Time Warner Cable is (TWC) getting acquired. No, you’re not having déjà vu. The cable company behind HBO is at the center of acquisition news yet again, but this time with a different suitor. Although Comcast (CMCSA) failed in its effort to buy Time Warner just a month ago, Time Warner rebounded faster than you can say “Khaleesi.” Yesterday, Charter Communications (CHTR) announced that it is Time Warner’s newest suitor, and is planning to acquire the cable company for $55 billion.
This is actually the second time Charter is going after Time Warner. Charter tried to buy Time Warner early last year, but got cast aside in favor of a larger bid from Comcast. Apparently, Charter has no problem being sloppy seconds and stepped back up after the Comcast deal fell apart.
So what does Charter get out of the deal? For one, content. As Netflix (NFLX) has proven (and HBO too, for that matter), high quality programming makes a difference. While millennials might not be willing to pay for a general cable subscription, they have been paying to see the next episode of House of Cards or Game of Thrones. Like many cable providers, one of Charter’s strategies to be competitive is to provide compelling content that you can watch anywhere.
Buying Time Warner gives Charter a much larger national presence, that would control about 30% of the US cable market. That means the new joint company would have a much better bargaining position with content creators to pay better prices for content and get rights to stream that content.
There’s probably one question you’re all still wondering though. Why would this deal go through when the Comcast deal was quashed by the FCC?
Well, no one knows for sure that this deal will be approved. It’s still a big deal that will come under FCC questioning. But there are a few reasons I think the deal will be approved:
- A smaller size
Comcast is the biggest cable provider, so the Comcast/Time Warner deal would have created a cable giant that made people quite uncomfortable. The Charter and Time Warner merger would create a cable company serving 24 million customers, still second in size to Comcast’s 27 million subscribers.
- A lack of content conflicts of interest
Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which means it also owns a lot of content. For those looking to pick up business terms, that’s called “vertical integration.” Regulators worried that the cable giant created by Comcast and Time Warner would have unfairly favored NBC content over competitors’. Since Charter doesn’t own any content creators, this concern is alleviated.
- A commitment to net neutrality
In an interview yesterday, Charter’s current CEO, Tom Rutledge, said that the new company would “not block, throttle, or engage in paid prioritization of internet traffic.” In plain English, that means they will uphold the net neutrality standards favored by the FCC. In more plain English, that means they won’t let big companies pay to make their websites run faster, and won’t slow down competitors’ (like Netflix) websites.
My take? This makes me more neutral to pessimistic about cable providers, and more optimistic about Netflix. It’s starting to feel like all of the recent cable acquisitions are in response to the challenges created by Netflix. And when you have all the big players running scared, it tends to mean you’re doing something right.