Just under 20% of Americans own a Netflix subscription in 2018, and for telecommunications giant Comcast, this is terrible news. Such bad news, that it took a £30 billion investment to gain a stronghold on the rapidly changing market and customer interests.
“Americans know it as the country’s “most-hated company” – but CEO Brian Roberts casts his net wide, owning the NBC TV Network and Universal Studios. If you’ve watched Jurassic World or Downton Abbey, you’ve met Comcast.”
Comcast is little known in Ireland and Europe, but dominates the US cable TV, phone and internet market as the most significant American and second largest global telecommunications company. Americans know it as the country’s “most-hated company” – but CEO Brian Roberts casts his net wide, owning the NBC TV Network and Universal Studios. If you’ve watched Jurassic World or Downton Abbey, you’ve met Comcast.
On September 21st, Comcast bought Sky PLC in a bid against 21st Century Fox, each motivated by the threat of internet streaming to grasp hold of the safety net of satellite television, 24-hour news channel Premiere League Sport, streaming channel Now TV and a customer base of 23 million in the U.K., Ireland and Europe. Owning Sky, for Comcast, would mean little to no resistance to the vast, open market seas, with room to aim further.
“There were conditional delays in proceeding directly, leaving a substantial delay, and it was at this point that Comcast stepped in, announcing an offer for Sky at £12.50 per share in 2018. In the meantime, Disney arranged to purchase Fox, a bid which Brian Roberts lost.”
Getting there was no smooth sailing. Fox currently owns 39% of Sky, and in 2016 put in a bid for the rest, at £10.75 per share. There were conditional delays in proceeding directly, leaving a substantial delay, and it was at this point that Comcast stepped in, announcing an offer for Sky at £12.50 per share in 2018. In the meantime, Disney arranged to purchase Fox, a bid which Brian Roberts lost. These media conglomerates are used to being in the ring together: Comcast is now up against Mickey Mouse, disguised as a Fox.
They bid against one another for a number of months before the UK Takeover Panel, which regulates mergers and acquisitions, unexpectedly called for a closed auction in order to “provide an orderly framework for the resolution of this competitive situation”, likely wanting to keep the battle from falling further into what was already a cash-hurling frenzy.
The regulated three-stage auction saw Disney-Fox make a bid, later jumped by Comcast’s figure before leading to a final stand-off: a concluding bid on September 21st, made simultaneously by both firms.
Although each team bid over a private closed wire with the Atlantic between them, the tension must have been palpably too close for comfort. Comcast blindly placed their bid at £17.28 per share, beating Disney-Fox’s £15.67. In one tense moment, Comcast raised Fox’s initial 2016 offer by 60% and paid beyond £3 billion more than it needed to.
“The value of our attention is evident when an abundance of the world’s economy is dedicated to harnessing it. Whoever has the most accurate and nuanced study into how particular people spend their attention, as well as the means to obtain that multinationally, will presumably give its commissioners a higher profit.”
Following this, Comcast’s stock price experienced a 6% drop, its steepest of the year, while Disney’s grew 2%. Concerns have been expressed by investors about a bid that went overboard, leaving debt that was not worth the investment in Sky. Independent market analysts MoffettNathanson said this faith that satellite television will prevail over streaming might be misguided, a distribution method that is “increasingly becoming obsolete.”
The question too, of whether Mickey Mouse will want a slice of the Sky pie is yet to be decided. Roberts is likely hopeful that they will sell their 39%. However, the silver lining is on Disney’s cloud when their largest competitor splurges in a somewhat risky buy. Comcast will need to invest in Sky to make this work, but what will it take to make it cost-effective?
Comcast will need to drive this sale to success confidently. However, its reputation does not garner faith. Comcast was twice labelled the “worst company in America” over shoddy customer service, regulatory transgressions and staff involved in sex scandals. Customers will have to wait to know if Sky is in devoted hands.
Ultimately though, the options were few, with control of the multi-billion dollar media industry held by a relatively small number of international media conglomerates. Comcast spend big to lead this troupe that is invested solely in garnering the attention of consumers.
The value of our attention is evident when an abundance of the world’s economy is dedicated to harnessing it. Whoever has the most accurate and nuanced study into how particular people spend their attention, as well as the means to obtain that multinationally, will presumably give its commissioners a higher profit. Profit comes from appealing to deeper instincts to the point where people aren’t even aware they are being advertised to in the first place.
Comcast obtained at least six streams through which it reaches an incredibly wide range of Americans and Europeans, along with its original media. Only those who don’t use a phone or television, refuse to follow sports, deny watching the news, enjoy films or boycott Comcast will be out of the way of its reach. With diversifying activities comes a generalisation of intent. Those creating the content will have a specific interest or passion in news, sport, drama, but they are all under the one big roof, which will never stop wanting to grow.
Comcast see themselves in a higher playing field with the reach that the Sky platform will give them, while their history with customer service and an actual quality product is questionable, that may not matter in a globalised landscape that only needs to understand how consumers work, not make them happy. The Sky was the limit, but would Comcast go further?