Sexy European Suitor May Be Looking To Woo Charter Into Another Merger

Summertime fling fantasies aren’t just for libidinous teens at camp. European telecom giant Altice, which recently purchased Cablevision and Suddenlink in the U.S., is reportedly gazing across the campfire and into the eyes of another potential American mating partner: Charter.

Sources tell Reuters that Altice is in “the early stages of working on an offer” to snap up Charter.

In typical Reuters fashion, it downplays the import of such a merger saying only that it “would build more scale” in the U.S. for the companies. It’s a little more than that: A merger of Altice and Charter would likely create a cable/internet operation that surpasses Comcast to become the nation’s largest.

Charter, since buying up Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in 2016, has been within a couple million customers of Comcast’s number. Adding another 5 million or so from Altice would put it over the top.

Who the heck is Altice?

Altice is not currently a very well-known brand in the U.S., though that’s changing fast.

Internationally, however, it’s another story. Altice has been snapping up smaller telecom providers, largely but not only in France since 2002 and now serves more than 50 million phone, internet, and TV customers around the world.

Altice only began to take major steps into the U.S. market in 2015, when it acquired Suddenlink, at the time a smaller cable company serving roughly 1.5 million customers. A few months later Altice also acquired Cablevision (Optimum), which serves several million customers mostly in or near New York City (and a few hundred thousand in the western states).

Altice is now the fourth-largest cable company in the U.S., serving almost 5 million customers. (Comcast and Charter are far and away the largest two; Cox Communications is third.) The company plans to unify all its acquisitions, both in the U.S. and abroad, under a single Altice logo and brand, but isn’t expected to finish that project until sometime in 2018.

The company went public earlier this year, with a well-received IPO in late June.

It seems to be merger mania season.

“Altice wants to buy Charter” is just the latest in a long, long line of merger talks that’s been spinning up this summer — and not the first to involve Charter, either. The company has come up frequently of late:

Charter is not alone; Sprint, T-Mobile, Comcast, and Verizon have all been part of some merger rumor or another so far this year.

Analysts, however, predicted — or perhaps even openly encouraged — this wave of merger mania. We were barely more than a week past the 2016 election when investors giddily started the matchmaking about who could leap into metaphorical bed with whom, given the expectations that 2017 would bring a business-friendly and regulation-hostile administration.

The combinations investors mulled over included basically every pairing you can think of among the major internet companies (including the mobile phone ones). And while none of the players have as yet inked an actual deal with anyone, it doesn’t appear to be for lack of trying.

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