It’s official: Time Warner Cable (TWC) has been acquired by Charter Communications in a $55.1 billion deal and will be rebranded as Spectrum.
The deal underscores tectonic shifts in the cable industry as cord-cutting (estimated at 1 percent annually) and competition from alternative providers woo a new generation and redefine the medium.
TWC, the nation’s second-largest cable company, began 25 years ago as the American Television and Communications Company and was acquired by Warner Communications in 1973. TWC resulted from the 1989 merger of Time Inc. and Warner Cable, which launched the company’s first news channel, NY1, in 1992. TWC spun off from Time Warner in 2009.
Since then, TWC has become the brand with the worst customer service in the industry, a big reason for Charter to rebrand. Or, as Ad Age put it, “The brand you love to hate is going away.”
“It’s not surprising Charter wants to rebrand Time Warner Cable,” said David VanAmburg, American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) managing director, to Ad Age. “Charter has scored better than Time Warner Cable in recent years, so it could bode well for Time Warner Cable customers. But the data suggests leaps-and-bounds improvement could be difficult.”
According to the ACSI, TWC scored 51 out of 100, after years of customer dissatisfaction with their service.
“Nobody in the cable industry performs particularly well,” continued VanAmburg. “One merger isn’t going to change structural issues with pricing, infrastructure and battles with content providers. When there’s not a great deal of competition in an industry, you’re not going to get great satisfaction scores.”
Charter also completed its acquisition of the smaller cable provider Bright House Networks. With the three companies combined, Charter now serves over 25 million customers in 41 states.
“One of our first major initiatives in implementing the Charter Playbook is to streamline our product pricing and packaging and introduce our consumer-facing brand, Spectrum,” Charter CEO/Chairman Tom Rutledge emailed employees, according to CNN. “This will be rolled out in a phased approach beginning this fall.”
Charter began pursuit of TWC in May 2015 after Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator, withdrew its bid due to regulatory hurdles.
The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Justice Department mandated the new Charter agree to seven years worth of conditions such as preventing Charter from imposing data caps or usage-based pricing, charging interconnect fees to heavy data users like Netflix, or making exclusive TV deals detrimental to online video providers.
“The data caps rule is huge for consumers, as Comcast now appears to be moving in that direction for all customers,” reports The Verge. “But taken together, all three rules are meant to ensure that Charter, which offers both internet and TV service, doesn’t prevent online TV services from competing.”
Charter and Comcast will now control 70 percent of high-speed internet connections. “It is hard to cheer for further media and broadband consolidation, regardless of what conditions the FCC or DOJ might adopt,” said Public Knowledge Senior Staff Attorney John Bergmayer, in a press release. “However, there is some solace that, if rigorously enforced, these conditions should eliminate the more egregious harms this merger could cause while creating a baseline for acceptable industry behavior.”
“If you look down the road two years from now and look at how programming is sold and packaged,” Rutledge told The Hollywood Reporter, “it will look more like it is now than it will be different.”