Now that its $45 billion merger with Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) has fallen through, Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) finds itself the belle of the ball.
It seems like every major and minor player on the board wants to merge or partner with the cable and Internet company. The most prominent of these has been Charter (NASDAQ: CHTR) which is currently in negotiations with TWC, according to Reuters. That leaves privately held Bright House -- which had a deal with Charter that was dependent on Comcast completing its now-abandoned merger -- without a partner. It also leave privately held Cox in play and DISH Network (NASDAQ: DISH) looming as a wild card.
Of all the actual and theoretical deals being bandied about however, only Cablevision (NYSE: CVC), led by brash CEO James Dolan has blatantly lobbied to be acquired by TIme Warner Cable.
What Dolan is saying
During an appearance at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association show in Chicago Dolan openly suggested that his company make a deal with Time Warner Cable to consolidate the New York market where Cablevision operates, The Wall Street Journal reported.
"I think consolidation of that marketplace would provide a great deal of ingenuity and more access to resources for customers and lower prices," Dolan said.
In response, Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus said, "I'm not sure if I got asked out on a date or to get married," the paper reported.
Dolan answered by saying that he was proposing a "commune." Basically, the CEO suggested that working together and not competing with each other would make it easier to release new technology.
"If New York was operated like one market, you would see things like wifi distributed throughout the entire marketplace, access to wifi and that very important technology becoming ubiquitous throughout the marketplace," Dolan said during a CNBC interview after the NCTA appearance.
Cablevision has begun marketing a Wi-Fi-based phone service and having access to more hotspots would, in theory, make that product a lot more useful to consumers.
Good for cable, bad for consumers?
While Dolan, of course, focused on how having only a single regional provider would be good for consumers, he sort of glossed over the fact that it would also remove competition. The CEO, who also runs the New York Knicks and New York Rangers, suggested a combined effort from not only his company and TWC, but also the Comcast systems in the area.
Cablevision has just over 3 million subscribers in New York City, Long Island and the rest of the New York metropolitan area. It also owns Newsday, the major newspaper on Long Island and has been a rumored bidder for the New York Daily News which is expected to be sold.
In addition to Time Warner Cable and Comcast, Verizon (NYSE: VZ) does service parts of the New York metropolitan market, but Dolan made no mention of them.
It's easy to see why ending competition will help the cable companies -- whether it's through acquisition or partnerships -- but harder to see how it's good for consumers. It might make it easier to deploy new technologies, but it will also make it easier to raise prices, cut service, and do other things that are anti-consumer.
Time Warner Cable has little to gain here
In its argument in favor of the Time Warner Cable merger being allowed, Comcast argued that the deal did not lessen choice for consumers because the two companies did not have overlapping customer bases. That argument could not be made in the case of a Cablevision/TWC deal.
Even though the merger, acquisition, or partnership would be a much smaller transaction, it would be one undertaken specifically to eliminate competition in one of the country's key markets. It's hard to image that that FCC would allow such a blatant effort to take choice off the boards for consumers.
TWC has lots of willing partners and it's best bet is to get bigger -- a lot bigger if possible -- and that makes Cablevision not the right partner. A deal with Charter puts the company on footing to compete with Comcast on a more even basis. A deal with Time Warner Cable, even if it was approved, just makes the company a stronger regional player.