Comcast's old media mistake

Analysts cheer a merger with NBC as "defense" against an online "threat." That kind of thinking will get you killed

Published October 2, 2009 3:03PM (EDT)

In a quickie analysis of the supposed advantages of a Comcast-NBC Universal deal, the Wall Street Journal's Michael Corkery quotes analysts who support the merger "largely because they say it would help protect the cable company from the grave threat of online video." (Italics mine.)

Deutsche Bank, for example, said the move "could improve Comcast's long-term 'defensive positioning in pay T.V.'  (in other words, Comcast could slow the migration of television content to the Internet where it's being distributed free)."

So let me get this straight: Comcast's efforts are being applauded by analysts because they give the cable company a better chance of resisting the irresistible: the steady flow of eyeballs to online video. Does that make any sense at all? Comcast will "slow" the migration of television content to exactly the medium where consumers of entertainment increasingly expect to find it?

In my household, we just canceled cable, and no longer have a functioning television. Speaking as someone who has enjoyed the wonders of cable since my mom signed up for HBO in the late 1970s, the very notion of making such a radical move would have seemed unthinkable to me at almost any point in the last 20 years. But for both my kids, the computer is the primary window on the entertainment universe. They hardly seem deprived. They've got more content options on the Net now than they know what to do with, even excluding their two primary obsessions: Facebook and World of Warcraft.

My analysis of the Comcast-NBC Universal deal? If it doesn't make sense in the context of an online universe where the competitive mandate will be competing against everyone else's free offerings, then it makes no sense at all. Playing defense, in this environment, is an invitation to get slaughtered.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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