The mega-merger of Discovery and AT&T’s WarnerMedia has turned the spotlight on Comcast, with speculation that it could acquire another media firm to buttress its entertainment offerings. As consumers flee traditional TV for online streaming, Comcast and its rivals have raced to bulk up their content offerings or get out of the business.
AT&T’s spin-off of WarnerMedia comes just weeks after Verizon sold its media division, including brands Yahoo and AOL. That leaves Comcast as the last giant delivering TV, internet, and shows under one roof.
Some industry experts say Comcast’s content library is too small to compete with such “top tier” streaming services as Netflix, Amazon, and Disney. The soon-to-be-named Discovery/Warner company could join that top rank. Comcast launched its Peacock streaming service last year and had 42 million sign-ups as of March, but experts say it isn’t in the big league of streaming services yet.
“If I’m Comcast, I can’t wait a year,” said Tim Hanlon, CEO of the Chicago-based media consultants Vertere Group. “I think you have to seriously think, ‘What do we need now to evolve ourselves into the top tier?’”
But others expect Comcast to sit tight. Analyst Craig Moffett, of the MoffettNathanson media and communications research firm, said Comcast should continue to develop Peacock, using its coverage of the upcoming Summer Olympics to lure viewers.
“Peacock, in its current form, doesn’t stand a chance of being one of the giants alongside Netflix and Disney Plus,” he said. “But that’s a problem to be solved down the road. What they have to do first is turn Peacock into a relevant service.”
Several analysts said Comcast would be a better fit for WarnerMedia, suggesting that the Philadelphia company could still try to disrupt the $43 billion deal with Discovery. Combining Comcast’s NBCUniversal studios with WarnerMedia would give the company a nearly 30% share of the domestic box office, narrowing the gap to Disney’s 40%, noted Bloomberg analysts Geetha Ranganathan and Kevin Near.
“A tie-up between Comcast’s NBC and Warner would be far more transformative in creating a media behemoth that could take on Disney and Netflix,” they wrote in a note to clients. Comcast could also go after Discovery instead of WarnerMedia, they added.
But a merger with WarnerMedia, or even ViacomCBS, could run into regulatory hurdles.
The idea of Comcast buying WarnerMedia’s CNN could be a non-starter, for example, because Comcast already owns MSNBC, a rival 24-hour cable news network. The CBS network also could present antitrust issues. Comcast and a potential partner could divest similar assets. But there’s also the problem of Comcast, a cable service provider, owning a larger percentage of cable networks.
“There are a whole host of problems that would be much more significant for Comcast than they would for Discovery,” Moffett said.
Hanlon, the media consultant, said Peacock could use live sports to distinguish itself. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) or LionsGate, which owns Starz, could also be in play. MGM has reportedly been in talks to sell itself to Amazon. The New York Times reported that Comcast considered buying MGM studios, but found the asking price too high.
Comcast still hasn’t proven its strategy of owning NBCUniversal has real merit since buying it from General Electric in 2011. There’s been no real synergy between the cable business and the media business, though Comcast has managed NBCUniversal “brilliantly,” Moffett said.
“It is clearer than ever that these assets would be worth more apart than together,” Moffett said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that Comcast should sell or has to sell NBC. But it does mean that shareholders would almost certainly benefit by having two separately traded securities.”