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Marking a significant departure from its recent practice, Cablevision Systems (CVC) said last week that it would hand over almost $1.4bn in cash and stock for Bresnan Communications. The deal by the Dolan gang is their first major telecom acquisition since they picked up a portion of Tele-Communications in 1998. And they certainly paid up for Bresnan.

Cablevision’s offer values Bresnan at about 3.4 times trailing revenue and just over 8x projected 2010 cash flow, according to our understanding. On a per-subscriber basis, the acquirer is paying $4,500 a head. Across the board, that’s a far richer valuation – in some cases, twice as rich – than fellow telco RCN got in its take-private in March. Buyout shop ABRY Partners paid $1.2bn for RCN, or roughly 1.6x trailing revenue (on an enterprise value basis) and $2,800 per subscriber.

Given the size of this deal, along with the fact that Cablevision used equity in the purchase, we don’t expect the Bresnan transaction to signal the beginning of a shopping spree. Indeed, Cablevision executives maintain that they are not looking for additional properties. After all, Cablevision doesn’t need to buy more systems – the Tele-Communications acquisition gave it sufficient economies of scale. The Bresnan buy is simply a rare opportunity to obtain upgraded systems with strong growth potential.

M&A: Cable comparison

Date announced
Acquirer Target Deal value Price-to-sales multiple
March 5, 2010 ABRY Partners RCN $1.2bn 1.6
June 14, 2010 Cablevision Systems Bresnan Communications $1.4bn 3.4*

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase *451 Group Estimate

Source: Cablevision's Bresnan Acquisition: Breaking the Mold