No one less than John Malone, the wily, tax-avert billionaire who all but created the cable TV business, suggested that Comcast (CMCSA - Get Report) could merge with Charter Communications (CHTR - Get Report) .
In a typically freewheeling interview held earlier this month at Lions Gate Entertainment's (LGF) investor day, Malone said that if a Trump administration did ease antitrust oversight, a megamerger between the country's two largest cable TV and internet providers is entirely possible.
"I've spent almost my entire career trying to consolidate the U.S. cable business, and it's a question politically," said Malone, who long ago earned the moniker Cable Cowboy. "I mean, one could contemplate in a Trump administration maybe Comcast and Charter could merge; I don't know, but there'll be a lot of synergy, right?"
Yes, there would be synergy. But maybe too much synergy.
Truth be told, a merger of Comcast and Charter would have a hard time winning government approval even under the corporate-friendly government of Donald Trump. Not only is Comcast the country's largest cable TV operator with 23 million subscribers, the new Charter is roughly the same size, having acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks last year.
"The new Charter is even bigger than what was Time Warner Cable," said Robert Routh, media analyst at FBN Securities. "If they couldn't do it before, there's no way in hell they'd be successful buying it now."
So, what might happen otherwise?
Malone's comment warrants inspection given that Verizon (VZ - Get Report) , which has largely become a wireless operator having sold most of its landlines to Frontier Communications (FTR - Get Report) , reportedly has approached Liberty Media (LMCA) CEO Greg Maffei about acquiring Charter. (Affiliate Liberty Broadband (LBRDA - Get Report) has a roughly 25% stake in Charter, according to a Dec. 30 regulatory filing.) Such a merger would combine the country's second-largest cable TV and internet operator with the largest wireless provider.
But does that make sense? AT&T, after all, is buying Time Warner because it wants content. It no longer wants to simply be a dumb pipe. For Verizon, a deal with Comcast might ultimately be more attractive given that it would combine a national wireless operator with a huge content company, NBCUniversal.
The lack of a wireless business has been the largest and most obvious hole in Comcast's operations, despite plans to start a wireless service later this year that cobbles together millions of its own Wi-Fi hotspots in public spaces and peoples' homes with an agreement to use parts of Verizon's wireless spectrum.
"That deal makes real sense," Routh said. "Then you're talking complimentary services, and Comcast has content. Charter is a great business, but it has no content. If Verizon's goal is to compete with AT&T, then they need content, and Comcast is a much better fit -- if Verizon could pull it off."
Comcast declined to comment. Verizon could not immediately be reached for comment.
Back before the FCC rejected Comcast's bid to buy Time Warner Cable in April 2015, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts was making the case that a merger would go a long way toward resolving the biggest problem in U.S. communications: getting higher internet speeds into homes, especially in rural and lower-income homes. A company with greater scale, Roberts argued at the time, would be much better equipped to deliver next-generation high-speed broadband to households and businesses.
Of course, that proposed deal was rejected by both the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission on the grounds that a combined company would have far too much clout with advertisers and content producers such as CBS (CBS - Get Report) and AMC Networks (AMCX - Get Report) .
Conversely, a Comcast-Verizon deal would be similar to AT&T buying Time Warner: pipes plus content. In the same way that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson argues that buying Time Warner is a "vertical merger," Roberts could do the same with Verizon.
But that's if John Malone doesn't get in the way.