Why Everyone Is Suddenly Dying To Buy A Cable Company You May Never Even Have Heard Of

bright_houseOdds are (unless you live in central Florida) that you probably don’t know much about Bright House Networks. The cable company serves about 2 million TV and internet customers, mostly in Florida and also in Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, and California. But in the many eddies rippling through the cable world after the sinking of the Comcast/TWC merger, this one regional provider may be poised to make or break some pretty big deals.

Bright House, the Wall Street Journal reports, is the new kingmaker. All eyes are turning to the nation’s sixth-largest cable company and its 2 million customers as investors try to figure out where the

If you thought someone already called dibs on Bright House, you’re not wrong. Charter and Bright House announced a $10bn deal just about a month ago. But there’s one huge hitch in that plan, and its name is Comcast.

The Charter/Bright House deal, as set up in March, was contingent on the Comcast/TWC merger going forward. As part of that now-firmly-failed transaction, Comcast/TWC would have spun off 4 million customers to Charter as a concession to prevent the merged company from crossing a particular threshold of “too large.” That move would have allowed Charter heavily to consolidate their presence in the Midwest and would have given a post-merger Comcast more access to both coasts.

Part of the deal between Charter and Bright House’s ownership, the WSJ reports, is that if the Comcast/TWC failed, the Charter/Bright House deal would have a “30 day ‘good faith’ period” to renegotiate their deal. Comcast and TWC called off their merger plan one week ago, so there are 22 or 23 (depending how you count) days left in that window. But Charter is not the only party who can negotiate with Bright House during these weeks — and TWC could jump in, too.

According to the WSJ, Time Warner Cable is likely to jump in with a pitch that would let Bright House’s current ownership retain more shares and hold more influence in the combined company than the Charter deal would permit.

But those investor details might also be what motivates Charter to push hard for the deal. The added customers — a drop in the bucket compared to Comcast’s 22m, but a huge growth from Charter’s ~6m — and cash flow could be a step on the path that would also allow Charter to go out and acquire TWC.

So, this is effectively where we stand: Charter and Time Warner Cable are about to find themselves in competition over buying Bright House Networks, while at the same time Charter tries to buy Time Warner Cable. It is possible, therefore, that all three could end up as one single company in the near future — or that all the buyout offers could be spurned or face too many regulatory hurdles.

While none of the deals on (or near) the table have the same disastrously large scope and attendant dangerous gatekeeper power that the Comcast/TWC transaction did, consumers are right to remain wary of continued consolidation. It’s true that putting more players into Comcast’s league could keep Kabletown’s influence under control, but it is even more true that consumers need more competition in the marketplace, not less.

The competition situation is already pretty abysmal in most of the country, and every single merger makes it that much worse.

Bright House Emerges as a Player in the New Cable Drama [Wall Street Journal]