factors could result in decreased sales and have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and operating results. In addition, these businesses have been implementing new warehouse management systems to further support their efforts to operate with increased efficiency and flexibility. There are risks inherent in operating in new distribution environments and implementing new warehouse management systems, including operational difficulties that may arise with such transitions. Our businesses may experience shipping delays should there be any disruptions in their new warehouse management systems or warehouses themselves.
In October 2018, we announced that our HSN and QVC U.S. business units would be opening a new distribution facility in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 2019 and that we anticipated closing distribution facilities in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Roanoke, Virginia, and Greeneville, Tennessee in 2020. In late 2019, QVC began shipping customer orders from its Bethlehem distribution center, but it is not operating at full capacity. Difficulties experienced in increasing shipping volumes from the Bethlehem distribution center as a result of the package handling equipment or warehouse management systems not performing as anticipated, has caused delays in the Bethlehem distribution center operating at full capacity. Delays in the Bethlehem distribution center operating at full capacity could cause delays in closing other facilities, including the Lancaster, Pennsylvania facility. Delays in closing these facilities or disruptions caused by transitioning order fulfillment operations or returns processing from closing facilities to other facilities may increase operating expenses for these businesses, cause disruptions to their order fulfillment processes and cause delays in delivering product to customers which would result in lost sales, strain relationships with customers, and cause harm to
our businesses’ reputations, any of which could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition and operating results.
Natural disasters, public health crises, political crises, and other catastrophic events or other events outside of our control may damage our facilities or the facilities of third parties on which we depend, and could impact consumer spending. Our businesses operate headquarters and administrative offices, distribution centers and call centers worldwide. If any of these facilities or the facilities of our vendors or third-party service providers, is affected by natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, power shortages or outages, floods or monsoons, public health crises, such as pandemics and epidemics, political crises, such as terrorism, war, political instability or other conflict, or other events outside of our businesses’ control, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be materially adversely affected. Disasters occurring at our businesses’ or their vendors’ facilities also could impact our businesses’ reputation and their customers’ perception of the products they sell. Moreover, these types of events could negatively impact consumer spending in the impacted regions or depending upon the severity, globally, which could adversely impact our business, financial condition and results of operations.
For example, in December 2019, a strain of coronavirus was reported to have surfaced in Wuhan, China. It may adversely impact our businesses’ supply chains and lead to shipping disruptions for products they import. In particular, certain of the products that our businesses sell are manufactured in China and other countries and imported to the countries where our businesses operate. As a result of the coronavirus, Chinese officials and business owners have temporarily closed certain factories and certain other factories are operating at a limited capacity due to, among other reasons, employee shortages resulting in part from government imposed travel restrictions and local statutory quarantines. In addition, the travel restrictions and local statutory quarantines imposed to contain the coronavirus have resulted in delays in shipping of products our businesses import and may result in additional shipping delays. These events and any future factory closures, reductions in factory operations or government imposed travel restrictions or quarantines in China or elsewhere could negatively affect the ability of manufacturers and vendors to produce and deliver the products our businesses sell. Further, broader global effects of potentially reduced consumer confidence and other macro issues related to the coronavirus could also have a negative effect on our businesses and our financial condition and results of operations. At this point, the extent to which the coronavirus may impact our businesses is uncertain.
The unanticipated loss of certain larger vendors or the consolidation of our programming and online commerce businesses’ vendors could negatively impact their sales and profitability on a short term basis. It is possible that one or more of the larger vendors for our programming and online commerce businesses could experience financial difficulties, including bankruptcy, or otherwise could elect to cease doing business with our businesses. While these businesses have periodically experienced the loss of a major vendor, if multiple major vendors ceased doing business with these businesses, or did not perform consistently with past practice, this could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition and operating results. Further, there has been a trend among these vendors towards consolidation in recent years that may continue. This consolidation could exacerbate the foregoing risks and increase these vendors’ bargaining power and their ability to demand terms that are less favorable to our businesses.
Our businesses are subject to risks of adverse government regulation. Our programming business QVC markets and provides a broad range of merchandise through television shopping programs and proprietary websites. Similarly, our online commerce business Zulily markets and provides a broad range of merchandise and/or services through its proprietary websites. As a result, our businesses are subject to a wide variety of statutes, rules, regulations, policies and procedures in various jurisdictions, including foreign jurisdictions, which are subject to change at any time, including laws regarding consumer protection, data privacy and security, the regulation of retailers generally, the license requirements for television retailers in foreign jurisdictions, the importation, sale and promotion of merchandise and the operation of retail stores and warehouse facilities, as well as laws and regulations applicable to the Internet and businesses engaged in online commerce, such as those regulating the sending of unsolicited, commercial electronic mail and texts. The failure by our businesses to comply with these laws and regulations could result in a revocation of required licenses, fines and/or proceedings by governmental agencies and/or consumers, which could adversely affect our businesses, financial condition and results of operations. Moreover, unfavorable changes in the laws, rules and regulations applicable to our businesses could decrease demand for our businesses’ products and services, increase costs and/or subject our businesses to additional liabilities. Similarly, new disclosure and reporting requirements, established under existing or new state, federal or foreign laws, such as regulatory rules regarding requirements to disclose efforts to identify the origin and existence of certain
“conflict minerals” or abusive labor practices in portions of QVC’s supply chains, could increase the cost of doing business, adversely affecting our results of operations. In addition, certain of these regulations may impact the marketing efforts of our businesses and their brands.
As mentioned above, the manner in which certain of our subsidiaries and business affiliates sell and promote merchandise and related claims and representations made in connection with these efforts is regulated by federal, state and local law, as well as the laws of the foreign countries in which they operate. Certain of our subsidiaries and business affiliates may be exposed to potential liability from claims by purchasers or from regulators and law enforcement agencies, including, but not limited to, claims for personal injury, wrongful death and damage to personal property relating to merchandise sold and misrepresentation of merchandise features and benefits. In certain instances, these subsidiaries and business affiliates have the right to seek indemnification for related liabilities from their respective vendors and may require such vendors to carry minimum levels of product liability and errors and omissions insurance. These vendors, however, may be unable to satisfy indemnification claims, obtain suitable coverage or maintain this coverage on acceptable terms, or insurance may provide inadequate coverage or be unavailable with respect to a particular claim.
In addition, programming services, cable television systems, the Internet, telephony services and satellite service providers are subject to varying degrees of regulation in the U.S. by the FCC and other entities and in foreign countries by similar regulators. Such regulation and legislation are subject to the political process and have been in constant flux over the past decade. The application of various sales and use tax provisions under state, local and foreign law to the products and services of our subsidiaries and certain of our business affiliates sold via the Internet, television and telephone is subject to interpretation by the applicable taxing authorities, and no assurance can be given that such authorities will not take a contrary position to that taken by our subsidiaries and certain of our business affiliates, which could have a material adverse effect on their businesses. In addition, there have been numerous attempts at the federal, state and local levels to impose additional taxes on online commerce transactions. Moreover, most foreign countries in which our subsidiaries or business affiliates have, or may in the future make, an investment, regulate, in varying degrees, the distribution, content and ownership of programming services and foreign investment in programming companies and the Internet.
In addition, certain of our businesses are subject to consent decrees issued by the FTC barring them from making deceptive claims for specified weight-loss products and dietary supplements and prohibiting them from making certain claims about specified weight-loss, dietary supplement and anti-cellulite products unless they have competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate such claims. HSN was subject to a consent order issued by the FTC that had expired in 2019 and which barred HSN (including its subsidiaries and affiliates) from making certain claims with respect to specified categories of products. Violation of these consent decrees may result in the imposition of significant civil penalties for non-compliance and related redress to consumers and/or the issuance of an injunction enjoining these businesses from engaging in prohibited activities. Further material changes in the law and increased regulatory requirements must be anticipated, and there can be no assurance that our businesses and or any of our assets will not become subject to increased expenses or more stringent restrictions as a result of any future legislation, new regulation or deregulation.
We may be subject to significant tax liabilities related to the GCI Liberty Split-Off. We received an opinion of our tax counsel in connection with the contribution and split-off forming a part of the Transactions (the “GCI Liberty Split-Off”) to the effect that, for U.S. federal income tax purposes, the GCI Liberty Split-Off will qualify as a tax-free transaction to our company and to the former holders of our Liberty Ventures common stock under Section 355, Section 368(a)(1)(D) and related provisions of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (the “Code”). In July 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) completed its review of the GCI Liberty Split-Off and informed our Company that it agreed with the nontaxable characterization of the Transactions. We received an Issue Resolution Agreement from the IRS documenting this conclusion.
Even if the GCI Liberty Split-Off otherwise qualifies under Section 355, Section 368(a)(1)(D), and related provisions of the Code, the GCI Liberty Split-Off would result in a significant U.S. federal income tax liability to us (but not to the former holders of Liberty Ventures common stock) under Section 355(e) of the Code if one or more persons acquire, directly or indirectly, a 50% or greater interest (measured by either vote or value) in the stock of our company or in the stock of GCI Liberty (excluding, for this purpose, acquisitions of GCI Liberty’s common stock meeting statutory exceptions) as part of a plan or series of related transactions that includes the GCI Liberty Split-Off. Any acquisition of the stock of our company or GCI Liberty (or any successor corporation) within two years before or after the GCI Liberty
Split-Off would generally be presumed to be part of a plan that includes the GCI Liberty Split-Off, although the parties may be able to rebut that presumption under certain circumstances. The process for determining whether an acquisition is part of a plan under these rules is complex, inherently factual in nature and subject to a comprehensive analysis of the facts and circumstances of the particular case. Notwithstanding the opinion of tax counsel described above, we or GCI Liberty might inadvertently cause or permit a prohibited change in ownership of our company or GCI Liberty, thereby triggering tax liability to us.
Prior to the GCI Liberty Split-Off, we entered into a tax sharing agreement with GCI Liberty. Under this agreement, our company is generally responsible for any taxes and losses resulting from the failure of the GCI Liberty Split-Off to qualify as a tax-free transaction; however, GCI Liberty is required to indemnify us for any taxes and losses which (i) result primarily from, individually or in the aggregate, the breach of certain covenants made by GCI Liberty (applicable to actions or failures to act by GCI Liberty and its subsidiaries following the completion of the GCI Liberty Split-Off), or (ii) result from the application of Section 355(e) of the Code to the GCI Liberty Split-Off as a result of the treatment of the GCI Liberty Split-Off as part of a plan (or series of related transactions) pursuant to which one or more persons acquire, directly or indirectly, a 50% or greater interest (measured by either vote or value) in the stock of GCI Liberty (or any successor corporation). As the taxpaying entity, however, we are subject to the risk of non-payment by GCI Liberty of its indemnification obligations under the tax sharing agreement.
To preserve the tax-free treatment of the GCI Liberty Split-Off, we may determine to forgo certain transactions that might have otherwise been advantageous to our company, including certain asset dispositions or other strategic transactions for some period of time following the GCI Liberty Split-Off. In addition, our potential tax liabilities related to the GCI Liberty Split-Off might discourage, delay or prevent a change of control transaction for some period of time following the GCI Liberty Split-Off.
Rapid technological advances could render the products and services offered by our subsidiaries and our business affiliates obsolete or non-competitive. Our subsidiaries and business affiliates must stay abreast of rapidly evolving technological developments and offerings to remain competitive and increase the utility of their products and services. As their operations grow in size and scope, our subsidiaries and business affiliates must continuously improve and upgrade their systems and infrastructure while maintaining or improving the reliability and integrity of their systems and infrastructure. These subsidiaries and business affiliates must be able to incorporate new technologies into their products and services in order to address the needs of their customers. The emergence of alternative platforms such as mobile and tablet computing devices and the emergence of niche competitors who may be able to optimize products, services or strategies for such platforms will require new investment in technology. New developments in other areas, such as cloud computing, could also make it easier for competition to enter their markets due to lower up-front technology costs. There can be no assurance that our subsidiaries and business affiliates will be able to compete with advancing technology or be able to maintain existing systems or replace or introduce new technologies and systems as quickly as they would like or in a cost-effective manner, and any failure to do so could result in customers seeking alternative products or service providers, thereby adversely impacting our revenue and operating income.
Our subsidiaries and business affiliates conduct their businesses under highly competitive conditions. Although QVC is one of the nation’s largest home shopping networks, it has numerous and varied competitors at the national and local levels, ranging from large department stores to specialty shops, electronic retailers, direct marketing retailers, wholesale clubs, discount retailers, infomercial retailers, and Internet retailers. In addition, QVC competes with other televised shopping retailers, such as ShopHQ in the U.S., Shop Channel in Japan, HSE 24 in Germany and Italy, and Ideal World in the U.K., infomercial retailers, Internet retailers, including livestream shopping retailers, and mail-order and catalog companies. QVC also competes for access to customers and audience share with other providers of televised, online and hard copy entertainment and content. Similarly, Zulily and Cornerstone compete with e-commerce businesses such as Amazon.com, Inc. and Alibaba Group, the e-commerce platforms of traditional retailers such as Target Corporation and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., and online marketplaces such as eBay Inc. Cornerstone also competes with other mail-order and catalog companies. Zulily expects increased competition with companies employing a flash sales model as there are no significant barriers to entry. Competition is characterized by many factors, including assortment, advertising, price, quality, services, accessibility, the attractiveness and ease of use of digital platforms, cost and speed of options for delivery, reputation and credit availability, as well as the financial, technical and marketing expertise of competitors. For example, many of our businesses’ competitors have greater resources, longer histories, more customers and greater brand recognition
than our businesses do, and competitors may secure better terms from vendors, adopt more aggressive pricing, offer free or subsidized shipping and devote more resources to technology, fulfillment and marketing. In addition, many retailers, especially online retailers with whom our subsidiaries and business affiliates compete, are increasingly offering customers aggressive shipping terms, including free or discounted expedited shipping. As these practices become more prevalent, our subsidiaries and business affiliates may experience further competitive pressures to attract customers and/or to change their shipping programs. Other companies also may enter into business combinations or alliances that strengthen their competitive positions. Such business combinations or alliances may result in competitors with greatly improved financial resources, improved access to merchandise, greater market penetration than they previously enjoyed and other improvements in their competitive positions. This may cause QVC’s customers to elect to purchase products from a competitor that they would have historically purchased from QVC, resulting in less revenue to QVC. If our subsidiaries and business affiliates do not compete effectively with regard to these factors, our results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
Moreover, although our subsidiaries and business affiliates sell a variety of exclusive products, one of the most significant challenges our subsidiaries and business affiliates face is competition on the basis of price. Price is of great importance to most customers, and price transparency and comparability continues to increase, particularly as a result of digital technology. The ability of consumers to compare prices on a real-time basis puts additional pressure on our subsidiaries and business affiliates to maintain competitive prices. In addition, many retailers, especially online retailers with whom our subsidiaries and business affiliates compete, are increasingly offering customers aggressive shipping terms, including free or discounted expedited shipping. As these practices become more prevalent, our subsidiaries and business affiliates may experience further competitive pressures to attract customers and/or to change their shipping programs. Our subsidiaries and business affiliates ability to be competitive on delivery times and shipping costs depends on many factors, and their failure to successfully manage these factors and offer competitive shipping terms could negatively impact the demand for their products and our profit margins.
The sales and operating results of our businesses depend on their ability to attract new customers, retain existing customers and predict or respond to consumer preferences. In an effort to attract and retain customers, these businesses engage in various merchandising and marketing initiatives, which involve the expenditure of money and resources. For example, QVC and Cornerstone have spent, and expect to continue to spend, increasing amounts of money on, and devote greater resources to, certain of these initiatives, particularly in connection with the growth and maintenance of their brands generally, as well as in the continuing efforts of their businesses to increasingly engage customers through online digital marketing. These initiatives, however, may not resonate with existing customers or consumers generally or may not be cost-effective. In addition, costs associated with the production and distribution of television programming (in the case of QVC), paper and printing costs for catalogs (in the case of Cornerstone) and costs associated with digital marketing, including marketing on third-party platforms such as Google and Facebook, have increased and are likely to continue to increase in the foreseeable future and, if significant, could have a material adverse effect to the extent that they do not result in corresponding increases in net revenue. These companies also continuously develop new retail concepts and adjust their product mix in an effort to satisfy customer demands. Any sustained failure to identify and respond to emerging trends in lifestyle and consumer preferences could have a material adverse effect on the businesses of these subsidiaries and business affiliates. Consumer spending may be affected by many factors outside of their control, including competition from store-based retailers, mail-order and third-party Internet companies, consumer confidence and preferences, and general economic conditions.
Weak economic conditions worldwide may reduce consumer demand for our businesses’ products and services. Prolonged economic uncertainty in various regions of the world in which our subsidiaries and business affiliates operate could adversely affect demand for our businesses’ products and services since a substantial portion of our businesses’ revenue is derived from discretionary spending by individuals, which typically falls during times of economic instability. Global financial markets may experience disruptions, including increased volatility and diminished liquidity and credit availability. If economic and financial market conditions in the U.S. or other key markets, including China, Japan and Europe deteriorate, customers of our subsidiaries and business affiliates may respond by suspending, delaying, or reducing their discretionary spending. A suspension, delay or reduction in discretionary spending could adversely affect our revenue. Accordingly, our ability to increase or maintain revenue and earnings could be adversely affected to the extent that relevant economic environments decline. Such weak economic conditions may also inhibit the expansion of our subsidiaries and
business affiliates into new European and other markets. We currently are unable to predict the extent of any of these potential adverse effects.
The failure of our subsidiary QVC to maintain suitable placement for its programming or to adapt to changes in consumer behavior driven by online video distribution platforms for viewing content could adversely affect its ability to attract and retain television viewers and could result in a decrease in revenue. QVC is dependent upon the continued ability of its programming to compete for viewers. Effectively competing for television viewers is dependent, in substantial part, on its ability to negotiate and maintain placement of its programming at a favorable channel position, such as in a basic tier or within a general entertainment or general broadcasting tier. Less favorable channel position for QVC’s programming, such as placement adjacent to programming that does not complement its programming, a position next to its televised home shopping competitors or isolation in a "shopping" tier could adversely affect QVC’s ability to attract television viewers to its programming. In addition, if QVC’s programming is carried exclusively by a distributor on a digital programming tier, QVC may experience a reduction in revenue to the extent that the digital programming tier has less television viewer penetration than the basic or expanded basic programming tier. QVC may experience a further reduction in revenue due to increased television viewing audience fragmentation to the extent that not all television sets within a digital cable home are equipped to receive television programming in a digital format.
Changes in consumer behavior driven by online video distribution platforms for viewing content may have an adverse impact on QVC’s business. Distribution platforms for viewing content over the internet have been, and will likely continue to be, developed that further increase the competition for viewers of programming. These distribution platforms are driving changes in consumer behavior as consumers seek more control over when, where and how they consume content.
Consumers are increasingly turning to online sources for viewing content, which has and likely will continue to reduce the number of viewers of our television programming. Although QVC has attempted to adapt its offerings to changing consumer behaviors, virtual multichannel video providers, online video distributors and programming networks providing their content directly to consumers over the internet rather than through traditional television services continue to emerge, gain consumer acceptance and disrupt traditional television distribution services, which QVC relies on for the distribution of its television programming.
An increasing number of companies offering streaming services, including some with exclusive high-quality original video programming, as well as programming networks offering content directly to consumers over the internet, have increased the number of entertainment choices available to consumers, which has intensified audience fragmentation. The increase in entertainment choices adversely affects the viewership of our programming. Additionally, time-shifting technologies, such as video on demand services and DVR and cloud-based recording services, could adversely affect QVC’s ability to attract television viewers to its programming.
QVC’s future success will depend, in part, on its ability to anticipate and adapt to technological changes and to offer elements of its programming via new technologies in a cost-effective manner that meet customer demands and evolving industry standards. QVC’s failure to effectively anticipate or adapt to emerging technologies or competitors or changes in consumer behavior, including among younger consumers, could have an adverse effect on QVC’s competitive position, businesses and results of operations.
Any continued or permanent inability of QVC to transmit its programming via satellite would result in lost revenue and could result in lost customers. The success of our subsidiary QVC is dependent upon its continued ability to transmit its programming to television providers from its satellite uplink facilities, and for QVC’s distributors to continue to receive its programming at its satellite earth station downlink facilities. These transmissions are subject to FCC regulation and compliance in the U.S. and foreign regulatory requirements in QVC’s international operations. In most cases, QVC has entered into long-term satellite transponder leases to provide for continued carriage of its programming on replacement transponders and/or replacement satellites, as applicable, in the event of a failure of either the transponders and/or satellites currently carrying its programming. Although QVC believes that it takes reasonable and customary measures to ensure continued satellite transmission capability and believes that these international transponder service agreements can be renewed (or replaced, if necessary) in the ordinary course of business, termination or interruption of satellite transmissions may occur, particularly if QVC is not able to successfully negotiate renewals or replacements of any of its expiring transponder service agreements in the future.
In order to free up additional spectrum for the provision of next generation commercial wireless broadband services, commonly referred to as 5G, the FCC has commenced and is in the process of completing, a rulemaking proceeding that is expected to reallocate for 5G a portion of the 500 MHz in the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz (“C-Band”) spectrum, which is currently used for the delivery of QVC’s programming to its distributors’ satellite earth stations. Currently, there is no immediately available, ubiquitous alternative to C-Band delivery of QVC’s programming, particularly outside of its major markets. Depending on the parameters for the reallocation adopted by the FCC, there could be an impact on our ability to deliver QVC’s programming reliably and without interruption to its distributors. QVC is actively looking at alternatives to C-Band distribution to mitigate the risks posed to its operations from the C-Band reallocation proceeding, but QVC can give no assurance that these alternatives will adequately mitigate such risks.
System interruption and the lack of integration and redundancy in the systems and infrastructures of our subsidiary QVC and our other online commerce and catalog businesses may adversely affect their ability to, as applicable, operate their businesses, transmit their television programs, operate websites, process and fulfill transactions, respond to customer inquiries and generally maintain cost-efficient operations. The success of our subsidiaries and business affiliates depends, in part, on their ability to maintain the integrity of their transmissions, systems and infrastructures, including the transmission of television programs (in the case of QVC), as well as their websites, information and related systems, call centers and fulfillment facilities. These subsidiaries and business affiliates may experience occasional system interruptions that make some or all transmissions, systems or data unavailable or prevent them from transmitting their signals or efficiently providing services or fulfilling orders, as the case may be. QVC is in the process of implementing new technology systems and upgrading others. The failure to properly implement new systems or delays in implementing new systems could impair the ability of our subsidiaries and business affiliates to provide services and content, fulfill orders and/or process transactions. Each of QVC and Cornerstone also rely on affiliate and third-party computer systems, broadband, transmission and other communications systems and service providers in connection with the transmission of its respective signals, as well as to facilitate, process and fulfill transactions. Any interruptions, outages or delays in its signal transmissions, systems and infrastructures, or any deterioration in the performance of these transmissions, systems and infrastructures, could impair its ability to provide services, fulfill orders and/or process transactions. Fire, flood, power loss, telecommunications failure, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, acts of war or terrorism, acts of God and similar events or disruptions may damage or interrupt television transmissions, computer, broadband or other communications systems and infrastructures at any time. Any of these events could cause transmission or system interruption, delays and loss of critical data, and could prevent our subsidiaries and business affiliates from providing services, fulfilling orders and/or processing transactions. While our subsidiaries and business affiliates have backup systems for certain aspects of their operations, these systems are not fully redundant and disaster recovery planning is not sufficient for all possible risks. In addition, some of our subsidiaries and business affiliates may not have adequate insurance coverage to compensate for losses from a major interruption.
The processing, storage, sharing, use, disclosure and protection of personal data could give rise to liabilities as a result of governmental regulation, conflicting legal requirements or differing views of personal privacy rights. In the processing of consumer transactions and managing their employees, our businesses receive, transmit and store a large volume of personally identifiable information and other user data. The processing, storage, sharing, use, disclosure and protection of this information are governed by the privacy and data security policies maintained by these businesses. Moreover, there are federal, state and international laws regarding privacy and the processing, storage, sharing, use, disclosure and protection of personally identifiable information and user data. Specifically, personally identifiable information is increasingly subject to changing legislation and regulations, in numerous jurisdictions around the world, which are intended to protect the privacy of personal information that is collected, processed and transmitted in or from the governing jurisdiction. Compliance with these laws and regulations may be onerous and expensive and may be inconsistent from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, further increasing the cost of compliance. For example, the European Court of Justice in 2015 invalidated the U.S.-E.U. Safe Harbor Framework, which facilitated personal data transfers to the U.S. in compliance with applicable European data protection laws. The E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield, which replaced the U.S.-E.U. Safe Harbor Framework, became fully operational on August 1, 2016, but is the subject of litigation. In addition, Standard Contractual Clauses - another key mechanism to allow data transfers between the U.S. and the E.U. - are also subject to litigation over whether Standard Contractual Clauses can be used for transferring personal data from the E.U. to the U.S. The Court of Justice of the European Union is expected to rule on the challenges to the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield and Standard Contractual Clauses in 2020. Further, the General Data Protection Regulation, which became effective on May
Our businesses are subject to security risks, including security breaches and identity theft. Through their operations, sales, marketing activities, and use of third-party information, our businesses collect and store certain non-public personal information that customers provide to purchase products, enroll in promotional programs, register on websites, or otherwise communicate to them. This may include phone numbers, driver license numbers, contact preferences, personal information stored on electronic devices, and payment information, including credit and debit card data. Our businesses gather and retain information about employees in the normal course of business. Our businesses may share information about such persons with vendors, contractors and other third-parties that assist with certain aspects of their business. In addition, our businesses’ online operations depend upon the transmission of confidential information over the Internet, such as information permitting cashless payments. Unauthorized parties may attempt to gain access to our businesses’ or our businesses’ vendors’ systems by, among other things, hacking into our businesses’ systems or those of our businesses’ partners or vendors, through fraud or other means of deceiving our businesses’ employees, partners or vendors, burglaries, errors by our or our vendors’ employees, misappropriation of data by employees, vendors or unaffiliated third-parties, or other irregularities that may result in persons obtaining unauthorized access to our businesses’ data. The techniques used to gain such access to our businesses’ or our businesses’ vendors’ information technology systems, our businesses’ data or customers’ data, disable or degrade service, or sabotage systems are constantly evolving, may be difficult to detect quickly, and often are not recognized until launched against a target. Our businesses have implemented systems and processes intended to secure their information technology systems and prevent unauthorized access to or loss of sensitive data, but as with all companies, these security measures may not be sufficient for all eventualities and there is no guarantee that they will be adequate to safeguard against all cyber attacks, system compromises or misuses of data. Although we have not detected a material security breach or cybersecurity incident to date, we have been the target of events of this nature and expect to be subject to similar attacks in the future. Any penetration of network security or other misappropriation or misuse of customer, employee or other personal information, whether at our businesses’ or any of our businesses’ vendors, could cause interruptions in the operations of our businesses and subject them to increased costs, fines, litigation, regulatory actions and other liabilities. Security breaches could also significantly damage their reputation with their customers and third parties with whom they do business, which could result in lost sales and customer and vendor attrition. Our businesses continue to invest in new and emerging technology and other solutions to protect their retail commerce websites, mobile commerce applications and information systems, but there can be no assurance that these investments and solutions will prevent any of the risks described above. If our businesses are unable to maintain the security of their retail commerce websites and mobile commerce applications, they could suffer loss of sales, reductions in traffic, diversion of management attention, and deterioration of their competitive position and incur liability for any damage to customers whose personal information is unlawfully obtained and used. Our businesses may be required to expend significant additional capital and other resources to protect against and remedy any potential or existing security breaches and their consequences, such as additional infrastructure capacity spending to mitigate any system
degradation and the reallocation of resources from development activities. Our businesses also face similar risks associated with security breaches affecting third parties with which they are affiliated or otherwise conduct business. The loss of confidence in our online commerce businesses resulting from any such security breaches or identity theft could adversely affect the business, financial condition and results of operations of our online commerce businesses and, as a result, our company.
Certain of our subsidiaries and business affiliates may fail to adequately protect their intellectual property rights or may be accused of infringing intellectual property rights of third parties. Our subsidiaries and business affiliates regard their respective intellectual property rights, including service marks, tradenames and domain names, copyrights (including their programming and their websites), trade secrets and similar intellectual property, as critical to their success. These businesses also rely heavily upon software codes, informational databases and other components that make up their products and services. From time to time, these businesses are subject to legal proceedings and claims in the ordinary course of business, including claims of alleged infringement of the tradenames, patents, copyrights and other intellectual property rights of third parties. In addition, litigation may be necessary to enforce the intellectual property rights of these businesses, protect trade secrets or to determine the validity and scope of proprietary rights claimed by others. Any litigation of this nature, regardless of outcome or merit, could result in substantial costs and diversion of management and technical resources, any of which could adversely affect the business, financial condition and results of operations of these businesses and in turn our financial condition and results of operations. The failure of these businesses to protect their intellectual property rights, particularly their proprietary brands, in a meaningful manner or third party challenges to related contractual rights could result in erosion of brand names and limit the ability of these businesses to control marketing on or through the Internet using their various domain names, which could adversely affect the business, financial condition and results of operations of these businesses, as well as the financial condition and results of operations of our company.
Our home television and online commerce businesses rely on independent shipping companies to deliver the products they sell. Our home television and online commerce businesses rely on third party carriers to deliver merchandise from vendors and manufacturers to them and to ship merchandise to their customers. As a result, they are subject to carrier disruptions and delays due to factors that are beyond their control, including employee strikes, inclement weather and regulation and enforcement actions by customs agencies. Any failure to deliver products to their customers in a timely and accurate manner may damage their reputation and brand and could cause them to lose customers. Enforcement actions by customs agencies can also cause the costs of imported goods to increase, negatively affecting profits. These businesses are also impacted by increases in shipping rates charged by third party carriers, which over the past few years have increased significantly in comparison to historical levels, and it is currently expected that shipping and postal rates will continue to increase. In the case of deliveries to customers, in each market where they operate, they have negotiated agreements with one or more independent, third party shipping companies, which in certain circumstances provide for favorable shipping rates. If any of these relationships were to terminate or if a shipping company was unable to fulfill its obligations under its contract for any reason, these businesses would have to work with other shipping companies to deliver merchandise to customers, which would most likely be at less favorable rates. Other potential adverse consequences of changing carriers include reduced visibility of order status and package tracking, delays in order processing and product delivery, and reduced shipment quality, which may result in damaged products and customer dissatisfaction. Any increase in shipping rates and related fuel and other surcharges passed on to these businesses by their current carriers or any other shipping company would adversely impact profits, given that these businesses may not be able to pass these increased costs directly to customers or offset them by increasing prices without a detrimental effect on customer demand.
Certain of our businesses face significant inventory risk. Certain of our businesses are exposed to significant inventory risks that may adversely affect their operating results as a result of seasonality, new product launches, rapid changes in product cycles and pricing, defective merchandise, changes in consumer demand, consumer spending patterns, changes in consumer tastes with respect to their products and other factors. These businesses endeavor to accurately predict these trends and avoid overstocking or understocking products they sell. Demand for products, however, can change significantly between the time inventory or components are ordered and the date of sale. In addition, when these businesses begin selling a new product, it may be difficult to establish vendor relationships, determine appropriate product or component selection, and accurately forecast demand. The acquisition of certain types of inventory or components may require significant lead-time and prepayment and they may not be returnable. These businesses carry a broad selection and significant inventory levels of certain products, and they may be unable to sell products in sufficient quantities or during
the relevant selling seasons. Any one of the inventory risk factors set forth above may adversely affect their operating results.
The seasonality of certain of our businesses places increased strain on their operations. The net revenue of our home television and online commerce businesses in recent years indicates that these businesses are seasonal due to a higher volume of sales in certain months or calendar quarters or related to particular holiday shopping. For example, in recent years, QVC has earned, on average, between 22% and 23% of its global revenue in each of the first three quarters of the year and 32% of its global revenue in the fourth quarter of the year. Similarly, our subsidiary Cornerstone experiences higher sales volume during the second and fourth quarters of the year. Our subsidiary Zulily experiences a stronger third quarter during the back-to-school shopping season and stronger fourth quarter due to the holiday shopping season. If the vendors for these businesses are not able to provide popular products in sufficient amounts such that these businesses fail to meet customer demand, it could significantly affect their revenue and future growth. If too many customers access the websites of these businesses within a short period of time due to increased demand, our businesses may experience system interruptions that make their websites unavailable or prevent them from efficiently fulfilling orders, which may reduce the volume of goods they sell and the attractiveness of their products and services. In addition, they may be unable to adequately staff their fulfillment and customer service centers during these peak periods and delivery and other third party shipping (or carrier) companies may be unable to meet the seasonal demand. To the extent these businesses pay for holiday merchandise in advance of certain holidays (e.g., in the case of QVC, in August through November of each year), their available cash may decrease, resulting in less liquidity.
Our subsidiaries offer their installment payment option on most of their merchandise and, in certain circumstances offer it as the default payment option. The failure of our subsidiaries QVC U.S., QVC International, HSN and Zulily to effectively manage the Easy-Pay, Flexpay, Smart-Pay and revolving credit card programs as applicable, could negatively impact our results of operations. QVC offers an installment payment option in all of its markets other than Japan, which is available on certain merchandise it sells. This installment payment option is called “Easy-Pay” at QVC-U.S. and in the U.K., “Q-Pay” in Germany and Italy, and “Flex-Pay” at HSN. QVC’s installment payment option is currently offered on most of its merchandise and for QVC U.S. website and mobile sales and QVC U.K. mobile sales, is set as the default payment option on all products on which it is offered. Full payment for merchandise at the time of sale would require the customer to affirmatively change to that option. QVC’s installment payment option, when offered, allows customers to pay for certain merchandise in multiple interest-free monthly installments. When the installment payment option is offered by QVC U.S. and QVC International and elected by the customer (or if the customer inadvertently purchases merchandise using the installment payment option because it was the default payment option), the first installment is typically billed to the customer’s credit or debit card upon shipment. Generally, the customer’s credit or debit card is subsequently billed in additional monthly installments until the total purchase price of the products has been billed. QVC U.S. and QVC International cannot predict whether customers will pay their installments when due or at all, regardless of whether the customer would have preferred to pay in one lump-sum but did not opt out of the installment payment option. Accordingly, QVC maintains an allowance for customer bad debts arising from these late and unpaid installments. This provision for customer bad debts is provided as a percentage of accounts receivable based on QVC’s historical experience in the period of sale and is included within selling, general and administrative expense. To the extent that customers elect installment payment options at greater rates, or to the extent the number of customers failing to opt out of the default installment payment option increases, QVC would be required to maintain a greater allowance for customer bad debt and to the extent that installment payment option losses exceed historical levels, our and QVC’s results of operations may be negatively impacted.
Zulily offers Smart-pay, a program which customers may pay for certain merchandise in two or three payments. Zulily maintains allowances for estimated losses resulting from the inability of customers to make required payments. Actual losses due to the inability of customers to make required payments may increase in a given period or exceed related estimates. Zulily may experience these losses at greater rates, which will require it to maintain greater allowances for doubtful accounts of estimated losses than it has historically.
Federal and state rules and regulations governing various consumer lending practices apply in the jurisdictions where we operate. Although we do not charge interest or impose finance charges as part of our installment payment option, changes in how these rules are interpreted and applied could result in changes to our installment program, and failure to
comply with these rules and regulations could result in the imposition of fines and penalties, any of which could have an adverse effect on our results of operations.
In addition, QVC U.S., HSN and Zulily have agreements with a large consumer financial institution (the “Bank”) pursuant to which the Bank provides revolving credit directly to U.S. customers for the sole purpose of purchasing merchandise from QVC U.S., HSN and Zulily with a branded credit card (For QVC U.S. the “Q Card”, for HSN the “HSN Credit Card” and for Zulily the “Zulily Credit Card”). QVC U.S., HSN and Zulily receive a portion of the net economics of the respective credit card programs. We cannot predict the extent to which QVC U.S., HSN and Zulily’s customers will use the Q Card, the HSN Credit Card, or the Zulily Credit Card nor the extent that they will make payments on their outstanding balances.
The success of our home television and online commerce businesses depends in large part on their ability to recruit and retain key personnel capable of executing their unique business models. Our home television and online commerce subsidiaries and business affiliates have business models that require them to recruit and retain key employees, including management, with the skills necessary for a unique business that demands knowledge of the general retail industry, television production, direct to consumer marketing and fulfillment and the Internet. We cannot assure you that if these subsidiaries and business affiliates experience turnover of these key employees they will be able to recruit and retain acceptable replacements because the market for such employees is very competitive and limited.
Certain of our subsidiaries and business affiliates have operations outside of the U.S. that are subject to numerous operational and financial risks. Certain of our subsidiaries and business affiliates have operations in countries other than the U.S. that are subject to the following risks inherent in international operations:
|●||fluctuations in currency exchange rates;|
|●||longer payment cycles for sales in foreign countries that may increase the uncertainty associated with recoverable accounts;|
|●||recessionary conditions and economic instability, including fiscal policies that are implementing austerity measures in certain countries, which are affecting overseas markets;|
|●||limited ability to repatriate funds to the U.S. at favorable tax rates;|
|●||potentially adverse tax consequences;|
|●||export and import restrictions, changes in tariffs, trade policies and trade relations;|
|●||increases in taxes and governmental royalties and fees;|
|●||the ability to obtain and maintain required licenses or certifications, such as for web services and electronic devices, that enable us to operate our businesses in foreign jurisdictions;|
|●||changes in foreign and U.S. laws, regulations and policies that govern operations of foreign-based companies;|
|●||changes to general consumer protection laws and regulations;|
|●||difficulties in staffing and managing international operations as a result of distance, language and cultural differences; and|
|●||threatened and actual terrorist attacks, political unrest in international markets and ongoing military action around the world that may result in disruptions of service that are critical to QVC’s international businesses.|
Moreover, in many foreign countries, particularly in certain developing economies, it is not uncommon to encounter business practices that are prohibited by certain regulations, such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and similar laws. Although certain of our subsidiaries and business affiliates have undertaken compliance efforts with respect to these laws, their respective employees, contractors and agents, as well as those companies to which they outsource certain of their business operations, may take actions in violation of their policies and procedures. Any such violation, even if prohibited
by the policies and procedures of these subsidiaries and business affiliates or the law, could have certain adverse effects on the financial condition of these subsidiaries and business affiliates. Any failure by these subsidiaries and business affiliates to effectively manage the challenges associated with the international operation of their businesses could materially adversely affect their, and hence our, financial condition.
Significant developments stemming from the negotiation of trade agreements or the Brexit vote could have a material adverse effect on our businesses. The President of the U.S. has expressed apprehension towards trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and suggested that the U.S. would renegotiate or withdraw from certain trade agreements. He has also advocated for and imposed tariffs on certain goods imported into the U.S., particularly from China and Europe. On January 23, 2017, the President of the U.S. signed a presidential memorandum to withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. On October 1, 2018, the U.S., Mexico and Canada agreed to the terms of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (the "USMCA"), a successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement ("NAFTA"), which will impact imports and exports among those countries. The countries agreed to a revised version of the USMCA on December 10, 2019. The USMCA has only been ratified by Mexico and the U.S. Once ratified by the legislature of Canada, the USMCA would be enacted and replace NAFTA. As of the date of this report, there is some uncertainty about whether the USMCA will be ratified by Canada, as well as the timing thereof, and the potential for further re-negotiation, or even termination, of NAFTA. Also, the USMCA could undergo further changes that lead to additional modifications of certain USMCA provisions before being passed into law. These and other proposed actions, if implemented, could adversely affect our businesses that sell imported products.
Additionally, the Brexit process and negotiations have created political and economic uncertainty, particularly in the U.K. and the E.U., and this uncertainty may last for years. On June 23, 2016, the U.K. held a referendum in which voters approved, on an advisory basis, an exit from the E.U. The U.K. formally left the E.U. on January 31, 2020. This has resulted in a transition period during which the E.U.-U.K. trade relationship will not change, and the U.K. will remain part of the E.U. Customs Union and Single Market, subject to all E.U. trade law. During the transition period, the E.U. and the U.K. will negotiate their new economic and security relationship, including a new agreement on trade. The transition will last until December 31, 2020, which can be extended for up to two years if the E.U. and the U.K. agree to do so. However, at present, the U.K. government’s stated intention is not to seek or agree to an extension. A “no deal” outcome on trade remains a possibility if the E.U. and the U.K. fail to conclude a new trade agreement before December 31, 2020 and the transition period is not extended. In that case, with effect from January 1, 2021, the basis for E.U.-U.K. trade would automatically default to World Trade Organization terms.
The potential impacts, if any, of the considerable uncertainty relating to Brexit or the resulting terms of the new economic and security relationship between the U.K. and the E.U. on the free movement of goods, services, people and capital between the U.K. and the E.U., customer behavior, economic conditions, interest rates, currency exchange rates, availability of capital or other matters are unclear. QVC’s business could be affected with respect to these matters during this period of uncertainty, and perhaps longer depending on the resulting terms. In particular, QVC’s business could be negatively affected by new trade agreements between the U.K. and other countries, including the U.S., and by the possible imposition of trade or other regulatory barriers in the U.K. which could result in shipping delays and the shortage of products sold by it. Additionally, the U.K. economy and consumer demand in the U.K., including for QVC’s products, could be negatively impacted. Further, various geopolitical forces related to Brexit may impact the global economy, the European economy and our businesses, including, for example, due to other E.U. member states where our businesses have operations proposing referendums to, or electing to, exit the E.U. These possible negative impacts, and others resulting from the U.K.’s withdrawal from the E.U., may adversely affect our operating results.
Our businesses could be negatively affected by changes in third-party digital platform algorithms and dynamics as well as their inability to monetize the resulting web traffic. The success of our online commerce businesses depends on a high degree of website traffic, which is dependent on many factors, including the availability of appealing website content, user loyalty and new user generation from various digital marketing channels that charge a fee. Third-party digital platforms, such as Google and Facebook, frequently update and change the logic that determines the placement and display of results of a user’s search, or advertiser content, such that the purchased or algorithmic placement of advertisements or links to the websites of our online commerce businesses can be negatively affected. If a major search engine or third-party digital platform changes its algorithms in a manner that negatively affects their paid advertisement distribution or unpaid search ranking, the business and financial performance of our online commerce businesses would be adversely affected,
potentially to a material extent. Furthermore, the failure of our online commerce businesses to successfully manage their digital marketing strategies could result in a substantial decrease in traffic to their websites, as well as increased costs if they were to replace free traffic with paid traffic. Even if our online commerce businesses are successful in generating a high level of website traffic, no assurance can be given that our online commerce businesses will be successful in achieving repeat user loyalty or that new visitors will explore the offerings on their sites. Monetizing this traffic by converting users to consumers is dependent on many factors, including availability of inventory, consumer preferences, price, ease of use and website quality. No assurance can be given that the fees paid to third-party digital platforms will not exceed the revenue generated by their visitors. Any failure to sustain user traffic or to monetize such traffic could materially adversely affect the financial performance of our online commerce businesses and, as a result, adversely affect our financial results.
Our businesses may experience difficulty in the ongoing development, implementation and customer acceptance of applications for personal electronic devices, which could harm their business. Although our online commerce businesses have developed services and applications to address user and consumer interaction with website content on personal electronic devices, such as smartphones and tablets, the ways in which consumers use or rely on these personal electronic devices is continually changing. If the services or applications we develop in response to changes in consumer behavior are less effective or are not accepted by consumers, our online commerce businesses may experience difficulty attracting and retaining traffic and, in turn, advertisers, on these platforms. Any failure to attract and retain traffic on these personal electronic devices could materially adversely affect the financial performance of our online commerce businesses and, as a result, adversely affect our financial results. Additionally, as new devices and new platforms are continually being released, it is difficult to predict the challenges that may be encountered in developing versions of our online commerce businesses’ offerings for use on these alternative devices, and our online commerce businesses may need to devote significant resources to the creation, support, and maintenance of their services on such devices. To the extent that revenue generated from advertising placed on smartphone computing devices becomes increasingly more important to their businesses and they fail to adequately evolve and address this market, their business and financial performance could be negatively impacted.
Our subsidiary QVC has significant indebtedness, which could limit its flexibility to respond to current market conditions, restrict its business activities and adversely affect its financial condition. As of December 31, 2019, QVC had total debt, other than its finance lease obligations, of $4,978 million, consisting of $3,873 million of secured indebtedness under its existing notes, and $1,105 million outstanding under its senior secured credit facility (excluding $130 million borrowed by Zulily under the $400 million tranche of the senior secured credit facility for which QVC and Zulily are jointly and severally liable but that QVC does not expect to repay on behalf of Zulily), in each case, secured by a first priority perfected lien on all shares of QVC’s capital stock, and an additional $2.4 billion of unused capacity under its senior secured credit facility (which was subsequently reduced to $1.7 billion upon the $700 million reduction of the revolving credit facility, effective February 4, 2020). In addition, QVC had $181 million of finance lease obligations and $218 million of operating lease liabilities. QVC may incur significant additional indebtedness in the future. If new indebtedness is added to QVC’s current debt levels, the related risks that it now faces could intensify. The indebtedness of QVC, combined with other financial obligations and contractual commitments, could among other things:
|●||increase QVC’s vulnerability to general adverse economic and industry conditions;|
|●||require a substantial portion of QVC’s cash flow from operations to be dedicated to the payment of principal and interest on its indebtedness;|
|●||limit QVC’s ability to use cash flow or obtain additional financing for future working capital, capital expenditures or other general corporate purposes, which reduces the funds available to it for operations and any future business opportunities;|
|●||limit flexibility in planning for, or reacting to, changes in its business and the markets in which it operates;|
|●||competitively disadvantage QVC compared with competitors that have less debt;|
|●||limit QVC’s ability to borrow additional funds or to borrow funds at rates or on other terms that it finds acceptable; and|
|●||expose QVC to the risk of increased interest rates because certain of QVC’s borrowings, including borrowings under its credit facility, are at variable interest rates.|
In addition, it is possible that QVC may need to incur additional indebtedness in the future in the ordinary course of business. If new debt is added to its current debt levels, the risks described above could intensify. If QVC experiences adverse effects on its financial condition as a result of their indebtedness, our financial performance could be adversely affected as well.
QVC may need to refinance its indebtedness. Although QVC expects to refinance or otherwise repay its indebtedness, it may not be able to refinance its indebtedness on commercially reasonable terms or at all. The financial terms or covenants of any new credit facility, notes or other indebtedness may not be as favorable as those under its senior secured credit facility and its existing notes. QVC’s ability to complete a refinancing of its senior secured credit facility and its existing notes prior to their respective maturities will depend on its financial and operating performance, its credit rating with rating agencies, as well as a number of conditions beyond its control. For example, if disruptions in the financial markets were to exist at the time that it intended to refinance this indebtedness, it might be restricted in its ability to access the financial markets. If QVC is unable to refinance its indebtedness, its alternatives would include negotiating an extension of the maturities of its senior secured credit facility and its existing notes with the lenders and seeking or raising new equity capital. If QVC were unsuccessful, the lenders under its senior secured credit facility and the holders of its existing notes could demand repayment of the indebtedness owed to them on the relevant maturity date, which could adversely affect its and our financial condition.
Covenants in QVC’s debt agreements restrict its business in many ways. QVC’s senior secured credit facility and the indentures governing its notes contain various covenants that limit its ability and/or its restricted subsidiaries' ability to, among other things:
|●||incur or assume liens or additional debt or provide guarantees in respect of obligations of other persons;|
|●||pay dividends or make distributions or redeem or repurchase capital stock;|
|●||prepay, redeem or repurchase debt;|
|●||make loans, investments and capital expenditures;|
|●||enter into agreements that restrict distributions from its subsidiaries;|
|●||sell assets and capital stock of its subsidiaries;|
|●||enter into sale and leaseback transactions;|
|●||enter into certain transactions with affiliates;|
|●||consolidate or merge with or into, or sell substantially all of its assets to, another person; and|
|●||designate its subsidiaries as unrestricted subsidiaries.|
In addition, QVC’s senior secured credit facility contains restrictive covenants and requires it to maintain a specified leverage ratio. QVC’s ability to meet this leverage ratio test can be affected by events beyond its control, and it may be unable to meet those tests. A breach of any of these covenants could result in a default under QVC’s senior secured credit facility, which in turn could result in a default under the indentures governing its notes. Upon the occurrence of an event of default under QVC’s senior secured credit facility, the lenders could elect to declare all amounts outstanding under its senior secured credit facility to be immediately due and payable and terminate all commitments to extend further credit. If QVC were unable to repay those amounts, the lenders could proceed against the collateral granted to them to secure that indebtedness. QVC’s senior secured credit facility, its notes and certain future indebtedness are secured by a first priority perfected lien in all shares of its capital stock. If the lenders and counterparties under QVC’s senior secured credit facility, its notes and certain future indebtedness accelerate the repayment of obligations, it may not have sufficient assets to repay such obligations. QVC’s borrowings under its senior secured credit facility are, and are expected to continue to be, at
variable rates of interest and expose it to interest rate risk. If interest rates increase, QVC’s debt service obligations on the variable rate indebtedness will also increase even though the amount borrowed remains the same, and QVC’s net income would decrease.
We may fail to realize the potential benefits of the acquisition of HSN or those benefits may take longer to realize than expected. We believe there are significant benefits and synergies that may be realized through leveraging the scale, vendor relationships, merchandizing expertise and customer base of QVC U.S. and HSN. However, the efforts to realize these benefits and synergies will be a complex process and may disrupt each company’s existing operations if not implemented in a timely and efficient manner. If the respective managements of Qurate Retail, QVC U.S. and HSN are unable to minimize the potential disruption to their respective businesses and operations during this period, we may not realize the anticipated benefits of the acquisition of HSN. Realizing these benefits may depend in part on the efficient coordination and alignment of various functions, including marketing, merchandising, buying expertise, customer acquisition and the integration of certain administrative functions, while maintaining adequate focus on QVC U.S.’s and HSN’s core businesses. QVC U.S., HSN and Zulily engage in transactions relating to personnel, sales, sourcing of merchandise, marketing initiatives, fulfillment integration and business advisory services with the expectation that these transactions will result in various synergies including, among other things, enhanced revenues, procurement cost savings and operating efficiencies, innovation and sharing of best practices. However, they may not realize these anticipated benefits. We currently anticipate that these efforts will continue for the foreseeable future.
Our operating expenses are expected to increase over the near term due to the increased headcount, expanded operations and changes related to the assimilation of HSN. In addition, we have incurred expenses related to the acquisition of HSN, which may adversely affect our financial results. To the extent that our expenses increase but revenue does not increase commensurately, there are unanticipated expenses related to the assimilation process, there are significant costs associated with presently unknown liabilities, or if the foregoing charges and expenses are larger than anticipated, our consolidated business, operating results and financial condition may be adversely affected. Failure to timely implement, or problems with implementing, the post-acquisition strategy for HSN also may adversely affect the trading price of our common stock.
We depend on the continued growth of e-commerce in general and Zulily depends on the flash sales model in particular. The business of selling products over the Internet, particularly on the flash sales model, is dynamic and evolving. The market segment for the flash sales model has grown significantly, and this growth may not be sustainable. If customers cease to find the flash sales model shopping experience fun, entertaining and a good value, or otherwise lose interest in shopping in this manner, Zulily may not acquire new customers at rates consistent with its historical or projected periods, and existing customers’ buying patterns and levels may be less than historical or projected rates. If Zulily is unable to successfully deliver emails or mobile alerts to its subscribers, or if subscribers decline to open its emails or mobile alerts, Zulily’s net sales and profitability would be adversely affected. In addition, changes in how webmail application providers, such as Google Inc. and Yahoo! Inc., prioritize, filter and deliver email may also reduce the number of subscribers opening Zulily’s emails which may also result in a decline in net sales. If the market segment for the flash sales model were to become saturated or decline overall, Zulily may not be able to acquire new customers or engage existing customers, which could adversely affect our financial condition and operating results.
We do not have the right to manage our business affiliates, which means we are not able to cause those business affiliates to act in a manner that we deem desirable. We do not have the right to manage the businesses or affairs of any of our business affiliates (generally those companies in which we have less than a majority voting stake). Rather, our rights may take the form of representation on the board of directors or similar committee that supervises management or possession of veto rights over significant or extraordinary actions. The scope of our veto rights varies from agreement to agreement. Although our board representation and veto rights may enable us to exercise influence over the management or policies of a business affiliate, enable us to prevent the sale of material assets by a business affiliate in which we own less than a majority voting interest or prevent a business affiliate from paying dividends or making distributions to its stockholders or partners, they will not enable us to cause these actions to be taken as these companies are business affiliates in which we own a partial interest.
We have overlapping directors and officers with Liberty Media Corporation (“LMC”), Liberty TripAdvisor Holdings, Inc. (“TripAdvisor Holdings”), Liberty Broadband, and GCI Liberty, which may lead to conflicting interests. As a result of certain transactions that occurred between 2011 and 2018 that resulted in the separate corporate existence of our company, LMC, TripAdvisor Holdings, Liberty Broadband and GCI Liberty, most of the executive officers of Qurate Retail also serve as executive officers of LMC, TripAdvisor Holdings, Liberty Broadband and GCI Liberty and there are overlapping directors. Other than GCI Liberty’s current ownership of shares of Liberty Broadband’s non-voting Series C common stock, none of the foregoing companies has any ownership interest in any of the others. Our executive officers and the members of our company’s board of directors have fiduciary duties to our stockholders. Likewise, any such persons who serve in similar capacities at LMC, TripAdvisor Holdings, Liberty Broadband or GCI Liberty have fiduciary duties to that company’s stockholders. Therefore, such persons may have conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts of interest with respect to matters involving or affecting more than one of the companies to which they owe fiduciary duties. For example, there may be the potential for a conflict of interest when our company, LMC, TripAdvisor Holdings, Liberty Broadband or GCI Liberty looks at acquisitions and other corporate opportunities that may be suitable for each of them. Moreover, most of our company's directors and officers own LMC, TripAdvisor Holdings, Liberty Broadband and/or GCI Liberty stock and equity awards. These ownership interests could create, or appear to create, potential conflicts of interest when the applicable individuals are faced with decisions that could have different implications for our company, LMC, TripAdvisor Holdings, Liberty Broadband and/or GCI Liberty. Any potential conflict that qualifies as a "related party transaction" (as defined in Item 404 of Regulation S-K under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended) is subject to review by an independent committee of the applicable issuer's board of directors in accordance with its corporate governance guidelines. Each of Liberty Broadband, TripAdvisor Holdings and GCI Liberty has renounced its rights to certain business opportunities and their respective restated certificate of incorporation contains provisions deeming directors and officers not in breach of their fiduciary duties in certain cases for directing a corporate opportunity to another person or entity (including LMC, TripAdvisor Holdings, Liberty Broadband and GCI Liberty) instead of such company. Any other potential conflicts that arise will be addressed on a case-by-case basis, keeping in mind the applicable fiduciary duties owed by the executive officers and directors of each issuer. From time to time, we may enter into transactions with LMC, TripAdvisor Holdings, Liberty Broadband or GCI Liberty and/or their subsidiaries or other affiliates. There can be no assurance that the terms of any such transactions will be as favorable to our company, LMC, TripAdvisor Holdings, Liberty Broadband or GCI Liberty or any of their respective subsidiaries or affiliates as would be the case where there is no overlapping officer or director.
A substantial portion of our consolidated debt is held above the operating subsidiary level, and we could be unable in the future to obtain cash in amounts sufficient to service that debt and our other financial obligations. As of December 31, 2019, our wholly-owned subsidiary LI LLC had $2,238 million principal amount of publicly-traded debt outstanding. LI LLC is a holding company for all of our subsidiaries and investments. Our ability to meet the financial obligations of LI LLC and our other financial obligations will depend on our ability to access cash. Our sources of cash include our available cash balances, net cash from operating activities, dividends and interest from our investments, availability under credit facilities at the operating subsidiary level, monetization of our public investment portfolio and proceeds from asset sales. There are no assurances that we will maintain the amounts of cash, cash equivalents or marketable securities that we maintained over the past few years. The ability of our operating subsidiaries to pay dividends or to make other payments or advances to us or LI LLC depends on their individual operating results, any statutory, regulatory or contractual restrictions to which they may be or may become subject and the terms of their own indebtedness, including QVC’s credit facility and bond indentures. The agreements governing such indebtedness restrict sales of assets and prohibit or limit the payment of dividends or the making of distributions, loans or advances to stockholders and partners. Neither we nor LI LLC will generally receive cash, in the form of dividends, loans, advances or otherwise, from our business affiliates. See “We do not have the right to manage our business affiliates, which means we are not able to cause those affiliates to act in a manner that we deem desirable” above.
We have disposed of certain of the reference shares underlying the exchangeable debentures of LI LLC, which exposes us to liquidity risk. LI LLC currently has outstanding multiple tranches of exchangeable debentures in the aggregate principal amount of $1,447 million as of December 31, 2019. Under the terms of these exchangeable debentures, the holders may elect to require LI LLC to exchange the debentures for the value of a specified number of the underlying reference shares, which LI LLC may honor through delivery of reference shares, cash or a combination thereof. Also, LI LLC is required to distribute to the holders of its exchangeable debentures any cash, securities (other than publicly traded securities, which would themselves become reference shares) or other payments made by the issuer of the reference shares
in respect of those shares. The principal amount of the debentures will be reduced by the amount of any such required distributions other than regular cash dividends. LI LLC has disposed of some of the reference shares underlying certain of these exchangeable debentures. For example, in connection with the Transactions, our company contributed its entire equity interest in Charter Communications, Inc. to GCI Liberty. Shares of Charter serve as the underlying reference shares for the 1.75% Exchangeable Debentures. Pursuant to a reorganization agreement and indemnification agreement entered into in connection with the Transactions, our company, LI LLC and GCI Liberty agreed to cooperate with, and reasonably assist each other with respect to, the commencement and consummation of one or more privately negotiated transactions with respect to the 1.75% Exchangeable Debentures within six months of the closing of the Transactions. In June 2018, Qurate Retail repurchased 417,759 of the 1.75% Exchangeable Debentures, and GCI Liberty made a payment under the indemnification agreement to Qurate Retail in the amount of $133 million. Following the initial six month period, the remaining indemnification from GCI Liberty to LI LLC for certain payments made to a holder of the 1.75% Exchangeable Debentures pertains to the holder’s ability to exercise its exchange right according to the terms of the 1.75% Exchangeable Debentures on or before October 5, 2023. However, we cannot give any assurance as to whether GCI Liberty will fulfill its indemnification obligations pursuant to the indemnification agreement.
As a result of LI LLC having disposed of these reference shares, any exercise of the exchange right by, or required distribution of cash, securities or other payments to, holders of such debentures will require that LI LLC fund the required payments from its own resources, which will depend on the availability of cash or other sources of liquidity to LI LLC at that time. Additionally, in the event all reference shares underlying a series of exchangeable debentures are liquidated or otherwise cease to be outstanding without replacement, there is a possibility that the treatment of tax matters associated with that series could change. This may include acceleration of tax liabilities that are recorded as deferred tax liabilities in our financial statements, in amounts that would be significant.
Transactions in our common stock by our insiders could depress the market price of our common stock. Sales of or hedging transactions such as collars relating to our shares by John C. Malone, a director of our company and our former Chairman of the Board, Gregory B. Maffei, our former Chief Executive Officer and current Chairman of the Board, or Michael George, our current Chief Executive Officer, or any of our other directors or executive officers could cause a perception in the marketplace that our stock price has peaked or that adverse events or trends have occurred or may be occurring at our company. This perception can result notwithstanding any personal financial motivation for these insider transactions. As a result, insider transactions could depress the market price for shares of one or more series of our common stock.
It may be difficult for a third party to acquire us, even if doing so may be beneficial to our stockholders. Certain provisions of our restated charter and bylaws may discourage, delay or prevent a change in control of our company that a stockholder may consider favorable. These provisions include:
|●||authorizing a capital structure with multiple series of common stock, a Series B common stock that entitles the holders to ten votes per share, a Series A common stock that entitles the holder to one vote per share, and a Series C common stock that except as otherwise required by applicable law, entitles the holder to no voting rights;|
|●||classifying our board of directors with staggered three-year terms, which may lengthen the time required to gain control of our board of directors;|
|●||limiting who may call special meetings of stockholders;|
|●||prohibiting stockholder action by written consent, thereby requiring all stockholder actions to be taken at a meeting of the stockholders;|
|●||establishing advance notice requirements for nominations of candidates for election to the board of directors or for proposing matters that can be acted upon by stockholders at stockholder meetings;|
|●||requiring stockholder approval by holders of at least 66 2/3% of our aggregate voting power or the approval by at least 75% of our board of directors with respect to certain extraordinary matters, such as a merger or consolidation of our company, a sale of all or substantially all of our assets or an amendment to our restated charter; and|
|●||the existence of authorized and unissued stock, including "blank check" preferred stock, which could be issued by our board of directors to persons friendly to our then current management, thereby protecting the continuity of our management, or which could be used to dilute the stock ownership of persons seeking to obtain control of our company.|
John C. Malone, a director of our company and our former Chairman of the Board, beneficially owns shares representing the power to direct approximately 41% of the aggregate voting power in our company, due to his beneficial ownership of approximately 94% of the outstanding shares of our Series B Qurate Retail common stock as of January 31, 2020.
We have identified a material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting, that, if not properly remediated, could adversely affect our business and results of operations. A material weakness is a deficiency, or a combination of deficiencies, in internal control over financial reporting such that there is a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement of the Company’s annual or interim consolidated financial statements will not be prevented or detected on a timely basis. As described in “Item 9A. Controls and Procedures,” we have concluded that our internal control over financial reporting was ineffective as of December 31, 2019 due to a material weakness that was first disclosed in our Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2018 and continues to be unremediated in full. The identified material weakness that remained unremediated at December 31, 2019 relates to information technology general controls (“ITGCs”) in QVC’s Germany business. Specifically, the ITGCs were not consistently designed and operating effectively to ensure that access to certain financially significant applications and data, were adequately restricted to appropriate personnel. Our business process controls (automated and manual) that are dependent on the affected ITGCs were also deemed ineffective because they could have been adversely impacted.
While the control deficiencies did not result in any identified misstatements, a reasonable possibility exists that a material misstatement to the annual or interim consolidated financial statements and disclosures will not be prevented or detected on a timely basis.
As further described in “Item 9A. Controls and Procedures,” we are taking the necessary steps to remediate the material weakness. However, as the reliability of the internal control process requires repeatable execution, the successful on-going remediation of this material weakness will require on-going review and evidence of effectiveness prior to concluding that the controls are effective. Therefore, we cannot assure you that the remediation efforts will remain effective following their completion in the future or that additional or similar material weaknesses will not develop or be identified.
Implementing any further changes to our internal controls may distract our officers and employees and entail material costs to implement new processes and/or modify our existing processes. Moreover, these changes do not guarantee that we will be effective in maintaining the adequacy of our internal controls, and any failure to maintain that adequacy, or consequent inability to produce accurate financial statements on a timely basis, could harm our business. In addition, investors’ perceptions that our internal controls are inadequate or that we are unable to produce accurate financial statements on a timely basis may harm the price of our common stock.
Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments
Item 2. Properties
We lease our corporate headquarters in Englewood, Colorado under a facilities agreement with LMC. All of our other real or personal property is owned or leased by our subsidiaries and business affiliates.
QxH owns its corporate headquarters and operations center in West Chester, Pennsylvania which consists of office space and includes executive offices, video broadcast studios, showrooms, broadcast facilities and administrative offices. QxH owns call centers in San Antonio, Texas and Chesapeake, Virginia. QxH owns a multi-functional building in St. Petersburg, Florida. QxH owns distribution centers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Piney Flats, Tennessee; Suffolk, Virginia;
Rocky Mount, North Carolina; Florence, South Carolina; and Ontario, California and leases a distribution center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
QVC International owns call centers in Bochum and Kassel, Germany; and Chiba-Shi, Japan. QVC International owns distribution centers in Chiba, Japan; and Hückelhoven, Germany. Additionally, QVC International owns multi-functional buildings in Knowsley, United Kingdom; Chiba, Japan; Brugherio, Italy; and Dusseldorf, Germany, and leases a multi-functional building in London, U.K.
Zulily leases its corporate headquarters in Seattle, Washington, fulfillment centers in Lockbourne, Ohio, McCarran, Nevada, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and corporate offices in Gahanna, Ohio and Shenzhen, China.
Cornerstone owns an office and storage facility in Franconia, New Hampshire. Cornerstone leases its fulfillment centers in Butler and Warren Counties in Ohio and Phoenix, Arizona. It also leases other properties consisting of administrative offices, 20 retail stores and outlets, and photo centers in various locations throughout the United States.
Our other subsidiaries and business affiliates own or lease the fixed assets necessary for the operation of their respective businesses, including office space, transponder space, headends, cable television and telecommunications distribution equipment and telecommunications switches.
Item 3. Legal Proceedings
Item 4. Mine Safety Disclosures
Item 5. Market for Registrant's Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities.
Each series of the common stock of Qurate Retail, Inc. (formerly named Liberty Interactive Corporation, “Qurate Retail,” the “Company,” “we,” “us” and “our”) trades on the Nasdaq Global Select Market. Our Series A and Series B QVC Group common stock traded on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the symbols “QVCA” and “QVCB,” respectively. On May 23, 2018, the Company filed its restated certificate of incorporation, which (i) eliminated the tracking stock capitalization structure of the Company and (ii) reclassified each outstanding share of our Series A and Series B QVC Group common stock into one share of our Series A and Series B common stock, respectively. Following the reclassification, our Series A and Series B common stock continued trading on the Nasdaq Global Select Market, but under the symbols “QRTEA” and “QRTEB.” Stock price information for securities traded on the Nasdaq Global Select Market can be found on the Nasdaq’s website at www.nasdaq.com. Although the reclassification resulted in stock name and related ticker symbol changes, historical information for our Series B QVC Group common stock refers to such stock herein as our Series B common stock. The following table sets forth the range of high and low sales prices of shares of our Series B common stock for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2018. Although our Series B common stock is traded on the Nasdaq Global Select Market, an established public trading market does not exist for the stock, as it is not actively traded.
Series B (QRTEB)
As of January 31, 2020, there were 2,449 and 70 record holders of our Series A and Series B Qurate Retail common stock, respectively. The foregoing numbers of record holders do not include the number of stockholders whose shares are held nominally by banks, brokerage houses or other institutions, but include each such institution as one shareholder.
We have not paid any cash dividends on our common stock, and we have no present intention of so doing. Payment of cash dividends, if any, in the future will be determined by our board of directors in light of our earnings, financial condition and other relevant considerations. See Item 7. “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operation – Liquidity and Capital Resources.”
Securities Authorized for Issuance Under Equity Compensation Plans
Information required by this item is incorporated by reference to our definitive proxy statement for our 2020 Annual Meeting of Stockholders.
Purchases of Equity Securities by the Issuer
Share Repurchase Programs
In May 2019, the board authorized the repurchase of $500 million of Series A or Series B Qurate Retail common stock. There were no repurchases of Series A or Series B Qurate Retail common stock during the three months ended December 31, 2019. As of December 31, 2019, $497 million was available to be used for share repurchases of Series A or Series B Qurate Retail common stock under the Company’s share repurchase program.
34,535 shares of Series A Qurate Retail common stock were surrendered by certain of our officers and employees to pay withholding taxes and other deductions in connection with the vesting of their restricted stock during the three months ended December 31, 2019.
Item 6. Selected Financial Data.
The following tables present selected historical information relating to our financial condition and results of operations for the past five years. Certain prior period amounts have been reclassified for comparability with the current year presentation. The following data should be read in conjunction with our consolidated financial statements.
amounts in millions
Summary Balance Sheet Data:
Cash and cash equivalents
Investments in available-for-sale securities and other cost investments
Intangible assets not subject to amortization (1)
Noncurrent assets of discontinued operations (2) (3)
Deferred income tax liabilities
Noncurrent liabilities of discontinued operations (2) (3)
Total equity (1)
Noncontrolling interest in equity of subsidiaries
Years ended December 31,
amounts in millions,
except per share amounts
Summary Statement of Operations Data:
Operating income (loss)
Share of earnings (losses) of affiliates, net
Realized and unrealized gains (losses) on financial instruments, net
Gains (losses) on transactions, net (1)
Earnings (loss) from continuing operations (3) (4):
Qurate Retail common stock
Liberty Ventures common stock
Basic earnings (loss) from continuing operations attributable to Qurate Retail, Inc. stockholders per common share:
Series A and Series B Qurate Retail common stock
Series A and Series B Liberty Ventures common stock (2) (3)
Diluted earnings (loss) from continuing operations attributable to Qurate Retail, Inc. stockholders per common share:
Series A and Series B Qurate Retail common stock
Series A and Series B Liberty Ventures common stock (2) (3)
|(1)||On December 29, 2017, the Company acquired the remaining approximately 62% of HSN, Inc. (“HSN”) it did not already own in an all-stock transaction, making HSN a wholly-owned subsidiary. In conjunction with the application of acquisition accounting, the Company recorded a full step up in basis of HSN along with a gain between our historical basis and the fair value of our interest in HSN.|
|(2)||Qurate Retail’s split-off of its former wholly-owned subsidiary Liberty Expedia Holdings, Inc. (“Expedia Holdings”) was effected on November 4, 2016 as a split-off through the redemption of a portion of Qurate Retail’s Series A and Series B Liberty Ventures common stock for shares of Expedia Holdings. The consolidated financial statements of Qurate Retail have been prepared to reflect the Company’s interest in Expedia Group, Inc. as a discontinued operation for the years ended December 31, 2016 and 2015.|
|(3)||The GCI Liberty Split-Off (defined below) was effected on March 9, 2018. The split-off of Qurate Retail’s interest in Liberty Broadband (as defined below) had a major effect on Qurate Retail’s operations. Accordingly, Qurate Retail’s interest in Liberty Broadband is presented as a discontinued operation for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016.|
|(4)||Includes earnings (losses) from continuing operations attributable to the noncontrolling interests of $51 million, $48 million, $46 million, $39 million and $42 million for the years ended December 31, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015, respectively.|
Item 7. Management's Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations
The following discussion and analysis provides information concerning our results of operations and financial condition. This discussion should be read in conjunction with our accompanying consolidated financial statements and the notes thereto. Additionally, see note 2 in the accompanying consolidated financial statements for an overview of new accounting standards that we have adopted or that we plan to adopt that have had or may have an impact on our financial statements.
We own controlling and non-controlling interests in a broad range of video and online commerce companies. Our largest businesses and reportable segments are QxH (QVC U.S. and HSN) and QVC International. QVC (as defined below) markets and sells a wide variety of consumer products in the United States (“U.S.”) and several foreign countries via highly engaging video-rich, interactive shopping experiences. On December 29, 2017, we acquired the approximately 62% of HSN we did not already own in an all-stock transaction (the “Merger”) making HSN a wholly-owned subsidiary. On December 31, 2018, Qurate Retail transferred our 100% ownership interest in HSN to QVC, Inc. through a transaction among entities under common control. Following this transaction, Cornerstone (a former subsidiary of HSN) remains a subsidiary of Qurate Retail and is included in the “Corporate and other” reportable segment. On October 1, 2015 we acquired zulily, inc., now known as Zulily, LLC (“Zulily”), an online retailer offering customers a fun and entertaining shopping experience with a fresh selection of new product styles launched every day. Zulily is a reportable segment. References throughout this annual report to “QVC” refer to QVC, Inc., which includes HSN, QVC U.S. and QVC International.
Our “Corporate and other” category includes our consolidated subsidiary Cornerstone, along with various cost and equity method investments. See discussion below for the entities that were included in Corporate and other in prior periods.
Prior to the Transactions (described and defined below), the Company utilized tracking stocks in its capital structure. A tracking stock is a type of common stock that the issuing company intends to reflect or "track" the economic performance of a particular business or "group," rather than the economic performance of the company as a whole. Qurate Retail had two tracking stocks—QVC Group common stock and Liberty Ventures common stock, which were intended to track and reflect the economic performance of Qurate Retail’s businesses, assets and liabilities attributed to the QVC Group and the Ventures Group, respectively. The QVC Group was comprised of the Company’s wholly-owned subsidiaries QVC, Zulily, HSN and Cornerstone among other assets and liabilities. The Ventures Group was comprised of businesses not included in the QVC Group including Evite, Inc. (“Evite”) and our interests in Liberty Broadband Corporation (“Liberty Broadband”), LendingTree, Inc. (“LendingTree”), investments in Charter Communications, Inc. (“Charter”) and ILG, Inc. (“ILG”), among other assets and liabilities (which were all included in the Corporate and other category). The Company’s results are attributed to the QVC Group and the Ventures Group through March 9, 2018.
On March 9, 2018, Qurate Retail completed the transactions contemplated by the Agreement and Plan of Reorganization (as amended, the “Reorganization Agreement,” and the transactions contemplated thereby, the “Transactions”) among General Communication, Inc. (“GCI”), an Alaska corporation, and Liberty Interactive LLC, a Delaware limited liability company and a direct wholly-owned subsidiary of Qurate Retail (“LI LLC”). Pursuant to the Reorganization Agreement, GCI amended and restated its articles of incorporation (which resulted in GCI being renamed GCI Liberty, Inc. (“GCI Liberty”)) and effected a reclassification and auto conversion of its common stock. After market close on March 8, 2018, Qurate Retail’s board of directors approved the reattribution of certain assets and liabilities from Qurate Retail’s Ventures Group to its QVC Group, which was effective immediately. The reattributed assets and liabilities included cash, Qurate Retail’s interest in ILG, certain green energy investments, LI LLC’s exchangeable debentures, and certain tax benefits.
Following these events, Qurate Retail acquired GCI Liberty through a reorganization in which certain Qurate Retail interests, assets and liabilities attributed to the Ventures Group were contributed (the “contribution”) to GCI Liberty in exchange for a controlling interest in GCI Liberty. Qurate Retail and LI LLC contributed to GCI Liberty their entire equity interest in Liberty Broadband, Charter, and LendingTree, the Evite operating business and other assets and liabilities attributed to Qurate Retail’s Venture Group (following the reattribution), in exchange for (a) the issuance to LI LLC of a number of shares of GCI Liberty Class A Common Stock and a number of shares of GCI Liberty Class B Common Stock
equal to the number of outstanding shares of Series A Liberty Ventures common stock and Series B Liberty Ventures common stock on March 9, 2018, respectively, (b) cash and (c) the assumption of certain liabilities by GCI Liberty.
Following the contribution, Qurate Retail effected a tax-free separation of its controlling interest in the combined company (the “GCI Liberty Split-Off”), GCI Liberty, to the holders of Liberty Ventures common stock in full redemption of all outstanding shares of such stock, in which each outstanding share of Series A Liberty Ventures common stock was redeemed for one share of GCI Liberty Class A common stock and each outstanding share of Series B Liberty Ventures common stock was redeemed for one share of GCI Liberty Class B common stock. Simultaneous with the closing of the Transactions, QVC Group common stock became the only outstanding common stock of Qurate Retail, and thus QVC Group common stock ceased to function as a tracking stock. On April 9, 2018, Liberty Interactive Corporation was renamed Qurate Retail, Inc. On May 23, 2018, Qurate Retail amended its charter to eliminate the tracking stock capitalization structure and reclassify each share of QVC Group common stock into one share of the corresponding series of new common stock of Qurate Retail. Throughout this annual report, we refer to our Series A and Series B common stock as “Qurate Retail common stock” and “QVC Group common stock.” In July 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) completed its review of the GCI Liberty Split-Off and informed Qurate Retail that it agreed with the nontaxable characterization of the transactions. Qurate Retail received an Issue Resolution Agreement from the IRS documenting this conclusion.
On October 17, 2018, Qurate Retail announced a series of initiatives designed to better position its HSN and QVC U.S. businesses (“QRG Initiatives”). As part of the QRG Initiatives, QVC will close its fulfillment centers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and Roanoke, Virginia and leased a new fulfillment center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, that commenced in 2019 (see note 9 to the accompanying consolidated financial statements). Expenditures related to the QRG Initiatives are recorded as part of transaction related costs. Qurate Retail recorded transaction related costs of $41 million during the year ended December 31, 2018, which primarily related to severance as a result of the QRG Initiatives. Also, as a result of changes in internal reporting from the QRG Initiatives, during the first quarter of 2019 the Company changed its reportable segments to combine HSN and QVC U.S. into one reportable segment called “QxH.”
As a result of the GCI Liberty Split-Off, Qurate Retail viewed LendingTree, Evite and Liberty Broadband as separate components and evaluated them separately for discontinued operations presentation. Based on a quantitative analysis, the split-off of Qurate Retail’s interest in Liberty Broadband had a major effect on Qurate Retail’s operations. Accordingly, Qurate Retail’s interest in Liberty Broadband is presented as a discontinued operation. The disposition of Evite and LendingTree as part of the GCI Liberty Split-Off did not have a major effect on Qurate Retail’s historical results nor is it expected to have a major effect on Qurate Retail’s future operations. Accordingly, Evite and LendingTree are not presented as discontinued operations.
Strategies and Challenges
Televised Shopping Businesses. The goal of QVC is to extend its leadership in video commerce, e-commerce, mobile commerce and social commerce by continuing to create the world’s most engaging shopping experiences, combining the best of retail, media, and social, highly differentiated from traditional brick-and-mortar stores or transactional e-commerce. QVC provides customers with curated collections of unique products, made personal and relevant by the power of storytelling. QVC curates experiences, conversations and communities for millions of highly discerning shoppers, and also curates large audiences, across its many platforms, for its thousands of brand partners.
QVC intends to employ several strategies to achieve these objectives. Among these strategies are to (i) Curate special products at compelling values; (ii) Extend video reach and relevance; (iii) Reimagine daily digital discovery; (iv) Expand and engage our passionate community; and (v) Deliver joyful customer service. In addition, QVC is exploring opportunities to evolve the International operating model to pursue growth opportunities in a more leveraged way across markets.
Future net revenue growth will primarily depend on sales growth from e-commerce, mobile platforms and applications via streaming video, additions of new customers from households already receiving QVC’s broadcast
programming, and increased spending from existing customers. Future net revenue may also be affected by (i) the willingness of cable television and direct-to-home satellite system operators to continue carrying QVC’s programming services; (ii) QVC’s ability to maintain favorable channel positioning, which may become more difficult due to governmental action or from distributors converting analog customers to digital; (iii) changes in television viewing habits because of personal video recorders, video-on-demand and internet video services; (iv) QVC’s ability to source new and compelling products; and (v) general economic conditions.
Economic uncertainty in various regions of the world in which our subsidiaries and affiliates operate could adversely affect demand for their products and services since a substantial portion of their revenue is derived from discretionary spending by individuals, which typically falls during times of economic instability. Global financial markets have recently experienced disruptions, including increased volatility and diminished liquidity and credit availability. If economic and financial market conditions in the United States (“U.S.”) or other key markets, including Japan and Europe, become uncertain or deteriorate, customers may respond by suspending, delaying, or reducing their discretionary spending. A suspension, delay or reduction in discretionary spending could adversely affect revenue. Accordingly, our businesses’ ability to increase or maintain revenue and earnings could be adversely affected to the extent that relevant economic environments decline. Such weak economic conditions may also inhibit QVC’s expansion into new European and other markets. The Company is currently unable to predict the extent of any of these potential adverse effects.
The Brexit process and negotiations have created political and economic uncertainty, particularly in the U.K. and the E.U., and this uncertainty may last for years. On June 23, 2016, the U.K. held a referendum in which voters approved, on an advisory basis, an exit from the E.U. The U.K. formally left the E.U. on January 31, 2020. This has resulted in a transition period during which the E.U.-U.K. trade relationship will not change, and the UK will remain part of the E.U. Customs Union and Single Market, subject to all E.U. trade law. During the transition period, the E.U. and the U.K. will negotiate their new economic and security relationship, including a new agreement on trade. The transition will last until December 31, 2020, which can be extended for up to two years if the E.U. and the U.K. agree to do so. However, at present, the U.K. government’s stated intention is not to seek or agree to an extension. A “no deal” outcome on trade remains a possibility if the E.U. and the U.K. fail to conclude a new trade agreement before December 31, 2020 and the transition period is not extended. In that case, with effect from January 1, 2021, the basis for E.U.-U.K. trade would automatically default to World Trade Organization terms. The potential impacts, if any, of the considerable uncertainty relating to Brexit or the resulting terms of the new economic and security relationship between the U.K. and the E.U. on the free movement of goods, services, people and capital between the U.K. and the E.U., customer behavior, economic conditions, interest rates, currency exchange rates, availability of capital or other matters are unclear. QVC’s business could be affected with respect to these matters during this period of uncertainty, and perhaps longer, depending on the resulting terms. In particular, its business could be negatively affected by new trade agreements between the U.K. and other countries, including the U.S., and by the possible imposition of trade or other regulatory barriers in the U.K. which could result in shipping delays and the shortage of products sold by QVC. Additionally, the U.K. economy and consumer demand in the U.K., including for QVC’s products, could be negatively impacted. Further, various geopolitical forces related to Brexit may impact the global economy, the European economy and QVC’s business, including, for example, due to other E.U. member states where QVC has operations proposing referendums to, or electing to, exit the E.U. These possible negative impacts, and others resulting from the U.K.’s withdrawal from the E.U., may adversely affect QVC’s operating results.
The President of the U.S. has expressed apprehension towards trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and suggested that the U.S. would renegotiate or withdraw from certain trade agreements. He has advocated for and imposed tariffs on certain goods imported into the U.S., particularly from China. In response to these new U.S. tariffs, some foreign governments, including China, have instituted or are considering instituting tariffs on certain U.S. goods. New tariffs and other changes in U.S. trade policy could trigger retaliatory actions by affected countries. Like many other multinational corporations, QVC does a significant amount of business that could be impacted by changes to U.S. and international trade policies (including governmental action related to tariffs and trade agreements). Such changes have the potential to adversely impact the U.S. economy or certain sectors thereof, QVC’s industry and the global demand for its products and, as a result, could have a material adverse effect on QVC’s business, financial condition and results of operations.
On January 23, 2017, the President of the U.S. signed a presidential memorandum to withdraw the U.S. from the Trans- Pacific Partnership. On October 1, 2018, the U.S., Mexico and Canada agreed to the terms of the United States-
Mexico- Canada Agreement (the "USMCA"), a successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement ("NAFTA"), which will impact imports and exports among those countries. The countries agreed to a revised version of the USMCA on December 10, 2019. The USMCA has only been ratified by Mexico and the U.S. Once ratified by the legislature of Canada, the USMCA would be enacted and replace NAFTA. As of the date of this report, there is some uncertainty about whether the USMCA will be ratified by Canada, as well as the timing thereof, and the potential for further re-negotiation, or even termination, of NAFTA. Further, the USMCA could undergo changes that lead to further modifications of certain USMCA provisions before being passed into law. These and other proposed actions, if implemented, could adversely affect our subsidiaries because they sell imported products.
Zulily. Zulily’s objective is to be the leading online retail destination for shoppers. Zulily’s goal is to be part of its customers’ daily routine, allowing them to visit Zulily sites and discover a selection of fresh, new and affordable merchandise curated for them every morning. Zulily intends to employ the following strategies to achieve these goals and objectives: (i) acquire new customers; (ii) increase customer loyalty and repeat purchasing; (iii) add new vendors and strengthen existing vendor relationships; (iv) invest in mobile platform and channels with which its customers want to engage; and (v) invest in low cost supply chain systems in the U.S. and cross border.
Zulily has limited contractual assurances of continued supply, pricing or access to new products, and vendors could change the terms upon which they sell to Zulily or discontinue selling to Zulily for future sales at any time. As Zulily grows, continuing to identify a sufficient number of new emerging brands and smaller boutique vendors may become more and more of a challenge. If Zulily is not able to identify and effectively promote these new brands, it may lose customers to competitors. Even if Zulily identifies new vendors, it may not be able to purchase desired merchandise in sufficient quantities or on acceptable terms in the future, and products from alternative sources, if any, may be of a lesser quality or more expensive than those from existing vendors. In addition, larger national brands may offer products that are less unique, and it may be easier for Zulily’s competitors to offer such products at prices or upon terms that may be compelling to consumers. An inability to purchase suitable merchandise on acceptable terms or to source new vendors could have an adverse effect on Zulily’s business.
To support its large and diverse base of vendors and its flash sales model that requires constantly changing products, Zulily must incur costs related to its merchandising team, photography studios and creative personnel. As Zulily grows, it may not be able to continue to expand its product offerings in a cost-effective manner. In addition, the variety in size and sophistication of Zulily’s vendors presents different challenges to its infrastructure and operations. Zulily’s emerging brands and smaller boutique vendors may be less experienced in manufacturing and shipping, which may lead to inconsistencies in quality, delays in the delivery of merchandise or additional fulfillment cost. Zulily’s larger national brands may impose additional requirements or offer less favorable terms than smaller vendors related to margins and inventory ownership and risk and may also be unable to ship products timely. If Zulily is unable to maintain and effectively manage its relationships with emerging brands and smaller boutique vendors or larger national brands, Zulily’s business could be adversely affected.
Results of Operations—Consolidated
General. We provide in the tables below information regarding our Consolidated Operating Results and Other Income and Expense, as well as information regarding the contribution to those items from our principal reportable segments. The "Corporate and other" category consists of our consolidated subsidiary Cornerstone, along with various cost and equity method investments. For a more detailed discussion and analysis of the financial results of the principal reporting segments, see "Results of Operations - Businesses" below.
Years ended December 31,
amounts in millions
Corporate and other
Consolidated Qurate Retail
Former QVC Group
Former Ventures Group
Operating Income (Loss)
Corporate and other
Consolidated Qurate Retail
Former QVC Group
Former Ventures Group
Corporate and other
Consolidated Qurate Retail
Former QVC Group
Former Ventures Group
|(a)||Due to the GCI Liberty Split-Off, including the redemption of outstanding shares of Liberty Ventures common stock, the Ventures Group and the QVC Group tracking stock structure no longer exists as of March 9, 2018, however amounts were attributed to the Ventures Group and the QVC Group from January 1, 2018 through March 9, 2018. Attributed to the Ventures Group was revenue of $3 million, operating loss of $8 million, and an Adjusted OIBDA loss of $5 million for the year ended December 31, 2018.|
Revenue. Our consolidated revenue decreased 4.3% and increased 35.2% for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2018, respectively, as compared to the corresponding prior year periods.
QxH, Zulily and QVC International revenue decreased $267 million, $246 million and $29 million, respectively, during the year ended December 31, 2019, as compared to the same period in the prior year. See "Results of Operations - Businesses" below for a more complete discussion of the results of operations of QVC and Zulily. Corporate and other revenue decreased $72 million for the year ended December 31, 2019, as compared to the corresponding period in the prior year due to a decrease in Cornerstone revenue of $70 million due to the shutdown of one of the home brands in Cornerstone’s portfolio during the fourth quarter of 2018.
QxH, Zulily and QVC International revenue increased $2,404 million, $204 million and $107 million during the year ended December 31, 2018 compared to the same period in the prior year. The QxH increase in 2018 was primarily related to the acquisition of HSN, as no HSN revenue was included in 2017 results due to the timing of the acquisition. See "Results of Operations - Businesses" below for a more complete discussion of the results of operations of QVC and Zulily. Corporate and other revenue increased $950 million for the year ended December 31, 2018, as compared to the corresponding prior year period due to the acquisition of Cornerstone which had revenue of $970 million for the year ended December 31, 2018, partially offset by a decrease in revenue due to the disposition of Evite in the GCI Liberty Split-Off ($21 million).
Operating income (loss). Our consolidated operating income decreased $1,140 million and increased $281 million for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2018, respectively, as compared to the corresponding prior year periods.
Zulily operating losses increased $996 million for the year ended December 31, 2019, as compared to the corresponding prior year period, primarily due to the impairment of intangible assets at Zulily during the third quarter of 2019. QxH and QVC International operating income decreased $188 million and increased $3 million, respectively, for the year ended December 31, 2019, compared to the same period in the prior year. See "Results of Operations - Businesses" below for a more complete discussion of the results of operations of QVC and Zulily. Operating losses for Corporate and other improved $41 million for the year ended December 31, 2019, as compared to the corresponding period in the prior year, due to a reduction in operating losses at Cornerstone as a result of the shutdown of one of the home brands in Cornerstone’s portfolio during the fourth quarter of 2018, along with the elimination of corporate costs at the Liberty Ventures Group due to the GCI Liberty Split-Off in 2018.
QxH and QVC International operating income increased $205 million and decreased $2 million, respectively, for the year ended December 31, 2018, as compared to the corresponding prior year period. Zulily operating losses improved $34 million for the year ended December 31, 2018, as compared to the corresponding prior year period. See "Results of Operations - Businesses" below for a more complete discussion of the results of operations of QVC and Zulily. Operating losses for Corporate and other improved $44 million for the year ended December 31, 2018, as compared to the corresponding prior year period, primarily due to the elimination of corporate costs at the Liberty Ventures Group due to the GCI Liberty Split-Off in the first quarter of 2018 and a decrease in stock compensation expense, partially offset by an increase in purchase accounting amortization at Cornerstone in 2018.
Adjusted OIBDA. To provide investors with additional information regarding our financial results, we also disclose Adjusted OIBDA, which is a non-GAAP financial measure. We define Adjusted OIBDA as operating income (loss) plus depreciation and amortization, stock-based compensation, separately reported litigation settlements, transaction related costs (including restructuring, integration, and advisory fees) and impairments. Our chief operating decision maker and management team use this measure of performance in conjunction with other measures to evaluate our businesses and make decisions about allocating resources among our businesses. We believe this is an important indicator of the operational strength and performance of our businesses by identifying those items that are not directly a reflection of each business’ performance or indicative of ongoing business trends. In addition, this measure allows us to view operating results, perform analytical comparisons and benchmarking between businesses and identify strategies to improve performance. Adjusted OIBDA should be considered in addition to, but not as a substitute for, operating income, net income, cash flows provided by operating activities and other measures of financial performance prepared in accordance with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles. The following table provides a reconciliation of Operating income (loss) to Adjusted OIBDA.
amounts in millions
Operating income (loss)
Depreciation and amortization
Impairment of intangible assets
Transaction related costs
Consolidated Adjusted OIBDA decreased $125 million and increased $204 million for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2018, respectively, as compared to the corresponding prior year periods.
QxH and Zulily Adjusted OIBDA decreased $94 million and $60 million for the year ended December 31, 2019, respectively, as compared to the corresponding prior year period. QVC International Adjusted OIBDA increased $17 million for the year ended December 31, 2019, as compared to the corresponding prior year period, primarily due to the closure of QVC’s operations in France in March of 2019. Adjusted OIBDA losses related to QVC France were $6 million and $32 million for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2018, respectively. See "Results of Operations - Businesses" below for a more complete discussion of the results of operations of QVC and Zulily. Corporate and other Adjusted OIBDA increased $12 million for the year ended December 31, 2019, as compared to the corresponding period in the prior year due to higher Adjusted OIBDA at Cornerstone due to the impacts of the shutdown of one of the home brands in Cornerstone’s portfolio discussed above and improved performance in the businesses’ home segment, and the elimination of corporate costs at the Liberty Ventures Group due to the GCI Liberty Split-Off.
QxH and Zulily Adjusted OIBDA increased $175 million and $17 million, respectively, for the year ended December 31, 2018, as compared to the same period in the prior year. The QxH increase in 2018 was primarily related to HSN which had Adjusted OIBDA of $213 million for the year ended December 31, 2018, and no Adjusted OIBDA for the year ended December 31, 2017 due to the timing of the acquisition. QVC International Adjusted OIBDA decreased $22 million for the year ended December 31, 2018, as compared to the same period in the prior year. See "Results of Operations - Businesses" below for a more complete discussion of the results of operations of QVC and Zulily. Corporate and other Adjusted OIBDA increased $34 million for the year ended December 31, 2018, as compared to the corresponding period in the prior year, primarily due to the acquisition of Cornerstone as well as fewer corporate costs compared to the prior year.
Other Income and Expense
Components of Other Income (Expense) are presented in the table below.
Years ended December 31,
amounts in millions
Share of earnings (losses) of affiliate, net
Realized and unrealized gains (losses) on financial instruments, net
Gains (losses) on transactions, net
Tax sharing income (expense) with GCI Liberty, Inc.
Other income (expense)
Former QVC Group
Former Ventures Group
|(a)||Due to the GCI Liberty Split-Off, the Ventures Group and the QVC Group tracking stocks no longer exist as of March 9, 2018, however amounts were attributed to the Ventures Group and the QVC Group from January 1, 2018 through March 9, 2018. Attributed to the Ventures Group was other income of $120 million for the year ended December 31, 2018 primarily related to mark-to-market adjustments on the investments in Charter and ILG.|
Interest expense. Interest expense decreased $7 million and increased $26 million for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2018, respectively, as compared to the corresponding prior year periods. The decrease for the year ended December 31, 2019 is due to lower average debt balances during 2019 compared to the prior year as well as a reduction in the variable interest rate on QVC’s bank credit facilities compared to the prior year. The increase in interest expense for the year ended December 31, 2018 was due to the HSN bank credit facility that was not included during the year ended December 31, 2017, and higher average debt balances and higher average interest rates on variable rate debt at QVC.
Share of earnings (losses) of affiliates. Share of losses of affiliates decreased $2 million and $38 million during the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2018, respectively, as compared to the corresponding prior year periods. The decrease in 2019 is due to the fact that the prior year included losses related to the Company’s former investment in FTD Companies, Inc. (“FTD”), partially offset by increased losses at the Company’s alternative energy solution entities due to continued investment in such ventures. These entities typically operate at a loss and the Company records its share of such losses but have favorable tax attributes and credits, which are recorded in the Company’s tax accounts. The decrease in 2018 was due to fewer losses at FTD, partially offset by fewer earnings in 2018 due to the Company’s acquisition of HSN.
Realized and unrealized gains (losses) on financial instruments. Realized and unrealized gains (losses) on financial instruments are comprised of changes in the fair value of the following:
Years ended December 31,
amounts in millions
Exchangeable senior debentures
Other financial instruments
The changes in these accounts are due primarily to market factors and changes in the fair value of the underlying stocks or financial instruments to which these relate. The decrease for the year ended December 31, 2019 as compared to the corresponding prior year period was primarily due to a decrease in the unrealized gain on the investment in Charter and the contribution of Charter shares to GCI Liberty in the GCI Liberty Split-Off, a decrease in unrealized gains on the investment in ILG due to the purchase of ILG by Marriott Vacations Worldwide during the third quarter of 2018 and subsequent sale of this investment, and an increase in unrealized losses on exchangeable debt, partially offset by an unrealized gain on the indemnification asset as a result of the GCI Liberty Split-Off. The decrease for the year ended December 31, 2018 as compared to the corresponding prior year period was primarily driven by a decrease in the unrealized gain on the investment in Charter and the contribution of Charter to GCI Liberty in the GCI Liberty Split-Off, a decrease in unrealized gains on the investment in ILG, and an unrealized loss on the indemnification asset as a result of the GCI Liberty Split-Off, partially offset by an increase in unrealized gains on exchangeable debt and derivative instruments.
Gains (losses) on transactions, net. Gain on transactions, net, decreased $2 million and decreased $409 million for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2018, respectively, as compared to the corresponding prior year periods. The decrease in gain on transactions, net for the year ended December 31, 2018 is due to the acquisition of HSN in 2017. In conjunction with the application of acquisition accounting, we recorded a full step up in basis of HSN along with a gain between our historical basis and the fair value of our interest in HSN in 2017.
Tax sharing income (expense) with GCI Liberty. Due to the GCI Liberty Split-Off, the Company entered into a tax sharing agreement with GCI Liberty. As a result, the Company recognized tax sharing expense of $26 million and income of $32 million for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2018, respectively.
Other, net. Other, net increased $13 million and decreased $14 million for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2018, respectively, when compared to the corresponding prior year period. The activity captured in Other, net is primarily attributable to gains (losses) on early extinguishment of debt, foreign exchange gains (losses) and interest income.
Income taxes. The Company had an income tax benefit of $217 million, income tax expense of $60 million and income tax benefit of $985 million for the years ended December 31, 2019, 2018 and 2017, respectively. Our effective tax rate for the years ended December 31, 2019, 2018 and 2017 was 34.9%, 6.8% and 93.8% respectively. In 2019 the effective tax rate was higher than the U.S. federal tax of 21% primarily due to tax benefits from tax credits and incentives generated by our alternative energy investments and tax benefits from losses generated in 2019 that were eligible for carryback to tax years with federal income tax rates greater than the U.S. statutory tax rate of 21%, partially offset by a goodwill impairment that is not deductible for tax purposes and an increase in the valuation allowance against certain deferred tax assets. In 2018 the effective tax rate was lower than the U.S. federal tax of 21% primarily due to tax benefits from tax credits and incentives generated by our alternative energy investments, a reduction in the Company’s state effective tax rate used to measure deferred taxes resulting from the GCI Liberty Split-Off in March 2018, and a reduction in the Company’s state effective tax rate used to measure deferred taxes resulting from a state law change during the second quarter. In connection with the analysis of the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “Tax Act”), as discussed in note 10 in the accompanying consolidated financial statements, the Company has recorded a discrete net tax benefit in the period ending December 31, 2017. This net benefit primarily consisted of a net benefit for the corporate rate reduction. In addition our tax rate was impacted by the consolidation of our equity method investment in HSN during the year ended December 31, 2017.
Net earnings (loss). We had net losses of $405 million, and net earnings of $964 million and $2,487 million for the years ended December 31, 2019, 2018 and 2017, respectively. The change in net earnings (loss) was the result of the above-described fluctuations in our revenue, expenses and other gains and losses.
Liquidity and Capital Resources
As of December 31, 2019 substantially all of our cash and cash equivalents are invested in U.S. Treasury securities, other government securities or government guaranteed funds, AAA rated money market funds and other highly rated financial and corporate debt instruments.
The following are potential sources of liquidity: available cash balances, equity issuances, dividend and interest receipts, proceeds from asset sales, debt (including availability under QVC’s bank credit facilities, as discussed in note 8 of the accompanying consolidated financial statements) and cash generated by the operating activities of our wholly-owned subsidiaries. Cash generated by the operating activities of our subsidiaries is only a source of liquidity to the extent such cash exceeds the working capital needs of the subsidiaries and is not otherwise restricted such as, in the case of QVC and Zulily, due to a requirement that a leverage ratio (calculated in accordance with the terms of the document governing such indebtedness which is an exhibit to this Annual Report on Form 10-K) of less than 3.5 must be maintained.
During the year, there were no changes to our corporate debt credit ratings or our consolidated subsidiaries' debt credit ratings. Qurate Retail and its subsidiaries are in compliance with their debt covenants as of December 31, 2019.
As of December 31, 2019, Qurate Retail's liquidity position consisted of the following:
Cash and cash
amounts in millions
Corporate and other
Total Qurate Retail
To the extent that the Company recognizes any taxable gains from the sale of assets, we may incur tax expense and be required to make tax payments, thereby reducing any cash proceeds. Additionally, we have $2.4 billion available for borrowing under the QVC Bank Credit Facility at December 31, 2019 (which was subsequently reduced to $1.7 billion upon the reduction of the revolving credit facility, effective February 4, 2020). As of December 31, 2019, QVC had approximately $280 million of cash and cash equivalents held in foreign subsidiaries that is available for domestic purposes with no significant tax consequences upon repatriation to the U.S. QVC accrues taxes on the unremitted earnings of its international subsidiaries. Approximately 66% of this foreign cash balance was that of QVC Japan. QVC owns 60% of QVC Japan and shares all profits and losses with the 40% minority interest holder, Mitsui & Co, LTD.
Additionally, our operating businesses have generated, on average, more than $1 billion in annual cash provided by operating activities over the prior three years and we do not anticipate any significant reductions in that amount in future periods.