It's official: Confirming the leaks from last night, Comcast has announced it plans to acquire Time Warner Cable. This combination of the country's #1 and #2 cable companies will stretch from coast to coast, as TWC controls markets like New York City, LA and Texas, while Comcast strongholds include Philadelphia and Washington DC. TV isn't the only medium in play either, since as Gigaom points out, the two companies together cover not only 30 million+ cable TV subscribers, but also around the same number of internet connections and about 15 million phone lines. So, what's the likely impact for customers as a result of the deal? For several reasons the answer right away is "not much."
It will take time for the combo to gain regulatory approval from the FCC and Justice Department -- check after the break for Comcast's reasons (Apple, Google, Netflix and Hulu) why the FCC should approve it -- like like the lengthy acquisition process we saw when Comcast snatched up NBCUniversal a few years ago. Despite that, both parties expect the deal to close by the end of this year, although interestingly there's no "break up fee" if the deal does not go through for some reason, which came into play when AT&T tried to acquire T-Mobile. As part of the announcement, Comcast says it's "prepared to divest systems serving approximately 3 million managed subscribers," and expects to gain about 8 million net subscribers with the move. Comcast is still trying to roll out its new X1 TV platform including cloud DVR access, while Time Warner Cable brings its own setup, complete with StartOver and LookBack VOD features that let viewers go back in time without a DVR.
Just like Charter with its failed bid for TWC, Comcast thinks it can negotiate better rates with the studios and channels that provide it content once it expands to cover a larger customer base. Another benefit is the ability to efficiently deliver highly profitable high-speed internet and phone service, although we'd be shocked to see our bills go down at all as a result. Bloomberg reports Charter and Comcast had been working on a combined offer for TWC, but that's rumored to have fallen apart last week. Surprisingly, TWC has an even lower reputation with customers than the much-maligned home of Xfinity, so in that respect perhaps things can't get much worse?
Another issue comes back to the control of internet access, with network neutrality and metered service hanging in the balance -- while Comcast is experimenting with various levels of data caps, Time Warner Cable is not at the moment (at least since the rejection of its tiered system back in 2009), and the two also differ in their treatment of HBO Go on Roku and Samsung devices. Several conference calls are scheduled today so the companies can make their case -- public interest groups like Free Press and Public Knowledge are already opposing the move -- we'll be listening intently for explanations on why moving from "cartel partners" to a single offering is a good thing for anyone.
o Today, the MVPD market is even more competitive than it was when the AT&T Broadband and Adelphia transactions were approved by regulators.
• Satellite companies have taken share from traditional cable companies, and the vigorous new entrants like Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse have also entered the video and broadband space. Google has also introduced Google Fiber in a number of markets across the country.
• Since 2005, satellite subscribers have grown by 7.0 million subscribers; telco subscribers have grown by 10.7 million subscribers; while cable subscribers have declined by 10.4 million subscribers. (Source: SNL Kagan)
• A number of online businesses like Apple, Google, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and a host of smaller companies are entering the online video space and trying to position themselves as competitors. While we view online businesses as complementary to our business, previous antitrust concerns about further cable consolidation are truly antiquated in light of today's marketplace realities.
• Courts have recognized that Comcast is not a "bottleneck" for video programming given the emergence of vigorous competition in the MVPD marketplace over the last decade.
• Moreover, many of the systems that Comcast is acquiring from Time Warner Cable (including the largest ones in NYC and LA) are in highly competitive local MVPD markets.
"Comcast cannot be allowed to purchase Time Warner Cable. Antitrust authorities and the FCC must stop it." http://t.co/CRisAFRpF9- Jodie Griffin (@jgriffinpk) February 13, 2014
In an already uncompetitive market a merger of the two biggest cable companies should be unthinkable: http://t.co/AeNGxgV2U6- Free Press (@freepress) February 13, 2014