The goliath merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable has fallen through after 15 months, according to Bloomberg, and it may serve to help define how big is too big in an increasingly consolidated mediascape.
The network reports that Comcast is “planning to walk away” from its $45 billion bid to take over TWC after FCC regulators made it clear the merger was unlikely to get approval.
“It’s a line in the sand about how big big can be,” NPR TV critic Eric Deggans told TheWrap after the news broke. “This was too big; It made a lot of people that would normally not care or be supportive, it made even them think twice.”
Deggans hinted that the outcome may have been different in a alternate political climate: “Who knows, if after 2016 we have a different party controlling the White House, how something like this would be perceived?”
Comcast and Time Warner Cable both declined TheWrap’s request for comment.
The apparent final nail in the coffin of the proposed deal came this week when the FCC aligned with the Department of Justice in opposing the deal on the grounds that the merger wasn’t in the public interest.
Government officials and representatives from both cable companies held a series of meetings this week, wherein the government outlined its reservations. The result was a call by the FCC for a “hearing designation order,” which would have put the fate of the merger in the hands of an administrative law judge.
Another media expert, Syracuse University Director of Media Studies Robert Thompson, isn’t fretting over the death of the deal. Comcast was already too big, he says.
“It’s a victory to not have a media company that is that enormous,” he told TheWrap about what he believes would have amounted to a media monopoly once Comcast and Time Warner fused together.
“I’m still of the old-fashioned belief that these really huge media empires bring in all kinds of problems,” he continued. “Comcast was already the No. 1 cable and broadband provider in the country … the idea of Comcast and Time Warner really gives them an enormous amount of control in programming and distribution.”
Veteran journalist Mark Feldstein, who teaches Broadcast Journalism at University of Maryland, suspects it came down to a cost/benefit analysis by Comcast to avoid long delays and an expensive, drawn-out process with FCC regulators.
“I think it’s a good thing, and competition in general is a good thing,” he said. “This merger would have given Comcast-Time Warner enormous control over a huge proportion of news, information, sports, movies — on both television and Internet. Concentration is always by definition anti-competitive.”
Feldstein says the issue goes beyond entertainment or TV offerings, but to citizenship: “This was about news and information that the public uses to decide on who it elects to public office — it involves citizenship as well as consumer issues.”
He concluded that few in America will be crying themselves to sleep over Comcast’s failed Time Warner Cable takeover.
“It’s not exactly like Comcast was popular with the public, right? The public knows them already as the monopoly cable company that gouges you every month and is incompetent with their IT help over the phone. It’s not like this is a Google or some other corporation that has a more user-friendly reputation.”
The deal that never was is a case study in the growing reluctance to grant those already in power even more power at a time when the public is increasingly concerned about income inequality, corporate concentration and a stock market that appears fixed, Feldstein said.
“This would have been Exhibit A of that kind of corporate power.”