Updated to reflect reports that Comcast plans to withdraw its offer for Time Warner Cable.
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Comcast (CMCSA - Get Report) is expected to end its bid to acquire Time Warner Cable (TWC), and could make its withdrawal official as soon as Friday, according to reports from Bloomberg and CNBC. The decision would end one of the most hotly debated corporate mergers in recent history, a proposal that would have given Comcast ownership of 57% of the country's broadband network.
Regulators determined that such a combination would have resulted in higher Internet connections for consumers and obstacles to newer entrants in media and technology. Shares of Philadelphia-based Comcast gained 1.2% to close at $59.49 while Time Warner Cable fell 0.6% to finish Thursday's trading session at $148.76.
If the reports prove to be accurate, Comcast may soon be back shopping for new acquisitions.
The deal appeared dead after staff members of the Federal Communication Commission recommended the deal be reviewed by an administrative law judge, according to the Wall Street Journal. That procedural move is likely to mean a long delay, fueling expectations that Comcast may just walk away from the proposed merger and look for any number of new deals.
Unlike its pursuit of Time Warner Cable, Comcast may turn its focus to bolstering its wireless network in response to consumers moving to Web-based video services such as Netflix (NFLX - Get Report) and Time Warner's (TWX) HBO NOW as opposed to traditional TV.
"The future for Comcast is buying Internet distribution, becoming a broadband company first and foremost rather than a cable-TV company," Porter Bibb, managing partner at MediaTech Partners, a merchant bank focused on media and technology deals, said in a phone interview. "It also needs to be even more of a content provider, and for that there are any number of potential targets."
There are plenty of possible targets for CEO Brian Roberts to pursue in both broadband and content, which would add to his television and film studios at NBC/Universal. Chief among them are CBS (CBS - Get Report) and Viacom (VIAB - Get Report), which are both controlled by Sunmner Redstone, now 91, as well as Scripps Networks (SNI).
Discovery Communications (DISCA - Get Report), Lions Gate Entertainment (LGF) and Starz (STRZA) are also possible targets, though they are controlled in part by John Malone, whose allegiance is with Charter Communications (CHTR - Get Report), a Comcast rival.
Comcast is also likely to shop for more of the wireless spectrum, which is essential for wireless carriers to handle the increasing number of online video services that are replacing pay-TV.
"Charlie Ergen can't use all the spectrum that he's bought, and Comcast certainly sees him as someone who is very valuable," Bibb said.
The likely collapse of the Time Warner Cable deal could actually be liberating for Comcast. For the past 14 months, Roberts and his right-hand man, Executive Vice-President David Cohen, have been treading carefully to avoid upsetting the FCC.
So, while Dish was unveiling Sling TV and Time Warner was launching HBO NOW, Comcast was forced to gingerly navigate the choppy waters of net neutrality, unable to release its own online streaming service or acquire full ownership of Hulu. Comcast also had to quietly watch as Netflix added customers from Oslo to Auckland, New Zealand.
Comcast could also add broadband customers if Charter decides to pursue a deal with Time Warner Cable, and Roberts is given the option to cut side deals for attractive markets.
"There are some markets I think they would really like to own," said Moody's analyst Neil Begley said, indicating that New York and Los Angeles would appeal to Comcast.