Not so long ago, Comcast failed in its effort to merge with Time Warner Cable and create a cable/internet giant with around 30 million customers. But now that the regulatory winds have shifted in a decidedly pro-merger direction, some are theorizing what it would take for Comcast to engineer a telecom Voltron nearly double that size.
To clarify: We’re not saying that Comcast is trying to buy any of its competition. Instead, this is about industry analysts playing a game of “what if,” pondering the machinations that would be required to make a deal that involves Comcast, Altice (which recently purchased Cablevision and Suddenlink), and Charter (which ultimately acquired Time Warner Cable).
The Big Idea
One idea, according to analysts from Citigroup (via Investor’s Business Daily), is for Comcast and Altice to pool their resources, jointly purchase Charter and then break that company into two pieces — one for Comcast to run; one for Altice.
Rather than being one enormous nationwide cable company, it would still be two. Comcast would significantly expand its audience base, while current fourth-place provider Altice would leapfrog to a very comfortable second-place position.
If that sounds surprisingly cooperative for the world of big business, well, it is — but there are reasons to think the companies could want to persue it anyway, the Citigroup report speculates.
Charter is pretty much an equal rival in size and scope to Comcast at this point, at least with regards to subscriber numbers. Each company has somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 million customers. For the two to merge outright would leave one dominant cable company in the country, with about half of the entire nation’s subscribers — from coast to coast, and in many of the states in between — under a single umbrella.
Altice, on its own, probably cannot afford to buy Charter, even though it’s trying. And while Comcast might want to buy Charter, even the very business-friendly regulators now at the helm in Washington might object to a deal quite that large — especially after rejecting Comcast/TWC only two years ago.
The Citigroup analyst who wrote the report also points out that the companies are all getting pretty cozy as it is, what with Comcast and Charter having decided to cooperate on mobile.
“Perhaps the wireless agreement between Comcast and Charter isn’t designed to facilitate cable / wireless M&A at all,” he wrote. “What if the wireless agreement is a standstill, of sorts, designed to prevent wireless-cable combinations.”
Everyone Wants Charter
The Citigroup analyst isn’t the first to start doodling Charter and Comcast inside hearts together; other analysts started doing that months ago. This particular permutation is just what’s new — but everyone, it seems, has google eyes for Charter, even though it just finished up snapping Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in 2016.
Verizon reportedly made a $100 billion offer for Charter earlier this year, but was rebuffed for not offering enough money.
Charter also dismissed Sprint’s recent chatter about a merger, although the rumor mill says Sprint is still considering such a deal.
The company is reportedly interested in snapping up Cox Communications, the nation’s third-largest cable company.
But at the same time, Altice — better known in the U.S. still under the Suddenlink and Cablevision brands — is also said to be working on an offer to buy Charter.
In short, everyone wants a piece of Charter — and Charter seems happy to dangle them all along and let them play off of one another, perhaps holding out for the most lucrative deal.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Consumerist.