The $45 billion merger would transform Comcast into a vastly more powerful gatekeeper, giving it control of 40 percent of the country's Internet service coverage and 19 of the country's top 20 cable markets. As such, it could potentially disrupt the entire media and technology ecosystem.
Virtually every media and tech company—content providers like CBS and Disney, video streaming services like Amazon, Netflix and YouTube, and social media and e-commerce sites—has a major stake in the outcome of the government's review of the merger. The question these companies now face is whether their interests are better served by speaking out about it, or by keeping any possible complaints to themselves as they try to negotiate the best deals they can with Comcast.
For the time being, almost none are publicly speaking out, partly because they are wary of antagonizing a company with which they do business.
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Privately, though, media executives are eager to echo Netflix's concern about the deal, and to cast themselves as victims of the potential megamerger. They use words like "omnivorous" and "rapacious" to describe Comcast, while expressing skepticism on the prospect of the largest cable company buying the second-largest.
"Every company, including ours, knows how we feel about the merger, but the question is, Are we going to do anything about it?" said one senior media executive, who like others, insisted on anonymity to discuss a sensitive business relationship. "Who's going to be the first to kick sand in the bully's face?"
That distinction already belongs to Netflix, and it drew a quick, sharp response from Comcast, which accused the company of disingenuously cloaking its business interests in pro-consumer rhetoric. Comcast said Netflix simply did not want to bear the costs of the enormous amount of Internet traffic that its subscribers generate. (During peak hours, Netflix streaming can account for nearly one-third of worldwide Internet traffic.)
Comcast has contended that the merger is not anticompetitive because the company has very little geographical overlap with Time Warner Cable. More to the point, Comcast says that the content providers are the players holding most of the power in their relationships.
If consumers cannot watch their favorite shows and sporting events, they will just cut the cord. When Time Warner Cable blacked out CBS during a dispute over fees last year, the cable provider lost hundreds of thousands of subscribers. CBS received most of what it asked for in the contract negotiations.
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"The balance of power in carriage negotiations has tilted pretty decisively to the programmers' side," said D'Arcy F. Rudnay, Comcast's chief communications officer.