Exclusive - Altice eyes U.S. with TWC, Suddenlink buys: sources

By Liana B. Baker, Leila Abboud and Greg Roumeliotis (Reuters) - French telecommunications group Altice SA has held talks to buy Time Warner Cable Inc , and is close to buying smaller peer Suddenlink, moving into the U.S cable market, according to people familiar with the matter. The negotiations with Suddenlink are more advanced and a transaction could be announced later this week, the people said. That deal could be worth $10 billion, including debt, the people added. Time Warner Cable has a market capitalization of $44.5 billion. Since Time Warner Cable's merger with Comcast fell apart last month, Time Warner Cable is also being circled by small rival Charter Communications. If either deal is completed, it would take Altice, which is controlled by French billionaire Patrick Drahi, into the massive cable market of the United States for the first time. Suddenlink would be the first step but Altice could consolidate the U.S. market further, according to one of the sources. Time Warner Cable, which is in large U.S. markets such as New York and Los Angeles, is a much bigger bite for Altice, and it would also face competition from Charter for the asset. Suddenlink is a regional cable company, backed by private-equity firm BC Partners and a Canadian pension fund, which operates in the South and Midwest and has 1.43 million customers. Drahi has turned Altice into a serial acquirer since taking it public in January 2014. Last year alone, the group used its French cable company Numericable to take over the country's second largest mobile carrier SFR, as well as snapping up Portugal Telecom and another operator in the Dominican Republic. These potential U.S. deals could push off a long mooted consolidation in France where Altice has openly said that it would be the natural buyer of number three mobile player Bouygues Telecom . In recent months Bouygues' owner tycoon Martin Bouygues has said his company is dedicated to remaining independent. Altice, which has been on a buying spree concentrated in Europe in the past year, is making fresh inroads into the United States - a market much more competitive and larger than Europe - thereby signifying a shift in strategy and geographical footprint, one of the sources said. Last week, Altice Chief Executive Dexter Goei said the company will "continue to be active in M&A" but has no specific deals to look forward to. BC Partners declined to comment. Suddenlink could not be immediately reached for comment while Time Warner Cable and Altice declined to comment. The Wall Street Journal first reported the deal talks between Altice and Suddenlink. (http://on.wsj.com/1GnegJH) (Reporting by Leila Abboud in Paris, Greg Roumeliotis in New York and Liana B. Baker in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Ankush Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Andrew Hay, Bernard Orr)