The cable giant is preparing to pull the plug on the $45 billion deal rather than grapple with the Justice Department and the FCC, which appear inclined to fight the merger, Bloomberg reports. The story says the announcement could come by tomorrow.
Comcast declined to comment.
Antitrust staff lawyers at the Justice Department are said to be recommending that higher ups sue to block a merger. And FCC staffers reportedly want regulators to send the case to an administrative law judge — which could tie things up for a long time.
Comcast shares closed up 1.2% following the news. Many investors would prefer to see Comcast avoid the distraction of a fight with government officials alleging that the deal would diminish competition, especially in broadband, potentially leading to higher consumer prices and fewer choices. In addition, many would rather not see Comcast double down on cable as online companies provide new opportunities for subscribers to cut the pay TV cord. The Philadelphia-based company’s deal, struck in February 2014, does not require it to pay a break up fee.
BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield mused last month that, without a deal, Comcast could use its cash to produce additional programming, expand into wireless, buy overseas cable systems — or even go after Netflix, which has a market value of $34 billion.
MoffettNathanson Research’s Craig Moffett said today that it’s “hard to imagine” Comcast would want to go back to the government seeking permission to make a smaller cable deal. A bid for T-Mobile “would likely be viewed in Washington as overly provocative….Nor, for that matter, is it likely that they would have the temerity to ask for approval of a content deal. For all intents and purposes, their M&A ambitions would be on ice in the U.S.” — although possibly not overseas.
TWC’s fate becomes even cloudier if Comcast walks away; its shares closed down 0.6%. The company’s clearly for sale: Charter Communications’ top shareholder, Liberty Media’s John Malone, has said that he’d be eager to see the cable company go after TWC — the way it did before the No. 2 cable company allied with Comcast.
Last month Charter agreed to pay $10.4 billion for Bright House Networks which has about 2 million subs concentrated in Florida, California, Alabama, Indiana and Michigan. But that deal was contingent on a Comcast-TWC merger. TWC has first dibs on Bright House, and could make an offer if it wants to keep Charter at bay.
Cablevision Systems also could come into play as industry giants try to figure out other ways to consolidate. Its shares are up 5.4% today. Before the Comcast-TWC news broke, the Long Island based company said that it will offer customers a “Cord Cutter Package”: For $44.90 a month they can receive broadband service, and a digital antenna to pick up local broadcast stations.