But Malone isn't likely to back an aggressive bid for TWC. On the contrary, he is known for patience, particularly when there are no other obvious bidders. In 2010, for instance, investors bid up shares of entertainment company Live Nation in hopes of a better bid from Malone, only to see the shares tumble when it reported weak results.
Indeed, time is probably on Malone's side in the current standoff. Charter, which has been busy rolling out digital cable, will see revenue rise 8 percent in 2014 and 7 percent in 2015, according to consensus estimates. TWC, which has struggled to keep customers recently, is only expected to post a revenue increase of 3 percent in each of those years.
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Certainly, Malone and other Charter investors are likely to take a hit if a deal doesn't materialize. Charter shares have risen about 20 percent since deal speculation began last summer, based partly on hopes for cost savings the company would realize by combining with TWC.
TWC probably has much more to lose. The company's shares have risen 44 percent since last summer while the company steadily reported soft results.
Ultimately, Charter will likely need to add lots of money to its offer. After all, many long-term TWC shareholders probably believe the company can set itself straight eventually. But with little improvement expected in the near term, and Malone unlikely to back a big sweetener, TWC shareholders could grow impatient quickly.
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UPDATED: This story was updated to note that Charter approached Comcast on Wednesday about becoming involved in a TWC deal.
—By CNBC's John Jannarone. Follow him on Twitter