If pigs had wings

The Disney board just turned down the current Comcast offer. Of course Comcast is free to come back with better terms. The first bid was considered no more than an opening salvo in a longer bidding battle. Disney already has hinted it would consider a better offer.

Now if a better Comcast offer for Disney made sense, what would this imply?

1. It would mean that cable operators are correct in wishing for an earlier release of films to television. DVD releases would end up speeded up as well. Moviegoing would become more of a social event, rather than the only means of seeing a given film. Date movies and large screen spectaculars probably would become more popular in the theater, as they would offer a more unique product. Moviegoing as a whole might well decline in popularity. Large-screen televisions would increase in appeal.

The big gainers would be the cable companies, who would capture a share of the revenue currently going to DVDs. The big losers would be Hollywood and, to a lesser extent, companies such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy, which sell large numbers of low-priced DVDs (they would make back some money on TV sales). In part the offer is an attempt to yank DVD revenue away from movie producers and put it in the hands of a company that pipes movies into your home. The age of video on demand would finally arrive, Comcast is known for its strong promotion of this concept.

2. A takeover would signal a final end to the privileged position of the major networks. Don’t forget that Disney owns ABC, so the biggest cable company would now own a major network. Network programming would end up driven by the demands of cable television. Cable and satellite TV already account for the bulk of American viewing; only 14 percent of the American viewing public does not have either cable or satellite TV. In addition local news would continue to decline in importance and TV will become racier, given the looser role of the FCC in supervising cable content.

3. A takeover would later be seen as a turning point for the convergence of all media with the Internet. Cable supplies most of the bandwidth, and the ascendancy of cable companies will enable your TV, Internet connection, and other electronic devices to talk to each other. With a cable company leading the charge, and controlling and owning the relevant content, it could more easily internalize these benefits and charge you for the integration.

But reread the first word of the title of this post, “If.” Here is Rudyard Kipling’s poem If.

Can’t all this happen without Comcast buying Disney? If these outcomes are value-maximizing won’t arms-length transacting get us to the same place? You can bet on this question with a phone call to your broker. But before making your bet, read about this attempt to use stem cell technologies to grow pig wings.


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