U.S. stock markets are mixed today after a reading of manufacturing activity slowed and fear of conflict in Ukraine increased again.

Markit's "flash" U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index fell from 57.1 a month ago to 55.5 in its first March reading.  

On the international front, Ukraine pulled its troops from Crimea, yielding to Russia, and President Barack Obama proposed excluding Russia from the Group of Eight nations. There's no imminent danger of military conflict, but the battle over Crimea isn't easing quickly and the market is at least a little concerned about potential escalation there.

Still, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) broke just above breakeven in late trading after a day in the red. What's interesting is that the S&P 500 remained down down 0.24% and the Nasdaq Composite had fallen 0.94%. Higher-growth stocks and higher-risk tech stocks are selling off more than blue chips, which isn't surprising given how growth stocks have dominated market returns over the past year.

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Streaming apps like this are the future of media, which Comcast can see coming a mile away. Image owned by The Motley Fool.

Changes in big media
Outside the Dow, the big move of the day is Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) rumored discussions with Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) about a new streaming service. The deal would give an Apple set-top box preferential treatment in ensuring its customers get their cloud-based streaming programs without disruption, much like the deal Comcast recently signed with Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX).  

This could be an important deal for all three companies given the clout Apple and Comcast could have over other distributors. Apple has the customers to make a streaming service work and has coveted a way to deliver streaming content to replace cable. Apple TV was a step in that direction, but the company has long tried to break the grip on cable with subscription content traditionally found on television. It's been adding apps that play live TV, but a deal with Comcast to provide preferential streaming could open up a larger offering to consumers.

For Comcast, this shows the value of the last mile of transmission that it owns and could provide a growth avenue now that cord-cutting is becoming more realistic for consumers. Remember that Comcast owns major content provider NBC Universal, so a deal for streaming with Apple could open new revenue options for NBC Universal as well.

For Netflix, any thought that Apple could offer expanded content or live sports to consumers is scary. Netflix has long been a leader in streaming, but Apple has the device reach and the balance sheet to challenge that dominance. A subscription offering would at least give consumers an alternative to Netflix, which primarily contends with Hulu's subscription service or one-time digital purchases right now.

Apple's shares are up on the rumors today and Netflix is down significantly, but the power in streaming will only shift if deals like this come to fruition and Apple increases its streaming offerings. That's not yet a sure thing, but I wouldn't bet against it right now.

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Travis Hoium manages an account that owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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