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Money Party: Tiny Investment Bank Reaps Up to $65 Million in Fees for a Week’s Work on Cable Mergers

liontree_logo_web1A tiny Madison Avenue investment bank (so small its only web presence is a webpage displaying its logo) that spent one week advising Charter Communications on its merger deal with Time Warner Cable and Altice SA on its acquisition of Suddenlink Communications will earn as much as $65 million in fees if both deals close, according to a report from Bloomberg News.

LionTree Advisors has fewer than 50 employees, which adds up to more than $1 million per worker. Charter is expected to be billed as much as $25 million for the bank’s advice on the Time Warner acquisition and $40 million advising Altice on its buyout of Suddenlink. That represents about $1 from each Charter, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks customer and approximately $27 from each Suddenlink customer.

Aryeh Bourkoff and Ehren Stenzler, co-founders of the bank, were more than little thankful to “be a part of these transactions on behalf of our clients.”

Analysis: Charter Communications Will Acquire Time Warner Cable/Bright House – What It Means for You

charter twc bhAs expected, Charter Communications formally announced its acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in a deal worth, including debt, $78.7 billion.

The deal brings Dr. John Malone, a cable magnate during the 80s and 90s, back into the top echelon of cable providers. Malone orchestrated today’s deal as part of his plan to dramatically consolidate the American cable industry. Malone’s Liberty Broadband Corp. assisted in pushing the deal across the finish line with an extra $5 billion (supplied by three hedge funds) in Charter stock purchases.

The companies expect to win regulator approval and close the deal by the end of 2015.

“No one has ever had a better sense of the multichannel world than John [Malone],” Leo Hindery, a veteran cable-industry executive, told the Wall Street Journal. “Obviously he sees in Charter and Time Warner Cable a way to perpetuate a legacy that is unrivaled.”

But the man who may have made today’s deal ultimately possible was FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. Last week, he personally called cable executives at Charter and Time Warner Cable to reassure them the FCC was not against all cable mergers just because it rejected one involving Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

But Wheeler warned he would only approve deals that were in the public interest.

“In applying the public interest test, an absence of harm is not sufficient,” Mr. Wheeler said.

Consumer groups are wary.

“The cable platform is quickly becoming America’s local monopoly broadband infrastructure,” said Free Press Research Director S. Derek Turner. “Charter will have a tough time making a credible argument that consolidating local monopoly power on a nationwide basis will benefit consumers. Indeed, the issue of the cable industry’s power to harm online video competition, which is what ultimately sank Comcast’s consolidation plans, are very much at play in this deal.”

“Ultimately, this merger is yet another example of the poor incentives Wall Street’s quarterly-result mentality creates,” Turner added. “Charter would rather take on an enormous amount of debt to pay a premium for Time Warner Cable than build fiber infrastructure, improve service for its existing customers or bring competition into new communities.”

new charter

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Inside the Charter Plan to Buy Time Warner Cable 5-26-15.flv

A panel of Wall Street analysts discusses the chances for Charter’s plan to buy Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Some analysts continue to frame regulator approval over video programming costs, while others argue broadband is the key issue the FCC and Justice Department will consider when reviewing the merger. From Bloomberg TV. (5:36)

A heavily indebted Charter Communications will not own the combined entity free and clear. At the close of the deal, Time Warner Cable shareholders will own up to 44% of the new company, Liberty Broadband up to 20%, Advance/Newhouse (Bright House) up to 14%. Charter itself will own just 22%, but will be able to leverage voting control over the entity with the help of Malone’s Liberty, which will get almost 25% of the voting power. That will give Charter just enough of a combined edge to control the destiny of “New Charter.”

As with the aborted deal with Comcast, lucrative golden parachutes are expected for Time Warner’s top executives who will be departing if the deal wins approval. In their place will be Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge and a board compromised of 13 directors (including Rutledge himself). Seven directors will be appointed by independent directors serving on Charter’s board, two designated by Advance/Newhouse and three from Liberty Broadband, again giving Rutledge and Malone effective control.

Current Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks customers will see major changes if Charter follows through on its commitment to bring Charter’s way of doing business to both operators.

No More Analog Television

all digitalCharter told investors at today’s merger announcement it will accelerate the removal of all analog television signals on TWC and Bright House cable TV lineups to free capacity for faster Internet products, more HD channels, and “other advanced products.”

Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus told investors earlier this month TWC was already well-positioned with excess spectrum from moving lesser-watched analog channels to digital service and using “Switched Digital Video,” a technology that conserves bandwidth by only sending certain cable channels into neighborhoods where customers are actively watching them. This allowed Time Warner Cable customers to avoid renting a cable box for lesser-watched, cable-connected televisions in the home.

Charter’s plan requires a cable box on every connected television, at an added cost. The standard lease rate for the digital decoder box is $6.99 per month, and those customers on the lowest basic tier will likely receive at least two devices for up to two years for free, or five years for customers on Medicaid. Customers who subscribe to higher tiers of service or premium channels may receive only one device for free for one year before the monthly lease rate applies. For a home with an average of three connected televisions, this will eventually cost an extra $21 a month. DVR boxes cost considerably more.

No More Modem Lease Fee, But Only Two Choices for Internet Service

The good news is Charter does not apply any modem lease fees and there is a good chance if you already purchased your own modem, Charter will continue to let you use it. The bad news is that if you were used to sticking with a lower-speed broadband tier to save money, those days are likely coming to an end. Charter’s “simplified” menu of broadband options cuts Time Warner’s six choices and Bright House’s five options to just two:

  • 60/4Mbps for Spectrum Internet ($59.99)
  • 100/5Mbps for Internet Ultra ($109.99)

Charter_Spectrum_Mobile_Internet-finalThis is likely to be a red flag for regulators concerned about broadband affordability. Although it is likely Charter may offer concessions by grandfathering existing Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers under their current plans, Charter has nothing comparable to Time Warner’s “Everyday Low Price Internet” for $14.99 a month or a 6Mbps Basic broadband alternative far less expensive than Charter’s entry-level Internet tier. Bright House customers are not likely to experience something similar. The entry-level 15Mbps broadband-only plan is $65 a month without a promotion, according to Bright House.

Charter is rumored to be testing speed boosts for those two tiers for deployment in areas where they face fiber competitors. The first phase would raise Spectrum speeds to 100/25Mbps and Ultra to 300/50Mbps with plans to further increase speeds when DOCSIS 3.1 arrives — likely to 300/50Mbps for Spectrum and 500/300 for Ultra, at least where Google Fiber, U-verse with GigaPower, and Verizon FiOS offers competition.

Recently, Charter has followed Time Warner Cable’s marketing script and is actively promoting the fact the company has no data caps on broadband service, but Charter had a history of loosely enforced “soft caps” for several years in the recent past, so we’re not convinced data caps are gone for good at Charter.

Pricing & Service

billCharter enjoys a higher rate of revenue per customer than either Time Warner or Bright House, which is a sign customers are paying more. It is likely Charter’s reduced menu of choices is responsible for this. Although customers do get a better advertised level of service, they are paying a higher price for it, with no downgrade options. Ancillary equipment rental fees for television set-top boxes are also a likely culprit.

Charter also tells investors its merger with Time Warner and Bright House will bring “manageable promotional rate step-ups and rate discipline” to both companies. That means Charter will likely be less generous offering promotions to new and existing customers. Like Time Warner and Bright House, Charter will gradually raise rates on customers coming off a promotion until they eventually reset a customer’s rates to the regular price. But while Time Warner, in particular, was receptive to putting complaining customers back on aggressively priced promotions after an old promotion ended, Charter is not.

Charter customers tell us the company’s customer service department is notoriously inconsistent and promotional rates and offers can vary wildly. For some, Charter only got aggressive on price after they turned in their cable equipment and closed their accounts.

As far as service is concerned, CEO Thomas Rutledge has managed significant improvements while at Charter. What used to rival Mediacom in Consumer Reports’ annual ranking of the worst cable companies in America is now ranked number nine (Bright House took fourth place, Time Warner Cable: 12th).

But the presence of Malone in this deal, even peripherally, is a major concern. Malone-run cable companies are notorious for massive rate increases and poor customer service. Sen. Al Gore routinely called his leadership style of Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), since sold to Comcast, the Darth Vader of a cable Cosa Nostra and Sen. Daniel Inouye from Hawaii once remarked in a Senate oversight hearing that Malone’s executives were a “bunch of thugs.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Charter CEO Comfortable With Price Paid for Time Warner 5-26-15.flv

Watch Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge stumble his way through an answer to a simple question: What are the public benefits of your merger with Time Warner Cable that the deal with Comcast didn’t offer? Did you like his answer? (5:28)

Charter Communications Starts Advertising Blitz: Its Internet Service Has “No Data Caps,” AT&T U-verse Does

No data caps.

No data caps.

Charter Communications is now heavily advertising the fact its Internet service “has no data caps,” in an attempt to leverage customers away from AT&T DSL (150GB cap) and AT&T U-verse (250GB cap).

Charter quietly shelved its softly enforced usage caps several months ago and is now using its cap-free experience as a marketing tool to convince customers to switch from AT&T and other phone company broadband options that often include usage limits.

“They used it with me to convince me to drop U-verse for Charter,” writes Stop the Cap! reader Jennifer in Tennessee. “I hate usage caps.”

Charter is also using its cap-free broadband as a key argument in favor of its merger deal with Time Warner Cable and Bright House (which have no usage caps either).

“Charter’s slowest speed tier (60Mbps downstream) is considerably faster and less expensive than TWC’s comparable tiers, with no data caps or usage based pricing,” Charter argued in its merger presentation this morning.

AT&T has unevenly enforced usage caps on its DSL and U-verse services. A standard overlimit fee of $10 for each 50GB applies, but only in some markets.

Charter Communications Near Agreement to Acquire Time Warner Cable, Bright House in $60+ Billion Deal

charter twc bhCharter Communications could announce as early as tomorrow its intention to acquire Time Warner Cable for nearly $55.1 billion in cash and stock and Bright House Networks as part of a separate transaction worth north of $10 billion to create the country’s second largest cable operator under the Charter Spectrum brand.

Bloomberg News reports Charter will offer $195 a share — $100 in cash and the rest in Charter stock for Time Warner. The deal will load down Charter in debt. Several Wall Street banks spent more than two weeks assembling a large financing package, but even that would not be enough to seal a deal. Dr. John Malone’s Liberty Broadband, Charter’s largest shareholder, has agreed to inject $5 billion in Charter stock purchases to help fund the deal.

Unlike the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal, this one includes a $2 billion deal breakup fee, payable if the merger falls apart. Analysts predict a possible rival bid for Time Warner Cable by Drahi’s Altice SA as well as antitrust concerns.

The deal would quadruple the size of Charter Communications overnight and would represent a massive change for Time Warner Cable customers. Charter uses a simplified pricing approach with fewer choices for Internet and television service, but that could come at a significantly higher price than what Time Warner Cable customers are used to paying. Charter is now advertising “no data caps” which is good news, although how long that lasts is anyone’s guess.

The future of Time Warner Cable’s Maxx upgrade program is in doubt if Charter successfully buys the company. Charter’s proposal to acquire Time Warner Cable in 2014 offered a more modest upgrade plan.

Stop the Cap! will go into more detail about what subscribers can expect as more details become available.

Zombie Merger: Charter Communications Still Pursuing Bright House Networks Merger Originally Left for Dead

Phillip Dampier May 21, 2015 Bright House, Charter, Competition, Consumer News No Comments

zombie boardBright House Networks customers in central Florida are not excited by the news Charter Communications is still pursuing Bright House Networks, and both companies recently agreed to extend the deadline by 30 days for a final deal to be placed on the table.

Charter had bid $10.4 billion to acquire Bright House, which serves customers mostly in the south, including the cities of Tampa and Orlando.

“We look forward to completing the transaction as planned, and our teams are working together to make that happen,” Charter chief executive Tom Rutledge said. Reuters had recently reported Bright House was preparing to “abandon” the Charter deal, believing it was better off with sn existing cooperation agreement with Time Warner Cable.

One reason the merger talks are moving forward could be a sense Bright House’s owners have received that Time Warner Cable is still ready to sell itself to a new buyer after its merger with Comcast collapsed. One of those potential buyers remains Charter itself.

“It’s not great news for Orlando if Charter buys Bright House Networks,” says Mike Donahue, a Bright House customer for over a decade. “I had Charter when I lived in Missouri and they were terrible. I realize Charter is somewhat different today, but consumer ratings still land Charter near the bottom while Bright House has been closer to the top.”

Charter’s ongoing interest in acquiring Bright House may be to use it as a leveraging tool in its pursuit of Time Warner Cable.

Acquiring Bright House would give Charter a stronger balance sheet, allowing it to borrow more money to make a cash-rich offer for Time Warner Cable, analysts said.

Reuters: Charter Deal to Acquire Bright House Networks is Dead

Phillip Dampier May 7, 2015 Bright House, Charter, Competition, Consumer News No Comments

brighthouse1Bright House Networks, the sixth largest U.S. cable operator, will abandon its preliminary $10.4 billion deal to be acquired by Charter Communications, according to a report from Reuters.

The deal with Bright House was contingent on the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger getting completed. With that merger deal dead, Bright House’s owners – the Newhouse family – now believe they are better off remaining independent, at least for now.

Reuters reports discussions between the two companies are ongoing, but are likely to run out without a deal in about two weeks. That will leave intact Bright House’s agreement with Time Warner Cable to share volume-related discounts on programming and technology. With that agreement in place, there may be little interest from Bright House’s owners in another merger deal with a different company in the near future.

 

Time Warner Cable and Charter Both Talking to Bright House Networks About Acquisition Deal

Phillip Dampier April 30, 2015 Bright House, Charter, Time Warner Cable No Comments

brighthouse1In the last week, executives from both Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable have talked to the Newhouse Family, controlling owner of Bright House Networks, about an acquisition of the cable company.

Time Warner may hold the stronger hand. In addition to being a much-larger and wealthier cable company, Time Warner has the advantage of a long-standing partnership dating back to the early 90’s with Bright House in which Time Warner shares its volume discounts on cable programming and technology with Bright House in return for an annual fee. As part of that arrangement, Time Warner has the right of first offer if Bright House ever chose to sell. If Time Warner matches or beats a competing offer, such as that now on the table from Charter Communications, it wins Bright House for itself.

Bright House decided it had to sell to someone after the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger threatened to end its arrangement with Time Warner. Bright House would pay substantially more for programming and equipment without the volume discounts Time Warner received. With the Comcast deal off the table, Time Warner remains an acquisition target.

Charter_logoBright House is coveted by Charter as a stepping stone to a much larger acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Charter’s balance sheet is loaded with debt and its stock isn’t worth as much as that of Time Warner Cable. Combining Bright House’s two-million subscribers with Charter’s own five million customers strengthens Charter’s balance sheet and increases its borrowing capacity as it prepares to acquire Time Warner Cable for a second time.

Time Warner Cable’s interest in Bright House would make life more difficult for Charter, preventing the company from leveraging a quick deal for Time Warner. It also would make Time Warner Cable considerably more expensive (and complex) to acquire. In January 2014, Charter offered $132.50 a share to Time Warner Cable shareholders to acquire the cable company. Time Warner Cable executives immediately recommended shareholders reject the deal as undervalued. Today Time Warner stock is worth around $156 a share, meaning Charter would have to offer at least $160 a share, and probably more than that, to interest Time Warner executives.

timewarner twcThe Newhouse family is sitting in a lucrative position as it is courted by the two larger cable operators. One of those familiar with the talks suggested Time Warner was offering the Newhouse family influence in a combined Bright House-Time Warner Cable, because its offer would leave the Newhouse family as the largest individual shareholder of the combined company. Charter’s offer would hand power to John Malone’s Liberty Broadband, and leave the Newhouse family with little, if any voice.

Based on that, the Newhouse family may gravitate towards Time Warner Cable unless Charter significantly sweetens its deal and Time Warner drops out. With the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger in tatters, both sides have a 30-day “good faith” period to renegotiate and tweak their respective offers.

Despite all that, Bright House may decide not to sell after all, at least until after the bigger players settle their own deals and acquisitions. In that case, Charter may have other targets in mind. At the top of the list are Mediacom and Suddenlink.

Wall Street Investment Bankers Start Worrying They Won’t Get Their Fat Fees if Comcast Merger Fails

merger smash

With regulators considering rejecting Comcast’s $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable, investment bankers hoping to reap fat fees “advising” Comcast and Time Warner Cable about the deal are starting to panic they won’t get paid.

Although a merger flop won’t hurt giants like JPMorgan Chase, which operates a 24/7 cash vacuum, continuously sucking fees from companies engaged in Mergermania, smaller “boutique” investment banks like Allen & Co., Centerview Partners, and PJT Partners don’t have that luxury.

Reuters reports some of the smaller investment banks involved in the deal are now on edge, worried they won’t get their share of at least $140 million in investment banking advisory fees that would be paid to complete the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger deal.

“Big banks have many deals going on, and they can afford to lose one more, even though it is painful. Smaller firms are less diversified, so for them it’s much more painful,” Campbell Harvey, a professor of international business at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, told Reuters.

But crying towels are also being readied for investment bankers involved in two side deals involving Charter Communications, which are likely to also fall apart in a chain reaction if the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger dies.

dominoesCharter has deals pending with both Comcast and Time Warner Cable to launch GreatLand Connections and have plans to takeover Bright House Networks, both contingent on the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger getting approval.

Those two transactions will bring another $170 million in fees to investment bankers, with JPMorgan Chane, former top Morgan Stanley banker Taubman, and Barclays Bank splitting $51-68 million in fees between the three firms.

Time Warner Cable’s own advisers are waiting for $57-75 million in fees as well, among them Morgan Stanley, Allen & Co., Citigroup, and Centerview Partners.

To understand how important the fees are to smaller bankers, Taubman was ranked 23rd in mergers & acquisitions fees in 2014. Without the Comcast deal, Taubman drops out of the top-100.

Some bankers may have negotiated a token fee to be paid by Comcast and Time Warner Cable if the deal falls apart. Most estimates suggest usual fees amount to around 10-15 percent of the amount they would collect if a merger is successfully completed.

It’s Official: Charter Communications Buys Bright House Networks in $10.4 Billion Deal

Charter_logoCharter Communications today officially announced it will acquire control of Bright House Networks in a $10.4 billion deal the two companies are calling a “partnership.”

Widely anticipated, the deal will help Charter in its quest to become the second largest cable operator in the country, up from fourth place.

Bright House is the sixth largest cable operator, serving almost two million video customers in central Florida including Orlando and Tampa Bay, as well as Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, and California.

The deal will establish a partnership between Charter and Bright House’s current owner, Advance/Newhouse. But nobody will doubt who is in charge. Charter will own 73.7% of the venture, leaving the Newhouse family with a minority share of 26.3%. Bright House shareholders will receive shares of New Charter stock.

brighthouse1The deal is partly contingent on Time Warner Cable, which has a right to acquire Bright House for itself as part of a long-standing partnership between the two cable companies on programming and technology matters. But such an acquisition now seems remote, considering Time Warner Cable remains tied up in its year-long effort to be acquired by Comcast. An even larger Time Warner Cable would further complicate that transaction in Washington, where regulators are clearly concerned about supersizing Comcast. Since some regulators count Bright House customers as de facto Time Warner Cable customers, having Bright House acquired by Charter would seem to reduce Comcast’s influence over American broadband and cable television by cutting its combined market share from 29 to 27 million subscribers.

The Charter Sucks website could soon be getting more traffic.

The Charter Sucks website could soon be getting more traffic.

But Charter is also dependent on the Comcast deal closing, because that transaction delivers Charter another 2.5 million Time Warner and Comcast castoffs that will be sold service under the brand GreatLand Connections. The combination of those subscribers and Bright House will make Charter the second largest cable operator in the country.

Unfortunately for customers, Charter isn’t even close to second place in customer satisfaction or service. Beyond the very active Charter Sucks website, every consumer satisfaction measurement firm places Charter substantially below average in service, satisfaction, and pricing. Bright House scored on the high side.

“From the frying pan into the fire,” lamented Sam Pama, a former Bright House customer turned FiOS fan in Tampa. “First Frontier bought Verizon FiOS in Florida and now Charter is buying Bright House. Both treat their customers like crap.”

One piece of good news: Charter quietly shelved their usage caps months ago and Frontier has only toyed with them in the past, taking significant heat from Stop the Cap! before backing off. Neither are expected to slap usage limits or usage billing on customers in the foreseeable future.

Charter Cable in Talks to Acquire Bright House Networks in an All-Stock Deal; Deal May Still Fall Apart, Source Says

charterCharter Communications is in talks with Si Newhouse, Jr., the billionaire owner of Bright House Networks, to acquire the cable operator in an all-stock deal that could be worth over $12 billion, according to a report by Bloomberg News.

Bright House Networks serves 2.5 million customers, primarily in central Florida but also in parts of Alabama, Indiana, California and Michigan. Bright House has been closely controlled by the Newhouse family and has avoided efforts to consolidate the cable industry for more than two decades.

The deal is not yet finalized, according to two people asking not to be identified discussing confidential details of the deal. A side dispute over who will control voting shares of Charter after any acquisition remains at issue. John Malone’s Liberty Broadband, the largest single shareholder of Charter, is said to be seeking a larger ownership share of Charter Communications in what analysts expect will be a gradual takeover of Charter by Malone.

This afternoon, Bright House confirmed acquisition talks are underway.

brighthouse1“While we have had conversations with many parties about this transaction, we do not have an agreement with anyone regarding future plans for Bright House,” a company spokeswoman said in the statement.

The deal may also depend on whether regulators approve the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Time Warner Cable currently represents Bright House in most cable programming negotiations and the two cable companies have closely worked together on technology and services for more than a decade. That collaboration is likely to end if the Comcast merger is approved, stranding New House as a small independent operator.

Charter was long-expected to make offers to acquire other cable operators in its quest to grow larger, especially after failing in its bid to acquire Time Warner Cable for itself. An acquisition of Bright House by Charter would allow the company to further expand its presence in the south and midwest where it focuses most of its cable operations.

But it is not a done deal yet. The talks between Charter and Bright House could still fall apart and may not result in a deal, one source cautioned.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Charter in Talks to Buy Newhouse Bright House Networks 3-12-15.flv

Bloomberg News reports Charter Communications is in talks with the Newhouse family to acquire Bright House Networks in an all-stock deal. (1:22)

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