Comcast is America's leading cable television operator, now under the Xfinity brand, and also one of the world's biggest media owners following the acquisition of NBC Universal. That deal followed several earlier attempts to build a content offering, initially through the bolt-on of its own portfolio of cable channels. An ambitious bid to acquire Walt Disney came to nothing in 2004, but five years later the group entered talks with General Electric to acquire a controlling stake in the latter's NBC Universal subsidiary. A deal was agreed at the end of 2009, and was finally cleared by regulators at the beginning of 2011, giving Comcast management control of one of America's most famous TV networks as well as a major movie studio. Despite NBC Universal's continuing challenges, the group bought out GE's remaining stake in NBCU in 2013, more than a year earlier than expected. In Feb 2014, Comcast offered to acquire smaller rival Time Warner Cable for $45bn in a deal that would have merged the #1 and #2 cable networks in the US. Despite more than a year of negotiations with regulators, the deal was eventually abandoned in Apr 2015 after it was referred by the FCC to an administrative hearing.
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Adbrands Weekly Update 11th Jan 2018: Streaming service Hulu keeps going from strength to strength. It scored another triumph at the Golden Globes with two big wins, including Best Drama, for The Handmaid's Tale. (Amazon won Best Comedy for The Marvellous Mrs Maizel). The enormous success of Handmaid also encouraged Hulu to release revenue and subscriber data. The company said ad revenues topped $1bn for the first time in 2017, while subscriber numbers soared by over 40% to 17m. That's still far behind Netflix (109m) and Amazon (around 90m), but it's a big encouragement to prospective majority owner Disney. If and when its acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox goes through, Disney will become the majority owner of Hulu (with 60% of equity) as well as of Sky in Europe and Star of India. The big question is what rival Comcast will do at that point. Comcast inherited NBCUniversal's one-third stake in Hulu when it acquired that group in 2013, but was forced by regulators to surrender its voting shares for a set period. That lock-out ends in September this year, at which point Comcast will regain a 30% voting stake in Hulu. Time Warner (or possibly AT&T by then) will have the remaining 10%. So what happens then? Will Hulu's junior investors accept their new senior partner's control, or will they force a sale?
Adbrands Weekly Update 14th Dec 2017: Comcast dropped out of negotiations to acquire selected assets of 21st Century Fox, citing a lack of engagement on the latter's part. That allowed Disney to seal a deal, which was announced this morning. Disney will acquire all of 21st Century Fox for $52.4bn in stock, plus the assumption of $13.7bn of Fox debt. It will keep Fox's movie and TV studio, its entertainment-based cable channels including FX and regional sports strands, and its controlling stakes in satellite broadcasters Sky and Star of India. The other units - the Fox broadcast network, Fox News cable channel, Fox Sports 1 & 2 and Big Ten Network - will be spun out to existing Fox shareholders as a separate quoted entity. Fox investors, including the Murdoch clan, would also end up with around 25% of an enlarged Disney.
Adbrands Weekly Update 2nd Nov 2017: US cable companies suffered declines across the board in subscriber numbers as the competition from streaming services and "skinny bundles" intensified. Comcast's loss of 125,000 residential and business customers was four times higher than the previous quarter, and compared to a net gain in the year ago period. Charter suffered a loss of 104,000 customers, its 6th successive decline. However both companies also saw sharp increases in the number of internet subscribers. "Our broadband business is increasingly the epicenter of our relationship with customers," Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told investors.
Adbrands Weekly Update 29th Jun 2017: In a development that was first anticipated last month, US cable leaders Comcast and Charter have opened exclusive joint negotiations with the country's 4th largest mobile provider Sprint. Under discussion is some form of arrangement whereby the two cable companies could swap existing MVNO arrangements with Verizon for more favourable terms from Sprint, possibly in exchange for an equity involvement, or even a joint takeover of the business. According to reports, Charter's controlling shareholder John Malone favours the acquisition of Sprint, but has yet to convince Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. Sprint, owned by Japanese company Softbank, has a current value of around $32bn, and the same amount again in debt. Separately, it has been pursuing talks with rival T-Mobile over a possible merger. Those negotiations have been put on pause for the time being, pending a deal with Comcast and Charter.
Adbrands Weekly Update 11th May 2017: America's two leading cable companies have formed their own alliance to push back against the moves by Verizon and AT&T into entertainment programming. Comcast and Charter will share resources and technology as they launch their own branded wireless services, initially on an MVNO basis through bandwidth from Verizon. They have agreed not to make any material merger or acquisition within the telecoms sector without the other’s consent for at least a year. Analysts believe that the partnership might result in a shared bid for one of the two smaller wireless carriers, T-Mobile USA and Sprint.
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