Europe's Altice buys US Cablevision in $17.7bn deal

17th September 2015, Comments 0 comments

Franco-Israeli media magnate Patrick Drahi's telecoms giant Altice announced Thursday a $17.7 billion (15.6-billion-euro) takeover of the US cable operator Cablevision.

The agreement could accelerate the reshaping of the pay TV and broadband sector at a time when US consumers are increasingly "cutting the cord" on pricey traditional cable services and turning to streaming content providers such as Netflix and Hulu.

The European and US groups have entered a "definitive agreement" for the deal, creating the fourth largest cable operation in the US market, Altice said in a statement.

"The strategy of Altice in the large and highly strategic US market is reinforced with the acquisition of Cablevision," Drahi said.

The takeover of Cablevision, which was created in 1973 and had remained under the control of the billionaire Dolan family, gives the Luxembourg-based Altice access to the lucrative New York market.

"As a family business, we are proud to be entrusted by the Dolan family with the ownership of Cablevision and look forward to continuing the pioneering path they have paved for us," Drahi said.

The takeover is priced at $34.90 for each Cablevision share, well above the closing price on Wednesday of $28.54 a share.

Shares in Altice were up 2.69 percent at 24.99 euros in afternoon trading in Amsterdam.

Deutsche Bank said in a research note that while Altice "has developed a track record of successful cost cutting", it may struggle to find targeted synergies "in the US cable market where content costs are typically more expensive than in Europe".

Altice said it would finance the purchase with $3.3 billion of its own cash and $14.5 billion in new and existing debt at Cablevision.

Cablevision offers its Optimum digital cable television service in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

The company, based in New York state, had more than 15,000 employees as of end-2014.

- Big US ambitions -

Last year, Cablevision notched revenues of $6.46 billion and net income of $311 million.

Altice's portfolio includes the French newspaper Liberation and the L'Express weekly news magazine, as well as the Israeli TV station i24 News.

And for French cable and mobile operator Numericable-SFR, Drahi last year had waged and won a high-profile battle to acquire SFR, France's second biggest telecoms company for a total of more than 17 billion euros.

The 52-year-old media tycoon this year even tried to buy his competitor for SFR, Bouygues Telecom, but his 10-billion-euro offer was turned down.

As for the US market, Altice had already entered it in May when buying 70 percent of Suddenlink Communications, the number seven US cable company, for $9.1 billion.

Drahi's group is aiming to eventually generate half of its revenue in the United States, against the 15 percent estimated by year's end.

That implies that Drahi, who is worth an estimated $14.9 billion, according to Forbes, may have his sights on other media targets in the United States.

Sources in the banking industry say those targets could include telecoms giant Verizon's FiOS cable and Internet service, Cox Communications or Mediacom.

T-Mobile US, the American subsidiary of the German mobile phone company that is in search of a buyer, has contacted Drahi but there was no immediate follow-up, according to sources familiar with the conversations.

The two leaders of Altice, board president Drahi and chief executive officer Dexter Goei, were expected to take part in a huge telecoms conference in New York on Thursday. The group, which was founded in 2001, has 40,000 employees.

© 2015 AFP

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