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As Expected, Altice’s IPO Raising Money for Possible Cox, Mediacom Acquisitions

Altice USA today revealed the terms of its long-expected initial public offering likely to bring more than a billion dollars to the company’s merger and acquisition fund that many Wall Street analysts now expect will be spent to acquire privately held Cox Communications and/or Mediacom.

Cox has long claimed it is not for sale. But Altice founder Patrick Drahi has a history of being willing to overpay for the companies he covets, including Cablevision, which was a reluctant seller for at least a decade before Altice made an offer the Dolan family that founded Cablevision couldn’t refuse.

Telsey Group analyst Tom Eagan told his Wall Street clients he expected Altice would be “active” in American cable consolidation, with Cox and Mediacom systems being likely targets. Other analysts have downplayed potential interest in Cable ONE, another likely target, because of the company’s recent aggressive rate increases and the fact its systems are often in economically depressed areas. An acquisition of Cox and/or Mediacom would make Altice the third largest cable company in the country, but it would still be far behind Comcast and Charter Communications, which hold first and second place respectively.

Any acquisition would likely not get much scrutiny on the federal level by the FCC and Justice Department, and most states would likely give the deal only a perfunctory review before approving it.

Altice USA has applied to be listed as “ATUS” on the New York Stock Exchange.

Cablevision Class Action Lawsuit Filed Over Cancellation Policy

A class action lawsuit has been filed in New York alleging Cablevision’s new owner — Altice USA, illegally changed the terms and conditions of its cancellation policy without adequate notice and was unjustly enriched charging millions for service departing customers did not receive.

New York resident Christopher Krafczek discovered he was still being billed for Altice’s Optimum cable service after canceling his service. He was caught in Altice’s change of its terms and conditions that took effect Oct. 10, 2016, which declared in all-capital letters Altice doesn’t give refunds for customers electing to cancel service before the end of a billing cycle:

Monthly Charges: Your monthly subscription begins on the first day following your installation date and renews thereafter on a monthly basis beginning on the first day of the next billing period assigned to you until cancelled by you. The monthly service charge(s) will be billed at the beginning of your assigned billing period and each month thereafter unless and until you cancel your Service(s). PAYMENTS ARE NONREFUNDABLE AND THERE ARE NO REFUNDS OR CREDITS FOR PARTIALLY USED SUBSCRIPTION PERIOD(S).

Krafczek and his attorneys are taking Altice to court claiming the cable company broke New York’s General Business Law § 349 for deceptive practices and for unjust enrichment. The class action lawsuit claims the cable operator failed to provide proper written notice of the change in its billing practices.

Customers canceling service before the end of a billing cycle can incur $100 or more in charges for cable service no longer received after turning in cable equipment as part of a move or to switch providers.

Altice is likely to claim Krafczek has no standing to bring the case because Cablevision/Altice subscribers are bound by a mandatory arbitration provision in their subscriber agreement. If a customer did not send Altice a written opt-out request within a limited window of time when mandatory arbitration was first introduced, Altice will likely claim that customer cannot sue or participate in a class action lawsuit.

Company officials told the Asbury Park Press last fall subscribers were given advance notice of the change of terms. A spokeswoman told the newspaper Cablevision included the change of terms notice in several monthly billing statements. The spokeswoman also claimed customer service representatives are trained to tell departing customers that billing would continue until the end of the billing cycle, allowing customers to schedule a disconnect at that time.

The case seeks a minimum of $50 or greater in damages for each class member, based on the amount billed after disconnecting service, attorney fees, and punitive damages.

The lawsuit claims customers in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey who voluntarily disconnected cable service between October 2016 and May 3, 2017 paid more than $5 million for service they did not want to continue receiving.

The law firm of Mayer Brown LLP is handling the case.

Rebranded: Goodbye Suddenlink and Cablevision/Optimum, Hello Altice

Phillip Dampier May 25, 2017 Altice NV, Cablevision, Consumer News, Suddenlink No Comments

Patrick Drahi’s acquired cable properties in the United States will join a global rebranding under his company’s own brand: Altice.

Suddenlink, Cablevision/Optimum, SFR-Numericable (France), HOT (Israel), Portugal Telecom-MEO-Sapo (Portugal), and Orange-Tricom (Dominican Republic) will all be called simply “Altice” by the second quarter of 2018.

Cablevision’s Lightpath commercial service will be rebranded “Altice Business” as well.

The global rebranding has begun before Altice USA launches its IPO, expected to attract $1 billion or more that will likely be used to help finance the acquisition of other American cable companies.

Along with a new logo, Altice also introduced its new tagline: “Together Has No Limits” — ironic for a company that continues data capping its Suddenlink broadband customers. Drahi delivered lofty remarks about his aspirations for the new logo and tagline during a closed circuit presentation seen by employees in all the countries where he owns cable companies.

“Our innovations must not make our individual realities smaller, but our collective ambitions greater,” Drahi said. “Not to make individuals more dependent on technology, but more reliant on each other. ‘Together Has No Limits’ is an invitation from the Altice family to come together and build a dream engine that unlocks all of human potential. Together has no limits means ‘let’s learn together, let’s be safe together, let’s be knowledgeable together, and please let’s enjoy!'”

It’s all a part of Drahi’s master plan to dominate the cable and telecom marketplace in the United States. He has freely admitted Altice has started small, but is in no way done making acquisitions and forcing future mergers. In Drahi’s own words, he’s not interested unless he runs the #1 or #2 largest telecom company in a country.

Drahi’s recipe for acquisition success is paying handsomely for acquisitions and then gutting expenses and much of the workforce Drahi considers unnecessary or redundant. After paying $17.7 billion for Cablevision — an amount his critics called excessive, Drahi slashed salaries, closed call centers, and began obsessively scrutinizing expenses. Employees complain morale is low and even the most mundane tasks like keeping the employee break room up and running now requires justifying almost every purchase in management committee meetings that employees fear. Drahi jettisoned much of Cablevision’s senior management, if only because he deemed them overpaid.

Drahi

Extravagance was never a word used to describe Suddenlink. The smaller operator Drahi also acquired in 2015 is known for serving smaller, more rural and economically distressed markets. But Drahi remains obsessed about cost-cutting there as well.

Wall Street analysts scoffed at Drahi’s claim he would cut nearly $900 million in costs at the two American cable companies. But thanks to his “cut to the bone” strategy, Drahi has touted about $400 million in savings to investors so far, with more to come. While Drahi claims he likes to pay employees “as little as possible,” he has no problem splurging on new acquisitions and upgrading the ones he already owns. To allow his Cablevision property to stay competitive against Verizon FiOS, Drahi has authorized ripping out existing coaxial cable and moving to an all-fiber network instead. Speed upgrades are also underway at Suddenlink that now deliver faster speeds than the much-larger Charter Communications now offers its customers.

In March, Drahi acquired Teads, the number one video advertising marketplace in the world. He intends to precision-target audiences with relevant advertising, which could enhance revenue at his cable TV and online properties. Altice has also been beefing up its content operations, particularly in Europe where Drahi has decided to launch his own cable networks instead of overpaying for other companies’ networks. Domestically, Drahi sees value in expanding Cablevision’s News 12 Networks operation and will import i24, his Tel Aviv, Israel based international 24-hour news and current affairs network to the United States.

Just as he has done in Europe, Drahi has telegraphed how he intends to do business in the U.S.

“I have always been very clear, that first is fixed [cable], then mobile, then content,” Drahi said. “We started in the U.S. with cable. We are too small in cable to go mobile at the moment. But everything is open. We will see.”

Altice Doesn’t Like Paying a Lot for Cable Networks So It Starts Its Own: ‘My Cuisine’ Launches in June

Phillip Dampier April 20, 2017 Altice NV, Consumer News No Comments

Jamie Oliver

Altice dislikes the cost of cable programming, so the media and cable empire is increasingly turning in-house to launch alternative channels it owns and operates.

In Europe, Altice will launch its own cooking channel “My Cuisine” starting in June.

Offre Media reports the network will initially be distributed in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, and Portugal, but Altice is known for exporting its cable networks across its vast cable empire. The new channel will be accompanied by a print magazine with a digital version, a mobile app, and ongoing recipe blog.

Programming will originate in Altice’s network studios and from a programming partnership Altice has with FreemantleMedia, which is contracted to produce cooking-related shows with Jamie Oliver for at least three years.

My Cuisine will be available on SFR-Numericable in France, Belgium, and Luxembourg and will be made available to cable systems in Switzerland and Francophone Africa.

It will be the second foray into cooking channels by Altice, which already operates one for customers of Hot Cable in Israel.

Altice owns and operates Cablevision and Suddenlink in the United States.

Drahi’s Acquisition Quest ’17 – Altice Could Seek Up to 30% Of U.S. Telecom Market

Patrick Drahi

“If he can succeed with a corporate-friendly Trump Administration and his lackey Republican legislators and regulators, Patrick Drahi’s Altice could seek to own or control up to 30% of the American telecoms market,” said A.W. Dewalle, a researcher studying Altice’s unprecedented acquisition-frenzy across the world’s telecommunications marketplace. “His IPO in the land of Uncle Sam is just the first shot and it will make a lot of executives very rich and consolidate America’s cable industry.”

Wall Street banks are clamoring for a piece of Altice’s initial public offering, announced this week. The big winners, who will split substantial fees paid to advise Altice USA, are Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Citi. The IPO will allow the Drahi-controlled Altice USA to raise money for further acquisitions in the United States and to potentially restructure its existing debt, run up acquiring Cablevision and Suddenlink.

Reuters reported that Drahi’s biggest U.S. shareholders — BC Partners and the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board will use the IPO as an opportunity to sell some of their combined 30% stake in Altice USA, giving Drahi further assurance he will stay firmly in control of the American operation as he takes on new investors.

Les Echos reports Drahi’s pattern is a familiar one for a man in a hurry to take a much bigger stake in the American telecom market, where profits are high and competition is relatively low. By raising additional funds, Altice USA can show financial strength as it appeals to bankers to loan it the billions in will need to acquire existing cable (and potentially phone) companies. If Altice uses some of the money to repay its existing $20 billion U.S. debt, that could also win the company favorable interest rates on its future loan portfolio.

Drahi is an acquisition specialist, having bought more than 30 companies to add to his Altice portfolio since its start in 2002. Low interest rates, favorable banking terms and corporate deregulation have fueled the shopping spree. With the election of Donald Trump in the U.S., Altice is convinced the sky is the limit when it comes to mergers and acquisitions.

“Everything about his government and the people he has put in place at regulatory agencies says deregulation, ‘laissez-faire,’ and consumers beware,” said Dewalle, a point echoed in part by the Financial Times.

The election of Donald Trump has lifted expectations among chief executives that it will be easier to consolidate companies in the telecoms, media and technology (TMT) sector, as the Republican president has a more laissez-faire approach towards competition. Many media and telecom players are under pressure to boost margins and find new growth avenues, while facing declining sales, according to a senior banker in the industry. “M&A might be the only option for many companies in this sector and Altice will certainly try to play a big role in this,” said [one] banker.

Altice is already laying the public relations groundwork to convince skeptical legislators and regulators that an Altice buyout is not bad news for customers. Altice is spending millions to scrap Cablevision’s existing hybrid coax-fiber network for a 100% fiber to the home replacement. Other upgrades are also ongoing across Suddenlink’s footprint.

Because the American telecom marketplace is not nearly as competitive as the one Altice faces in Europe, Americans are accustomed to paying for broadband and television services at prices that would be scandalous in France. The excess profits earned in America can help Altice finance fiber upgrades in its more competitive European markets. Altice confirmed this week it planned to invest more in 4G wireless upgrades for its SFR division in France and will cover 22 million French homes with fiber to the home service by 2022 and 5.3 million homes in Portugal by 2020.

How big will Mr. Drahi seek to get in the United States? He testified before the Economic Affairs Committee of the French Senate last June, telling legislators he owns or controls about one-third of the French telecom market. In the United States, he controls just 2%, leaving plenty of room to grow.

French business experts predict Drahi will initially seek to sweep up the remaining independent cable operators in the States into the Altice empire before turning attention to a big player like Comcast or Charter Communications, the largest and second-largest American cable operator respectively. Publicly traded companies like Cable ONE would be the first prime targets for an Altice buyout. But Drahi could also repeat his Cablevision acquisition by offering a premium price for privately held operators like Cox Communications, which has a presence in larger cities, and Mediacom — which provides service in 23 states and has a big presence in the midwest.

Most of the rest of America’s independent cable operators are small, regional operations serving smaller communities. Drahi has his choice of these kinds of operators that include Adams Cable, Armstrong, Atlantic Broadband (owned by Canada’s Cogeco), Blue Ridge Communications, Buckeye Broadband, Hargray, Midco, Northland, Service Electric, TruVista, Wave Broadband (exploring a sale), and WOW, among others.

Thus far, Drahi has not shown much interest in acquiring telephone companies, so analysts expect him to confine his acquisitions to the cable business. Even if Drahi acquires a substantial cable portfolio in the United States, he will argue he still faces competition from telephone companies in those same service areas. What Drahi won’t do is compete from the ground up by building a competitive cable system to face off against a firmly entrenched American duopoly.

“That would be bad for business,” said Dewalle.

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