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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

Comcast and Time Warner Cable announced plans to move forward on a possible merger on Thursday. (PHOTO: Bobby Tanzilo )

Separate facts from speculation in Comcast, Time Warner Cable deal


There is a ton of speculation going on right now. But what it is, is just that – speculation.

Every expert on TV and the media is spitting out facts about the bid by Comcast to purchase Time Warner Cable. Stating anything beyond the simple mention of the possible merger is simply speculation.

Beyond the fact that Comcast has made an offer to purchase enough controlling stock to the tune of $45 billion, we just don't know at this point if it would be good or bad, or even if the deal will go through.

There were a number of comments last night when word of the purchase was leaked, many leaning toward the opinion that this would be a bad thing. There were columns and reports announcing the proposed deal this morning, as well.

A move like this has to be approved by the government. And say what you will about bureaucracy, with something as high profile as this, there will be people watching the government to make sure it is doing its job.

This potential deal affects about one in three of the television viewers in the United States. That's a staggering footprint. I have a map in my head like the latest push of Verizon commercials about the cellular company boasting about the size of its coverage area.

"Through the merger, Comcast will acquire Time Warner Cable's approximately 11 million managed subscribers. In order to reduce competitive concerns, Comcast is prepared to divest systems serving approximately 3 million managed subscribers," Comcast stated in a press release.

"As such, Comcast will, through the acquisition and management of Time Warner Cable systems, net approximately 8 million managed subscribers in this transaction. This will bring Comcast's managed subscriber total to approximately 30 million."

For industry insiders, a deal between Time Warner Cable and Comcast isn't anything new. There has been talk between the two cable providers for months, and news about a possible deal has even been reported publicly.

Earlier this year, Charter made a bid to purchase Time Warner Cable stock for $130 per share, and TWC called it "grossly inadequate" at the time. TWC suggested something closer to $160 a share, and that's where today's offer stands – $158.82 per share.

For customers and employees of Time Warner Cable working and living in southeastern Wisconsin, the future is uncertain. According to sources familiar with talks in Washington, heavy lobbying efforts on behalf of the deal were ongoing on Capitol Hill throughout 2013. It is from those sources that we hear that cable providers themselves expect government approval of the purchase by the end of the year.

It's fairly easy to speculate that a larger Comcast, which recently purchased NBC Universal, would have much more leverage when it comes to retransmission talks.

The recent breakdowns in talks – like the one between Journal Communications and Time Warner Cable that led to a months-long blackout last summer – would likely be common in the future.

Where we could see changes with a larger Comcast would be with its talks with some of the larger stations and station groups like Viacom, which also was imbroiled in conflict with Time Warner Cable this past summer. We also saw a shorter blockage of the CBS-owned stations in various markets and the Showtime group of channels nationwide.

Will rates go up? Will people lose their jobs? Will we still be able to watch our "Real Housewives"?

The answer is we don't know.

Anyone giving you definitive answers to those questions at this point is merely speculating.

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