All right. So, there was a tiny bit of news that slipped through the cracks last week, in the midst of all the House of Cards-ness that was going down. That news? It appears Comcast, ye of the biggest cable company in the universe, has decided to take over Time Warner Cable for 45 billion (with a B) bucks. And why does that matter? Meghan Foley, of Wall St. Cheat Sheet, might know …
“In swallowing Time Warner Cable, the second-largest cable provider in the United States, Comcast will turn into an even larger TV behemoth, with a total of 33 million subscribers,” she wrote last week. “And with its X1 set-top box — a device that provides a blend of Internet content, live television, apps, DVR, and on-demand programming through a single interface — the company has a well-established campaign to discourage subscribers from defecting to online video streaming services. The question is where Comcast’s new media might leave other industry players, especially Apple, which was reportedly pursuing a deal of its own with Time Warner Cable.”
Ka-boom! Down goes Apple! Down goes Apple!
Or, well, not yet. The deal, because this is the United States of America, needs to go through the proper clearances in order to be made official. Talks of monopoly quickly painted the World Wide Internet, and even something called a duopoly (I’m not even going to try) came into play. Comcast, in all its brilliance, immediately argued the deal would benefit consumers. And … instead of boring you with semantics, I will simply direct you to this essay on why the move would ultimately hurt you, me, your neighbor, your dog, your dog’s dog, your aunt, your grandparents, your fifth cousins and anyone/thing else with a heartbeat.
Now to why we really care: Apple. Because as CNNs Philip Elmer-DeWitt pointed out in the wake of the news, this thing might mark the beginning of the end for Apple TV.
“The news of the proposed merger, coming as it did in the midst of reports that Apple top negotiator Eddy Cue was close to hammering out a deal to stream Time Warner’s content through a new version of Apple’s $99 set-top box, immediately raised questions about what the merger might mean for the future of Apple TV,” he wrote. “As I say, there are two theories. The first, favored among others by USA Today, TheStreet, Forbes, Mashable and Geekwire, is that Apple TV may be toast. Their assumption is that Apple was blindsided by the merger news and that Cue will now have to re-start his negotiations at a huge disadvantage.”
The other theory? Well, you’ll have to click over to see for yourself.
Now, I could take this opportunity to remind you that I’ve been yelling for months from the mountaintops that the longer Apple waits, the higher the possibility remains that it won’t ever be able to dominate the Web TV landscape the way it wants to. And then after I say that, I could go on to argue that this might very well be the first in a series of steps that turns those arguments into very harsh realities. And then, before it’s all over, I could end the conversation by noting that because Apple was on the wrong end of a bait-and-switch in this instance, it’s quite possible that it now has to press the restart button and begin looking at its television plans with a brand new set of eyes.
But I’m not going to do that. Or, wait … .
Anyway, maybe the most head-turning element of this all is the numeric revelation attached to the first story quoted here. Check this out from Foley’s piece:
“The past year was the worst on record for the pay-television industry in terms of customer retention; according to research firm MoffettNathanson, 113,000 subscribers of pay-TV packages offered by cable, satellite, and phone companies canceled their service. For comparison, just 80,000 subscribers were lost during the 12-month period ended March 31. And, even that figure was concerning because it marked the first time a net, industrywide subscriber loss had been recorded for a four-quarter period since Leichtman Research Group began tracking the data a decade ago.”
Jill Scott said it best, friends. Slowly. Surely.
Now, here’s a video taking you through Comcast’s X1 service. A happy Presidents Day to all, and to all a good night.