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Comcast to offer $45b for rival Time Warner Cable

NEW YORK — Comcast Corp. is expected to announce Thursday an agreement to acquire Time Warner Cable Inc. for more than $45 billion in stock, a deal that would combine the biggest and second-biggest cable television operators in the country.

For Comcast, which completed its acquisition of television and movie powerhouse NBC Universal from General Electric Co. less than a year ago, the latest deal would be its second big act to transform the US media landscape.

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And the merger is almost certain to end a protracted takeover battle that Charter Communications has been waging for Time Warner Cable.

For Time Warner Cable, the deal provides a neat solution to its problems. It would receive just about the $160-a-share price it said was its true value, and possibly more. It would no longer have to slog ahead with a turnaround plan being run by a new chief executive, Rob Marcus. And the deal would allow it to become part of a company that is already the dominant force in cable television services.

Despite combining the two largest cable operators in the country, a merger may have little impact on consumers. Comcast, which is the dominant cable company in Massachusetts, and Time Warner Cable compete in very few markets. As a result, few consumers will see their choices of cable operators reduced.

Nonetheless, regulators will surely look carefully at the impact on consumers and may also focus on whether the combined company will have additional power in negotiations with cable networks, a recent source of tension in the industry.

Comcast has about 22 million television customers, according to the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. Time Warner Cable has about 11 million video subscribers, according to people familiar with the company.

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In a bid to appease antitrust regulators, Comcast is expected to say it is willing to divest 3 million of Time Warner Cable’s subscribers.

It was not immediately clear if Comcast would propose certain markets to divest, but shedding those subscribers should keep Comcast with less than a 30 percent national market share for pay television, a level the company believes will satisfy antitrust regulators.

Comcast, which is based in Philadelphia, has 129,000 workers in the United States, including 4,300 in Massachusetts.

Under terms of the deal, Time Warner Cable shareholders would receive 2.875 shares of newly issued Comcast common stock for each of their shares, people briefed on the matter said Wednesday.

Based on Comcast’s closing price of $55.24 Wednesday, that values each Time Warner Cable share at about $158.82 each.

The deal is set to be announced Thursday morning. It is subject to approval by shareholders of both firms. Because it is an all-stock deal with newly issued shares, Comcast will not have to take on new debt.

Should a deal be completed, Time Warner Cable shareholders will own about one-quarter of the combined company.

For Comcast, the deal, extending its leadership in the cable industry, is another transformative step in the evolution of what is now America’s most influential media company.

Charter, however, is left in the lurch. Charter is one of the nation’s smaller cable operators but had big ambitions to compete with Comcast.

Last year Liberty Media, the conglomerate backed by billionaire John C. Malone, acquired 27 percent of Charter and urged the company to pursue deals, a process that could have led Malone back to the heights of American cable, an industry he once ruled as head of TCI, then the country’s largest operator.

Beginning last year, Charter made overtures to Time Warner Cable, privately offering a succession of higher prices, all of which were rejected.

Last month, Charter went public with an offer of $132.50 per share for Time Warner Cable, which Marcus dismissed as inadequate.

He countered by saying the company would consider a bid of $160 per share, which Comcast has now nearly matched.

Although the companies are set to announce the deal, it could still come undone. Shareholders of either company could vote it down, though that seems unlikely.

Charter could still play spoiler with a new bid, although that seems unlikely too, given its limited financial resources.

Or Comcast shares could collapse, leading Time Warner Cable shareholders to shun a deal.

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