In the days after the $78.7 billion Charter- Time Warner Cable deal was unveiled, many investors and analysts were watching John Malone, the cable chessmaster, kingmaker and Liberty Global chairman who will become the single largest shareholder in a new cable-TV giant dubbed New Charter.
Malone’s history in the cable industry is the stuff of legend: a young, East Coastraised, Ivy League-educated whiz who teamed up with a bankrupt cotton-seed salesman named Bob Magness in the 1970s to build the largest cable operator in the U.S. at the time: Tele-Communications Inc.
His return to the U.S. cable industry with Charter, taking on No. 1 Comcast for lead position — after assembling the largest collection of cable-TV operations in the world — is nothing short of astonishing in the world of business.
But all eyes are on the wrong man. The executive who will have a far greater impact on the success of this new behemoth: Charter CEO Tom Rutledge.
Malone is a big thinker, industry philosopher and wise counselor, but Rutledge will have the more difficult job: to execute on the promises made to investors, customers and regulators.
Well-respected as a veteran operator, Rutledge will need every bit of that credibility as he makes the rounds in Washington to sell the deal to regulators. This is no slam dunk.
After the collapse of Comcast’s deal, the new deal forces the government to draw the line on how big “too big” is for Washington. The merger already faces opposition from anti-consolidation groups fearful of New Charter’s size, and there will be business-crimping conditions.
Rutledge will also be on the hook for $800 million in cost synergies, coming from programming, packaging, equipment and other overhead expenses.
And the New Charter will be forced to lead where the industry still falls short, according to several surveys, only this time it’s mission-critical: Customer service.
As larger competitors such as Google, Amazon and Netflix get traction with their net-neutrality message, Rutledge will have a bigger long-term goal: he’ll have to tell the right message, one that gets everyone listening, not just watching. )