Charter Communications confirmed Tuesday its $55 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable, a merger that would create a powerful cable and broadband Internet contender in an industry long lacking competition.
According to previous reports, Charter agreed to pay about $195 a share for Time Warner Cable — $100 in cash and the rest in stock. The price is 14 percent higher than Time Warner Cable’s closing stock price Friday and nearly 50 percent above Charter’s bid for Time Warner Cable in early 2014.
The closure of the deal, reported by the Associated Press, comes just weeks after Comcast’s astonishing withdrawal of its merger with Time Warner Cable — an acquisition that regulators and antitrust officials said would create too much consolidation in the U.S. cable and broadband market and harm consumers.
Moments after the announcement, Charter’s shares rose more than 3 percent in premarket trading.
Time Warner Cable’s return to the seller’s block triggered a flurry of new merger activity and highlighted federal regulators’ willingness to intervene in what they view as an increasingly important industry for consumers that is dominated by too few players, especially Comcast.
Analysts say that Charter’s bid for Time Warner Cable may be accepted by federal regulators because it would create a stronger competitor to Comcast, the biggest cable and Internet provider in the nation, with 22 million subscribers. Regulators are expected to approve AT&T’s merger with DirecTV for $48 billion, a deal that would create a bigger video service provider than Comcast.
Charter is the nation’s fourth-largest cable firm, with 5.9 million subscribers in 25 states. The deal also includes a merger with Bright House, which has 2.5 million subscribers.
If approved by regulators, the combination of the three companies would bring together 20 million cable and Internet subscribers.
At the urging of its largest shareholder, billionaire media mogul John Malone, Charter has tried for the past couple of years to grow through acquisitions. Liberty Media, in which Malone also has controlling stake, will invest $5 billion as part of the deal.
Regulators had moved to block Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable because of concern over the market for broadband Internet service. Together, Comcast and Time Warner Cable would have controlled more than 50 percent of all broadband connections in the United States, with more than 34 million subscribers. Charter’s purchase of Time Warner Cable would create a bigger cable firm, and a stronger rival to Comcast and a combined AT&T and DirecTV.
Comcast’s ownership of vast media properties through NBC Universal also posed problems for regulators. Critics were also concerned about Comcast’s bid for Time Warner Cable because of the company’s potential ability to use its powerful hold on so many home subscribers to create a disadvantage for online video rivals such as Netflix and YouTube that compete with its cable TV and media properties.
“It appears much less of an antitrust concern than the Comcast deal,” said Gene Kimmelman, a former senior antitrust official for the Justice Department and current president of Public Knowledge, a nonprofit group. “It is more likely to face [Federal Communications Commission] scrutiny for how it actually promotes the public interest.”
This time, Time Warner Cable appears to be trying more to protect its financial interests during a long regulatory review. It has put a $2 billion walk-away fee on the deal in case it falls apart.
The merger was largely expected, with Charter chief executive Tom Rutledge signaling in recent weeks his company’s interest in growing through acquisitions.
The deal also comes amid fast shifts in the landscape for cable and Internet service in the United States. Last week, the European telecom firm Altice announced a $9 billion deal to acquire Suddenlink.