Comcast Buys NBC to Get USA, Bravo and SyFy

30-rock-liz-jackI’m dubious of the Comcast-NBC merger, which NYT describes as a “Deal that Reshapes TV.”

Almost immediately, the transaction reshapes the nation’s entertainment industry, giving a cable provider a huge portfolio of new content, even as it raises the sector’s anxieties about the future.

In a joint statement announcing the agreement, Brian L. Roberts, the chief executive of Comcast, said the deal was “a perfect fit for Comcast and will allow us to become a leader in the development and distribution of multiplatform ‘anytime, anywhere’ media that American consumers are demanding.”

While I’m generally laissez faire on these matters given the incredibly wide array of media choices out there, I’m a bit concerned about a major distributor owning one of the cornerstone networks and thus having inordinate power over the marketplace.

My fears are somewhat allayed — and my mind somewhat blown — by this nugget buried deep in the report:

Most of NBC’s value is in its lucrative cable channels — USA, Bravo, SyFy, CNBC and MSNBC. The NBC network and Universal Studios will comprise only a small portion of the joint venture’s cash flow.

I knew the cables had gotten big but, seriously, USA, Bravo, and SyFy are the big gets here, with NBC and Universal as nice throw-ins?!  Really?!

I know CNBC and MSNBC have spectacularly low ratings even by news channel standards and surely the parent channel gets more eyeballs.

So, the only explanation that comes to mind is that NBC is spending so much on its programming that it’s eating its revenues, whereas the shows on the less prestige networks are much cheaper to make — presumably precisely because they’re on less prestigious networks?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. sam says:

    the shows on the less prestige networks are much cheaper to make

    SyFy usually has a new movie every Saturday night. I read that the movies are made in a set amount of time and for around $2 million. The movies are highly profitable in terms of the ad revenue they generate. Interestingly, the article said the demographic for the movies consisted mostly of women (I forget the age cohort precisely, but mostly young women iirc.)

  2. JKB says:

    Well, USA and SyFy actually have shows people watch. USA more than the others. I can’t remember the last time I watched NBC. I would expect Comcast to sell off NBC and MSNBC so they can bleed out. Unless they keep them as the DNC networks to curry favor. I’d say they are after the content of USA and SyFy for their cable internet feed.

  3. Alex Knapp says:

    USA has at least two shows that I know of (Burn Notice and Royal Pains) that have the highest ratings for their timeslot, period.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    The cable networks have a subscription base and advertising revenue. The networks only have the advertising revenue.

  5. James Joyner says:

    USA has at least two shows that I know of (Burn Notice and Royal Pains) that have the highest ratings for their timeslot, period.

    I love ’em both but didn’t realize their ratings were that good. I watch SyFy’s Eureka and used to watch BSG.

  6. floyd says:

    Notice the photo… He’s leaning left and taking her with him! Portends the results??

  7. DC Loser says:

    I only watch NBC on thursday nights – The Office and 30 Rock. And the occasional channel surf to hear Leno’s monologue.

  8. sookie says:

    I’d agree with some of the other comments. I watch USA quite a lot, SyFy fairly regularly, NBC hardly ever.

    They have programming I like and they are willing to give it time to gel, rather than canceling if a series doesn’t take off after the 3rd show. Plus even without a recorder I can catch the episode I missed later in the week. It’s a much better model.