Comcast-Time Warner Collapse Is a Win for TV Networks, Perhaps a Loss for Marketers

Deal Might Have Fueled Advancement of Addressable TV Ads and Other Tech

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A Comcast ad arguing for its merger with Time Warner Cable
A Comcast ad arguing for its merger with Time Warner Cable Credit: Kantar Media/CMAG

[UPDATE: Comcast confirmed Friday morning that it is abandoning its attempt to merge with Time Warner Cable. "Today we move on," it said, in part, in a statement.]

Comcast Corp. is planning to walk away from its proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable, people with knowledge of the matter said, after regulators planned to oppose the deal.

Comcast is planning to make a final decision Thursday, and an announcement on the deal's fate could come as soon as Friday, said one of the people, who asked not to be named discussing private information. Sena Fitzmaurice, a spokeswoman for Comcast, declined to comment.

If Comcast does give up on the planned $45.2 billion transaction, it will be a win for executives at TV networks, but potentially a loss for marketers.

TV programmers, including Discovery Communications, had told the Federal Communications Commission that the merger could result in fewer independent voices among programmers. But they also feared the unified company's enhanced clout in negotiations over distribution fees for their signals. And a combined Comcast-Time Warner Cable would give them stronger competition for national advertisers.

When the deal was first announced in February 2014, Jason Kanefsky, exec VP-strategic investments, Havas Media, said an expanded Comcast would create an alternative to buying national advertising from the TV networks.

"The addition of hundreds of thousands of ratings points into the national market should create a cost-efficiency opportunity in the years to come," Mr. Kanefsky said then.

The combination also seemed poised to help advance addressable TV advertising, which has been constrained by factors including a lack of broad reach. Most marketers don't want to assemble targeted buys across a variety of regional cable operators, creating a sort of drag on cable companies' push to make their technology in the area better.

The merger could have eventually helped expand the addressable universe to the sort of size that big marketers want, fueling the tech race to deliver tools such as household targeting and dynamic ad insertion.

FCC headwinds
This week, however, U.S. Federal Communications Commission staff joined lawyers at the Justice Department in opposing the planned $45.2 billion transaction. FCC officials told the two biggest U.S. cable companies on Wednesday that they were leaning toward concluding the merger doesn't help consumers, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

Justice Department staff was also leaning against the deal, Bloomberg reported last week.

~ Bloomberg News and Ad Age staff ~

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