Media Companies’ Silence On Comcast/Time Warner Cable Merger Speaks Volumes

While numerous advocacy and public interest groups have publicly come out to declare their opposition to the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, those companies whose business will most directly be affected by the tie-up — broadcasters, streaming services, production studios, advertisers — have remained relatively silent. But it’s not because they don’t have an opinion on the matter.

After all, these companies are not generally reluctant to speak up when their business interests are at stake. Just look at the ongoing legal battle between the broadcast networks and streaming startup Aereo. A quick run-down of the companies and organizations that have filed amicus briefs with the Supreme Court in this case shows just how willing media companies are to share their opinions — the National Association of Broadcaster, Viacom, Cablevision, the NFL and MLB, ABC, ASCAP, and Warner Bros. represent just a few groups that have gone on the record with their feelings about that case.

So why are so many of these companies refusing to speak out publicly — for or against — when it comes to the Comcast/TWC merger?

A couple weeks ago, Minnesota Senator Al Franken, a veteran of the TV, movie, and radio industries, claimed that the people he spoke to at these companies were afraid of speaking up out of fear of poking a beast the size of Comcast, which not only controls the nation’s largest cable and broadband operation, but also the massive NBC Universal entertainment octopus that encompasses everything from broadcast TV to multiple cable channels to movies, home entertainment, radio, music, and streaming video.

Want your cable channel to reach Comcast’s more than 20 million pay-TV users? Does your streaming service need to keep running shows produced by NBC studios? These are concerns facing companies who may be putting their business relationships with Comcast at risk by speaking out against the merger.

Sen. Franken has called on these companies to not be shy about their feelings, but Netflix is one of the few major media companies that has put its neck on the line in deriding the proposed merger.

A recent NY Times piece on this muted response to the merger indicates that Franken and Netflix are not alone:

Privately… media executives are eager to echo Netflix’s concern about the deal, and to cast themselves as victims of the potential megamerger. They use words like “omnivorous” and “rapacious” to describe Comcast, while expressing skepticism on the prospect of the largest cable company buying the second-largest.

One anonymous senior media executive said the entire industry has an opinion on the merger, but asks, “Who’s going to be the first to kick sand in the bully’s face?”

Industry analyst Craig Moffett tells the Times that there might be a benefit to this cowardice for those companies willing to leverage it.

“You can bet that everyone and his brother is trying to strike a sweetheart deal with Comcast right now in exchange for either supporting or simply not opposing the deal,” he explains.

The fact that so many typically loudmouthed companies are cowering in fear about this merger — or that those willing to support it may be demanding something in return for their support — is a good indication of just how much power Comcast already wields in this industry and how terrified its colleagues are of upsetting a beast that could make life very tough for them.