A New York Times piece earlier this month considered the possibility of an M&A deal between Comcast and General Electric for majority control of NBC Universal. The piece suggests that the deal would not only give Comcast a huge share of the cable market, in addition to control of its first broadcast network, it would also result in Comcast gaining “an important foothold in another area it has been trying to break into: digital media” when it acquires control of the NBC Universal owned website Hulu. The piece quotes analyst Craig Moffett who says, “I suspect what Comcast is looking for is some measure of control over the future of distribution”.
Interestingly, though, several of the contributors to the article have a different view of what the future may look like. Analyst Frederick W. Moran criticizes the strategy, saying that this vertical integration approach, giving Comcast control over production of content and distribution, “seems like a strategic plan of yesterday”. And during an appearance on Charlie Rose this week, writer Andrew Rose Sorkin suggested that GE’s willingness to make the deal may signal a shift in their future outlook as well. Sorkin characterized the move as GE saying “maybe we don’t want to be in the TV business anymore”. Obviously the issue isn’t quite that cut and dry, GE would still have 49% control of NBC Universal following a deal with Comcast, but Moran and Sorkin’s analyses raise some interesting questions. How would Comcast’s acquisition of media property currently held by Vivendi effect the balance of the big five? And does GE’s willingness to cede majority control of NBC Universal, which has underperfomed significantly in 2009, really signal a shift in TV’s importance in the portfolios of the top media companies?