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Cablevision to Be Sold to France’s Altice for $17.7 Billion

Cablevision is poised to be acquired by French telecom group Altice in a $17.7 billion deal that marks the latest consolidation of cable ownership in the U.S.

News of the deal was reported Wednesday by the New York Times and other outlets. Industry sources said the deal came together relatively quickly and was expected to be unveiled as early as Thursday. A rep for Cablevision did not immediately return a request for comment.

Altice made waves in the U.S. earlier this year when it swooped in to buy mid-sized U.S. cable operator Suddenlink, a purchase that surprised the domestic TV biz.

Cablevision is the nation’s fourth-largest cable operator with 2.8 million subscribers, concentrated in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The company has long been a pillar and pioneer of the cable business, found in 1973 with 1,500 customers on Long Island. The company is controlled by the Dolan family, which has deep roots in the New York area with holdings that range from the New York Knicks and New York Rangers sports teams to Madison Square Garden to the AMC Networks cable group.

The Dolan family has moved to separate its cable system holdings from other assets, spinning of the sports teams and MSG into a separate entity and AMC Networks as a separate publicly held entity. But the sale of its cable company marks the end of an era for the company led by founder and chairman Charles Dolan, who was one of the forces behind the growth of the industry in the 1970s and ’80s.

Altice has been making waves in the past few years on both sides of the Atlantic under the leadership of French-Israeli mogul Patrick Drahi, who has been on a telecom acquisition spree in Europe. Altice in May bought 70% of Suddenlink, which has about 1.5 million subscribers, in a $9.1 billion deal that was seen as a high price tag and an indication of Drahi’s interest in breaking into the U.S. market.

Altice also made a run at Time Warner Cable this year before Charter Communications set its $57 billion acquisition of the nation’s second-largest cable operator.

Cablevision had been seen as a prime acquisition target, with speculation that Comcast would make a run at it after its attempt to buy Time Warner Cable was squashed by federal regulators.

Cablevision CEO James Dolan, son of Charles Dolan, signaled the family’s interest in selling in May when he remarked at the NCTA’s annual confab during a panel session with other cable titans that Cablevision should merge with Time Warner Cable.

“I’m sure I’ll talk to (TW Cable) about the value of it, because I think it’s there. I think we can prove it and we’ll see what happens,” Dolan later told CNBC. But days later, Time Warner and Charter tied the knot.

The merger mania among cable operators at a time of dramatic changes in the pay TV landscape has also spurred an renewed focus on the possibility of content heavyweights bulking up in response. Sony Pictures Entertainment, AMC Networks, Starz, Scripps Networks Interactive Discovery Communications, Lionsgate and even CBS and Time Warner are all seen as potential takeover targets (or acquirers in the case of the larger companies) in the coming years.

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