Comcast’s decision to swoop in and acquire Time Warner Cable — which was being pursued by Charter Communications — makes a good deal of practical sense. As they say in sports circles, you can’t coach size.
Just please, don’t try to spin, position or defend the proposed merger by arguing about the wonderful benefits it will yield to consumers.
Granted, some of the warnings already being sounded regarding the anti-competitive and monopoly aspects of a single company controlling nearly 30% of the cable/satellite/telco market risk appear overblown. While further consolidation threatens to put more of a squeeze on smaller and independent outfits, there are relatively few of them left as things currently stand. (Sorry, Tennis Channel.)
The same largely applies to Hollywood’s talent guilds, which learned the hard way that today’s deep-pocketed, diversified handful of entertainment behemoths are better equipped to endure a strike. So when the Writers Guild of America said in a statement, “Comcast’s proposed merger with Time Warner Cable is bad for everyone: content creators, programmers, suppliers, and consumers,” it’s really just worse for everyone; because for talent, it was bad already.
On the plus side, new technology could make a lot of these issues relatively moot in a few years. In fact, the most surprising part of these cable and local-TV mega-deals — such as Tribune’s and Gannett’s expansion — is all the money being bet on older forms of distribution, when everything seems to be heading toward shooting programming into the home without all the fuss or the four-hour waits for installation. It’s just that nobody knows when that will be.
Cut to the chase, though, and the recent wave of merger mania across various media properties — including cable, TV stations and advertising agencies — is about one thing, and one thing only: leverage.
This is about big companies sitting at the bargaining table trying to beat the snot out of each other and protect their profit margins. Comcast wants to be able to negotiate with networks or station groups (emboldened in part by CBS’ push for retransmission cash, and its humbling of Time Warner Cable in their standoff) and push back hard about the prospect of cutting yourself off from so many subscribers.
Consumers might be the end users in this chess match, but they’re far removed from the battle. And rallying cries about seeking to protect them from higher fees — as distributors have sought to do from a public-relations standpoint during blackouts — are so much nonsense.
Think of this as one of those Japanese monster movies, where Godzilla and King Kong, or the green and brown gargantuas, wage a frenzied battle, crushing little paper-mache buildings. In the heat of the moment, even the relatively good monsters become semi-indifferent to what’s happening around them.
Like the humans in those movies, consumers are at best interested bystanders, and at worst, collateral damage.
Maybe if they could be motivated to all band together — instead of being generally apathetic about such things — they’d have a little more leverage.