Now, as you've heard, the largest of the cable companies, with about 24 million subscribers, and one of the major broadcast networks -- albeit a struggling one -- are talking about a merger. But it's a combination that ultimately may not occur. Indeed, it's far easier for me to conjure up negatives for the deal than to defend a combination between the two companies.
And now here's ...
GE has owned NBC since 1986. Comcast was started in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1963, when Ralph Roberts, the father of the company's current CEO Brian Roberts, and a pair of partners formed a tiny system with just more than 1,000 subscribers. Last week, news broke that GE might spin off a portion of NBC Universal to a venture with a now vastly larger Comcast.
The combination would be complex, if not unwieldy. One scenario, apparently in the talking stages, would involve the formation of a private joint venture, with Comcast owning 51% and the remainder going to GE. The component parts would include Comcast's video, high-speed data, and telephone services, along with a couple of dozen cable networks from both companies.
The latter would include Comcast's Golf Channel, Versus, and its E! entertainment, among others. NBC's contribution to the video area would include CNBC, along with some other networks and 10 local television stations from the across the country. It would also add the Universal movie studios. Comcast would also contribute its professional sports teams and a couple of sports arenas in the Philadelphia area. NBC Universal's theme parks in the U.S. and Japan would also be part of the package.
In search of content
It's long been clear that Brian Roberts, who has tripled Comcast's subscriber numbers in the past decade -- in part by spending $75 billion seven years ago for AT&T's
But what are the potential strengths and weaknesses of the combination now being talked about? The benefits would include the combination of the companies' cable networks. And Comcast would increase its ability to create -- and perhaps control -- its own content, although it could be forced to share that content with other outlets and competitors.
The primary difficulty at Comcast and other operators these days is that cable itself is being shrunk by competition from the likes of Verizon
Another potential negative for the deal is that France's Vivendi owns 20% of NBC Universal. If it doesn't sell its stake, Vivendi adds another player at the bargaining table.
Time for Comcast care
My feeling, given our current economic miseries, is that the deal under discussion doesn't make much sense. In fact, since Comcast would have to cough up some cash, it seems to me that the company would be better off guarding its resources for now than plunking them down on a struggling broadcast and film entity.
And while most of the speculation I've come across has the odds on the deal at about 50-50, or perhaps slightly better, I'd urge Fools to watch the fun during what likely will be the next few weeks, but to sit atop your own cash as it relates to buying up shares of Comcast.
Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned above. He does welcome your questions or comments. The Fool has a disclosure policy that is not at all Mickey Mouse.