Despite fears of cord-cutting, paid-TV providers could make great near-term investments. The industry looks to be on the verge of a massive era of consolidation, and that could benefit shareholders.
In particular, it’s possible that DIRECTV (NASDAQ:DTV) could merge with DISH Network Corp. (NASDAQ:DISH), while Time Warner Cable Inc (NYSE:TWC) could join up with Charter Communications, Inc. (NASDAQ:CHTR).
The trend towards cord-cutting
In theory, paid-TV providers could be in for a grim future. Increasingly, consumers are opting to forgo expensive subscriptions in favor of Internet alternatives like Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) and Hulu.
To date, this trend has yet to fully materialize -- cable subscription numbers have remained relatively stable. Yet, among members of the millennial generation (18-34 years old), cord cutting is very real.
Analyst Craig Moffett expects cord cutting to accelerate in the coming years, although he isn't worried too much about the cable industry. For the most part, cable companies are also broadband Internet providers, and so Moffett argues that they can make up for any lost cable revenue with higher Internet bills.
The creation of a sole satellite provider?
But for the satellite companies, that isn't the case. Neither DIRECTV (NASDAQ:DTV) nor DISH Network Corp. (NASDAQ:DISH) are major players in the Internet service industry, instead relying almost entirely on paid TV.
DIRECTV (NASDAQ:DTV) admits as much in its 10-K, noting that almost the entirety of its income comes from its some 20 million satellite TV subscribers. DISH Network Corp. (NASDAQ:DISH) is largely the same, with its 14 million subscribers accounting for nearly all of the company’s revenue.
In addition to those 14 million subscribers, DISH Network Corp. (NASDAQ:DISH) also has some spectrum. Since 2008, DISH has spent over $3 billion on spectrum and spectrum-related assets, though has yet to monetize them.
It might have been able to do that if it was successful in acquiring Sprint Nextel Corporation (NYSE:S) and/or Clearwire Corporation (NASDAQ:CLWR). But with that deal falling through, perhaps DISH should consider a merger with DIRECTV (NASDAQ:DTV) instead.
At least, that’s what John Malone believes. The chairman of Liberty Media Corp (NASDAQ:LMCA) said as much in an interview on Thursday. Given Malone’s influence in the industry, it was enough to move shares of DIRECTV (NASDAQ:DTV) by 3%.
Malone notes that by combining, the two companies would be able to negotiate better deals for content. Both companies have struggled with content costs in recent years, with DirecTV temporarily losing Viacom, Inc. (NASDAQ:VIAB) shows while DISH Network fought a protracted battle with AMC.
Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications
Charter has about 4 million paying subscribers, while Time Warner Cable Inc (NYSE:TWC) has about 12 million. Combined, the company would still be far smaller than a merger of DISH Network Corp. (NASDAQ:DISH) and DirecTV, although unlike the satellite providers, it would still be a player in the Internet game.
Of course, if it came to fruition, Malone’s Charter/Time Warner Cable Inc (NYSE:TWC) entity would benefit from the merger of DirecTV and DISH Network.