PwC: Deal Markets to Heat Up in 2016

Total deal value in the U.S. Entertainment, Media & Communications (EMC) sector was up 13% to $149 billion in 2015, a 13% increase led mostly by cable transactions, and the pace is expected to continue in the current year, according to a report by research gamt PricewaterhouseCoopers.

While total deal volume was down about 7% in 2015 – to 818 announced deals from 886 in 2014 – the size of each deal was bigger, according to PwC’s U.S. Entertainment, Media & Communications (EMC) Deal Insights. Cable deals provided the bulk of 2015 deal value, while advertising and marketing goosed it. And though Q4 was one of the slowest merger-and-acquisition  quarters in recent history, PwC said it believes momentum is strong for the future.

Two megadeals – Charter’s pending purchases of Time Warner Cable ($56 billion, minus debt) and Bright House Networks ($11 billion) – accounted for 45% ($67 billion) of the total deal value for the year. And though there was a slowdown in the second half of the year, PwC said it could be attributed to an overall wait-and-see approach, as previously announced deals await regulatory approval; tightened access to debt markets; overall uncertainty around the broader macroeconomic environment; and resolution on industry-specific activities, such as spectrum auctions.

Here’s what PwC believes is in store for the markets in 2016:

Advertising & Marketing: Year-over-year deal volume within advertising and marketing increased more than any other EMC sub-sector, as underlying fundamentals in this space remained strong. However, despite a 13% increase in 2015 deal volume, there was a steep decline in deal values, down $9.7 billion from $12.3 billion in 2014 to $2.7 billion in 2015. Given the continued shift to digital and the insatiable appetite to consume content across multiple devices, those with engaging mobile and social advertising solutions are proving to be attractive acquisition targets.

Broadcasting: Deal volumes in the broadcasting sector declined for another year, down 42% in 2015 compared to 2014, following mass consolidation in the local television broadcasting space in 2013 and part of 2014. In 2015, there were only two large TV broadcasting groups making multiple acquisitions during the period, compared to six players in the prior year. Despite a decline in deal activity, deal values were up from $4 billion in 2014 to $5.4 billion, driven primarily by Nexstar’s bid for Media General for $4.6B.

While some baseline activity level is expected to continue (like Sinclair’s purchase of the Tennis Channel for $350 million in January 2016), PwC doesn’t expect significant deal volumes in this sector in the coming year due to the recent consolidation in this sub-sector over the last several years and  FCC ownership limits. Any activity will likely be driven by individual or small groups of owned-and-operated television stations The one unknown is what broadcasters  will do with capital raised from the sale of spectrum in the upcoming FCC auctions.

Cable: After a headline-making first half, deal activity within the cable sector slowed significantly in the second half of 2015. Absent the megadeals, the sector had a quiet year, which may be attributed to cable companies waiting to see if certain 2015 transactions meet regulatory approval. If approved, this could send a signal to the market that further consolidation would be necessary to maintain a competitive marketplace. PwC expects additional M&A as mid-tier cable players look to expand their footprint in adjacent geographies, taking advantage of potential synergies.

Communications: Despite a 10% decline in communications deal volume, deal value increased by 38% to $22.2 billion in 2015. The path forward centers around two very pressing topics: distribution and content. The level of 2016 deal activity may be somewhat dependent on the outcome of industry-wide events, such as the next round of spectrum auctions scheduled to commence in March 2016. PwC believes those companies whose service offerings improve the operating efficiency and capabilities of the underlying network will remain attractive M&A targets.