Fourteen months ago began the journey to acquire the 2nd biggest MSO in the U.S. and now that dream is no longer a reality. Comcast officially withdrew its bid for $45.2 billion for Time Warner Cable on April 24th, 2015. This deal would’ve combined the two largest cable companies in the U.S. and gave them between 40-57 percent of the broadband market. News reports suggested that the FCC was against the merger and planned to turn it over to an administrative law judge, however, Comcast decided to opt out before that happened.
An end to the Comcast deal also affects the end to other mergers that were in play, including Charter and Bright House. Charter will no longer be trading systems with Comcast, a spin-off company called Greatland will no longer come into effect, and Charter will not acquire Bright House. All the key players have now been realigned on the chess board, ready for a new match, but who will make the first move?
Time Warner Cable in the Hot Seat
Speculation presumes that with Charter and TWC still in merger discussions, that Charter will get a deal, however, with TWC being in better financial standing than it was 15 months ago, I’d say “checkmate” is not in order just yet.
TWC has gained over two quarters worth of growth due to Charter’s hostile takeover attempt; this attempt showed TWC’s worth and value to other companies, so TWC could decide to stay solo for awhile or allow Charter to sweat it out and have them pay a much higher price than what was offered last year.
TWC could also take the route of buying up other cable operators, because like its competitors, it has the cash and stock to do so, making it harder for another acquirer to gain them. In particular, TWC could try to scoop up Bright House Networks, the sixth-largest U.S. MSO, with more than two million video customers, and once a part of Time Warner Entertainment. Since Charter’s $10.4 billion deal with Bright House was contingent upon TWC and Comcast, Bright House is now a free agent and has the power to determine its own fate.
Time Warner Cable could even take a stab at buying Charter; “TWC is nearly three times bigger than Charter with close to 11 million video subscribers.” This deal may be doomed because of Charter’s tight ownership structure, but one never knows how the game will pan out. TWC’s CEO, Rob Marcus, has made it clear that TWC has the flexibility to make whatever moves they find necessary to achieve their goals for the future.
Bright House- Little Guy Reigns Supreme
Bright House could now be considered the little guy rising to the top as both Charter and TWC go after their partnership. Bright House Networks, the sixth-largest U.S. MSO with more than two million video customers, has seemed to emerge as the missing link to both Charter and TWC’s strategy. According to officials last week, both large MSO’s appear to be wooing Bright House as part of their broader plans for cable fame and fortune. Charter and TWC each have their own reasons for wanting the privately owned Bright House in their corner.
For Charter, Bright House would provide more scale, a stronger backing, and more borrowing capacity when making another bid for TWC. For TWC, Bright House would make their MSO larger and much harder for others to acquire and the ability to possibly stay independent. Also, if TWC could make the offer for Bright House before Charter, and win, then they would be able to reject the new bid from Charter for a takeover.
Bright House has much to offer these two companies as well. “They have well-managed, upgrade cable systems, two large, attractive Central Florida markets, strong WiFi assets and nearly $1 billion of business service operations.” As much as these benefits do rank well, they still fall short when comparing to the Merger and Acquisition benefits right now.
What the Future Holds
There are many possibilities on which way Time Warner Cable can decide to go, and especially with Charter’s interest in bidding for TWC, that could lead to some unexpected and surprising changes in the next few months; As the saying goes, “let the games begin,” and the negotiations be made. As far as Comcast is concerned, they may need to play the sidelines for a little, being that they are the biggest MSO in the U.S., and some may not want to see them get any bigger right now, including the FCC.