Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Charter Cable to Buy TimeWarner

When Comcast shelved its attempted merger with TimeWarner Cable, it would have been reckless to assume it was over. These companies swap namesakes so often it's difficult to remember who owns who.  

It didn't take long for one of the internet's earliest powerhouses, and a familiar badge in the TimeWarner lexicon, to make similar headlines. A couple weeks after Comcast's announcement, Verizon announced it would be purchasing AOL for more than $4B.

AOL, once "so easy to use" it was #1, failed to recognize the importance of its broadband internet provision and continued to invest in its interface, unique hardware, and proprietary access. They were the Rolls Royce of internet access right up to the time that were shopping for a Prius. When everyone went to cable, AOL fell on its face.

But over the last few years, AOL has been reinventing itself. Focusing on the advertisement industry and live mobile streaming, AOL has proven itself a unique entity once again. Couple that with Verizon's own mobile division, and the inevitable leap to competitive mobile data, the pairing makes sense. 

What doesn't make sense is Big Cable's continued commitment to solely delivering content via hardwire. Just as AOL ignored the impending leap to cable, fiber, and broadband, Big Cable is ignoring the next great leap to mobile wifi. It's shortsighted to look at the big screen in the family living room and assume there will always be a market for paid cable. There are kids in the basement watching CollegeHumor and YouTube on their T-Mobile data plans, kids that will continue to get their content from tablets when they go to college in lieu of purchasing their own cable bundles through the dorm.

AOL fixated on the large PC in the family study, ignoring the rapid growth of cable internet provisions and the then-emerging smartphones, and they learned their lesson the hard way. 

Big Cable seems bent on learning the same hard lessons. Today it was announced that Charter Cable will be purchasing TimeWarner Cable for $55B, an excess of more than $10B what Comcast was prepared to spend on a merger. Given Verizon's move to buy uniquely mobile content with AOL; Comcast, TimeWarner, and Charter seem committed to a Goliath complex, finding their fight through consolidation rather than innovation or unique and timely acquisitions.

For Philadelphia, Comcast still reigns supreme as the nation's largest cable provider. But as AOL once proved, telecommunications is not a stable and finite utility like electricity and water. Technologies evolve, and a telecom company's commitment to customers and current technology needs to be consistently paired with the inevitable emergence of new technologies, as well as customers' thirst for more and their ability to find it with or without a cable box.

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