“He doesn’t lose ever.”
That’s what BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield said this week about Comcast CEO Brian Roberts in the wake of Comcast’s failure to win approval for its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable. It’s a telling quote that also lets us know that Comcast isn’t done yet trying to find ways to become more powerful.
When Comcast officially called off its merger with Time Warner Cable on Friday, it did so without the same sense of entitled rage that AT&T had when its proposed merger with T-Mobile similarly got shot down back in 2011. Instead, Roberts simply said that it was time to move on.
And here’s the thing: Comcast has a lot of good options for major acquisitions that don’t involve buying up the second-largest cable company in the United States. In fact, opponents of the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger should expect Comcast to come back in the near future with a more well thought out plan to make big acquisitions that won’t run afoul of antitrust regulators.
What sort of deals are we talking about? Consider the following two scenarios.
Comcast could get into the wireless business by buying Sprint or T-Mobile: There have been rumors about Comcast wanting to become a wireless carrier for a while and now that it has a lot of extra cash to spend it could make a move to buy one of America’s two smaller carriers.
Doing this would give Comcast a way to effectively take on AT&T and Verizon, which both already deliver home broadband and video services as well as wireless services.
We know that T-Mobile parent company Deutsche Telekom has been trying to unload the “Uncarrier” for years now but selling the company to Comcast would be a major blow to American wireless consumers who have benefited from the disruptive changes T-Mobile has made to wireless business models under CEO John Legere. Comcast really, really doesn’t like disruptive new business models and would very likely try to move the company more in the direction of Verizon after an acquisition.
Sprint is also a possibility because, despite making more aggressive moves of its own, the company remains stuck in a major rut. Sprint parent company SoftBank would likely happily unload the carrier onto a buyer that blew them away with a quality offer and Comcast is poised to do just that.
Buying a wireless carrier is only one option for Comcast. The other scenario is potentially scarier to cord cutters…
Comcast could buy Netflix. This is the backup plan that BTIG’s Greenfield recently suggested Comcast could pursue if the TWC merger went down in flames.
“Netflix has no control shareholders and we have to imagine the board would listen to a truly compelling offer from Comcast,” Greenfield reasoned. “Tech is hard and traditional media companies are simply not offering best-in-class apps across an array of devices. With consumers increasingly interested in ad-free streaming, Netflix could provide Comcast with an incredible team and platform to learn from,”
The question, though, is whether Comcast will learn from Netflix or whether it will simply Comcastify the hugely popular streaming service. Let’s recall that The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that Comcast has been instrumental in keeping Hulu from reaching its potential because Comcast is more interested in having consumers use its own X1 set-top box instead of a third-party app that could be used on any device.
Would giving Netflix the same kind of treatment be unbelievably shortsighted and self-defeating in the long term? It absolutely would but I’ve seen Comcast make shortsighted moves again and again that are aimed at maintaining its current business model at the expense of breaking new ground.
Hopefully neither scenario comes to pass or they only come to pass after Comcast has taken a long look in the mirror and realized that it desperately needs to change the way it deals with both customers and online content distributors.
The chances of the latter happening, however, seem depressingly small.