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In Perspective - Big League Chew

Mon, 01/31/2011 - 7:35pm
Brian Santo, Editor-in-Chief

Comcast is now a $50 billion company.

Right after the Comcast-NBC Universal deal got final approval, for the first time in, like, forever, financial analysts publicly stated that a cable company might be undervalued. That’s Wall Street’s way of saying that the conditions the Federal Communications Commission imposed were inconsequential.

Brian SantoThus encouraged, Wall Street will be looking at putting AT&T, Time Warner Cable or Verizon together with Disney-ABC or CBS Corp. Doesn’t mean it will happen, but they’ll push it as far as they can go.

It will also be interesting to watch how the issue of retransmission fees will play out now. Will Comcast be any more willing to pay programmers’ escalating fees now that escalating fees will improve its own bottom line? Will the cable industry’s unified front against those rapacious programmers crack when one of those programmers is the biggest cable company in the land?

Comcast has indicated it’s likely to let Hulu live, and why not? The company that might have problems is Netflix, and it was never because Comcast might discriminate against Netflix on its broadband pipes. As Netflix shifts over to streaming everything, NBC and Universal will be able to charge more for their content (which they’d do whether owned by Comcast or not), as will many other content owners. That will push Netflix toward raising prices. The question is whether Netflix is compelled to raise prices to the point where it ceases to be a competitive alternative. So much for FCC conditions aimed at preserving over-the-top competitors.

Finally, the ramifications of the obvious haven’t been discussed much: Comcast diversified beyond cable and is now a $50 billion company. Its peers are now other media conglomerates, such as Disney and Sony, and other $50 billion companies, such as Microsoft, Marathon Oil and Goldman Sachs. General Electric, the fourth-largest U.S. public company, retains a minority interest in NBC Universal, which means GE owns a pretty sizable chunk of Comcast now.

It will be interesting to see how the cable industry is affected now that its most successful member has jumped to the big leagues.

E-Mail: brian.santo@advantagemedia.com

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