Rumor Mill: SoftBank Still Eyeing Charter
The media merger environment is a lot like middle school: both rely on he-said/she-said gossip that's difficult to ignore.
In today's case of a rumor gone rampant, London newspaper The Times is reporting that Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) owner SoftBank Corp. has bought new shares in Charter Communications Inc. amounting to just shy of 5% of the company's worth. According to The Times, the move is the prelude to a new attempt to merge Sprint and Charter, a deal which has long been discussed, but never formalized in any way. (See Sprint Plus Cable, Still on the Table – Report.)
Here's the kicker, however: The Times story appears to rely on reporting by the site Betaville, which is run by Ben Harrington, a financial reporter and former editor at The Daily Telegraph. The Betaville report lies behind a subscription paywall, though, and even more importantly, it's categorized as a "RARE" alert by Harrington. Harrington defines posts as RARE when they're based on "Market gossip that hasn't been tested through all formal journalistic channels (public relations executives, bankers etc)." He also adds in his definition that any rumors labeled as RARE "might be total codswallop but then again there may be something in it, so it's worth airing on Betaville."
In other words, the SoftBank/Charter report could be true, but it's far from a sure thing.
While there is high-level justification for a merger between a cable operator and a wireless carrier, the details get hairy when an actual deal is in play. Charter, for example, already has an MVNO deal in place with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and has been very aggressive in laying out a strategic plan for its future in the wireless industry. At the moment, that plan does not include integrating assets from Sprint, but rather on expanding gradually from offering wireless connectivity in consumer homes to merging its WiFi assets with some existing and some new cellular technologies. (See Don't Laugh, Charter Is Testing '6G' Wireless.)
It's also been suggested in the past that Charter CEO Tom Rutledge does not favor a tie-up with Sprint. He might not get the last word on a deal given other financial interests in the company, but his will won't be glossed over either. If Rutledge is against a deal, it will take a lot of handwringing to get a Charter/Sprint merger done.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading