Sure, the biggest media deal of the decade has a lot invested in digital, on the face of it. When they talk about it, in today’s announcement and the days and months to come, they will have all the right words about the digital future, and the combined giant’s commitment to it. But make no mistake: it is merely politically correct lip service that the two parties have to mouth.
What it is about: protecting the cable and TV/video assets amd revenue base, any which way. Whether that’s through Hulu long form, or through Comcast’s On Demand service, on VOD or online-authenticated, take your pick: it is about long-form video content that’s already being broadcast on the TV channels. And the fees generated from the distribution of it.
Yes, the two have mid-level to small online properties in CNBC.com, iVillage, NBC.com, Fancast (not part of the deal), Fandango, & DailyCandy, but raise your hand if you think any of these will lead the combined company into the future.
NBCU doesn’t have a centralized digital unit to speak of at this point; Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) has Comcast Interactive Media, headed by Amy Banse. Not to put too fine a point on it, but CIM has made periodic noises through its strangely disparate acquisitions and new launches such as Fancast, but none with the potential to change the game for the cable giant. Sure, each of the respective brands have decent online presence, but nothing of scale, or enough to move the needle on ad revenues. Between the two, their combined digital revenues would be somewhere in the $500 million-plus range, at best a mid-level Internet company equivalent.
And Hulu, which is held out as a bastion of innovation and forward thinking by these companies, isn’t really owned by Comcast-NBCU; the other competitive parties will do their darnedest to ensure enough neutrality.
So when they talk about digital, sure, it is about digital programming and delivery of it, a series of pipes. The keyword here is “protection.” It is not a native online-mobile-social-communication-realtime experience on any scale. It has nothing to do with the natively digital generation growing up right now. Or maybe, for that, they’re just banking on the Facebook buy.