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Cablevision Won't Get Rid of James Dolan That Easy

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- On news of the abrupt departure of Cablevision System's (CVC) chief operating operator Tom Rutledge, speculation swirled that the company could be up for sale with the likes of Verizon (VZ), Time Warner Cable (TWC) or even Comcast (CMCSA) waiting in the wings to snap it up.

But Rutledge's resignation won't spark an immediate sale while the current chief executive and chairman James L. Dolan - part of the company's founding family and one of its largest shareholders -- remains in power.

That's because the Dolan's enjoy running Cablevision, despite what some see as the family's lack of ability to do so for the enjoyment of customers or the profit of shareholders.

Starting in 2005, the family embarked on multiple $10 billion efforts to take the company private in debt-fueled leveraged buyout deals. However, after the recession and a slow growth outlook for Cablevision's voice, video and broadband packages - in addition to a Verizon's FiOS expansion in the New York area-- the Dolan's have been more prone to let go of pieces of their media empire rather than the entire company.

In 2010, Cablevision spun stakes in Madison Square Garden (MSG) and this year the company spun its ownership of AMC Networks (AMCX), both in billion-dollar plus IPO's done at opportunistic prices. MSG is up nearly 50% to its IPO price while AMCX is up 2%.

It's unclear if Rutledge's abrupt departure would get the Dolan's to consider completely selling out, especially since the company's shares are in the basement. "We think that the 41% decline year-to-date in the stock price makes it a sub-optimal time to sell the company from the perspective of the Dolan family, which could make it difficult to reach an agreement on price, particularly given potential buyers' concern over the organic growth potential of CVC's business," writes Bryan Kraft of Evercore Partners.

On news of Rutledge's resignation, Cablevision shares slumped nearly 15%, putting year-to-date declines of over 64% for 2011. For a family-run company that timed previous spins in 2010 and 2011 opportunistically, they may not be excited to sell at its current deflated valuation.

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Potential buyers may also not be too excited about Cablevision even if it may be opportunistically priced. Cablevision's growing Optimum online business currently has an industry lagging revenue per user and its New York-area "triple play" package market share lead is being challenged by Verizon.

"We see no near-term or medium-term catalyst that justifies a premium valuation," writes Jessica Reif Cohen of Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Overall, a bid by a logical acquirer such as Time Warner Cable would be contingent on a belief that that a takeover could create cost synergies that would outweigh slower revenue growth and market share losses, not to mention a premium bid to the company's present share price.

"[Rutledge's] departure is not necessarily synonymous with any near-term Time Warner Cable bid or private equity deal, and may detract from topping the price given Rutledge's aura," writes Matthew Harrigan of Wunderlich Securities.

Without synergies, its unlikely that industry-leader Comcast will be particularly interested in Cablevision's unstable New York-area foothold.

Stock quotes in this article: CVC, MSG, TWC, VZ, T, CMCSA, AMCX 

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