Time Warner Cable may have found a buyer in French telecom Altice

If telecommunications firm Altice has its way, Time Warner Cable may not have to shop around for a buyer much longer. The French group has “held talks” with the service provider about a potential buyout, the Wall Street Journal and Reuters confirm.  Separately, Altice is said to be close to acquiring independent cable operator Suddenlink.

Should the deals go through, they’d grant Altice a substantial foothold in the U.S. broadband market. St. Louis-based Suddenlink, which is the seventh largest cable company in the country, has around 1.4 million customers spread out mostly across the South — states like Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia. Time Warner Cable, meanwhile, is the second largest cable provider in the U.S., and commands large metropolitan markets such as New York and Los Angeles. The company had 15.2 million subscribers as of Q1 2015.

Suddenlink’s controlling equity firms, BC Partners and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, are likely to approve the merger — Altice will acquire a 70 percent stake in Suddenlink for $9.1 billion, the New York Times reports. Time Warner Cable poses a much tougher challenge for the company, which is likely to face competition from stateside rivals. Charter Communications, the most vocal potential contender, is moving to purchase Bright House Networks in what many analysts see as the harbinger of a Time Warner Cable acquisition.

There’s doubt as to the seriousness of the ongoing talks between TWC and Altice — a New York Times source suggested Time Warner might be “talking up a potential deal for its own benefit” — but the buyout wouldn’t be unprecedented for Altice. French entrepreneur Patrick Drahi’s company, which now has about 29 million customers across its fixed-line and mobile services, has made a string of large acquisitions over the past several years. It purchased French carrier SFR, last year in a deal worth 17 billion euros, and has since bought wireless assets in Portugal and the Dominican Republic. The telecom recently explored purchasing Bouygues Telecom, France’s third-largest mobile operator, as well.

A Time Warner Cable deal wouldn’t come cheap — Comcast made a failed, much-publicized bid to buy the cable provider for north of $45 billion, and it’s unclear whether Altice’s coffers are deep enough to challenge other bidders. But Altice’s strong desire to “[make] fresh inroads into the United States” may push negotiations forward, a source told Reuters.

Investors seem optimistic. On rumors of the deal, shares of Altice rose 11 percent in Amsterdam on Wednesday.

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