Smaller media companies like Discovery and AMC probably won't find buyers until the giants have digested their big deals

  • Comcast, Disney and AT&T have spent a combined $195 billion on deals for Sky, Fox and Time Warner, respectively, this year.
  • Smaller media companies looking for buyers, which could include Comcast, Disney and AT&T, may have to wait until the large acquirers digest their current deals.
Robert Iger, chairman and chief executive officer of Walt Disney Co. and Brian Roberts, Comcast chairman and CEO.
Getty Images
Robert Iger, chairman and chief executive officer of Walt Disney Co. and Brian Roberts, Comcast chairman and CEO.

The biggest media companies still want to eat, but first, they're going to need a break to digest.

Comcast, Disney and AT&T have all made their giant media acquisition plans this year, culminating in Comcast's auction win for U.K. pay-TV provider Sky.

AT&T is spending $85 billion to acquire Time Warner (pending the Department of Justice's regulatory appeal), Disney forked over $71 billion to buy the majority of 21st Century Fox and Comcast is placing a $39 billion bet on Sky.

That's a lot of money, followed by a lot of integration, for three of the largest U.S. media companies.

It leaves some of the smaller media companies — CBS, Viacom, Lions Gate, MGM, AMC Networks and Discovery Communications — out in the cold if they're interested in selling. At least for the time being.

That may push some of the smaller media companies — the "free radicals," as media mogul and Liberty Media Chairman John Malone likes to call them — together with each other, if they don't want to wait. CBS and Viacom, for example, are still likely to merge, despite several false starts, according to BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield. Sirius XM, whose controlling shareholder is Malone's Liberty, picked off Pandora for $3.5 billion in a deal announced Monday.

A Comcast Discovery?

Still, the big deals may show a way out for smaller media entities.

Disney's decision to buy Fox and Comcast's decision to spend on Sky suggest that both Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and Disney CEO Bob Iger are still interested in so-called legacy media properties — that is, companies that get the bulk of their revenue from pay-TV and film. Tech-first companies such as Netflix, Amazon and Apple, all of whom are spending billions of dollars on content, haven't shown the same desire to buy traditional media.

That gives smaller players hope AT&T, Comcast and Disney could come back for them in 2019 or 2020, when their current giant acquisitions are digested.

Discovery, which closed on its acquisition of Scripps in March, may actually find a new acquirer in Comcast, given the Sky deal, said Greenfield. Sky owns sports rights, such as the English Premier League, and streaming rights to films in European markets. Discovery took control of Eurosport in 2015 and owns the exclusive pan-European rights to several Olympics to come.

"If Comcast wants to expand across Europe they may need more content, such as Discovery," Greenfield said.

Disclosure: Comcast owns CNBC parent company NBCUniversal.