Comcast and GE on Thursday finally sealed the deal they've been talking about for months, with Comcast obtaining NBC Universal for $13.75 billion. That leaves America's largest cable company in control of NBC, Telemundo, USA, Bravo, Syfy, the Weather Channel and about two dozen other cable channels.
The deal still has to clear several regulatory hurdles, and so-called consumer advocates -- who always seem to be fighting the last war -- will no doubt fight a scorched-earth campaign to keep it from happening. If Comcast owns all these cable networks, the reasoning will go, it can charge more to cable subscribers while jerking rival companies around.
That argument completely misses the point of Comcast's pursuit of NBC, which is that cable is a dying industry. There are a zillion ways for networks to get their programming to you these days that don't involve cable, including cellphones, satellites and -- most ominously for the cable companies -- broadband. Broadband is eventually going to threaten not only cable but broadcast television stations themselves. Why should NBC (or any other network) pay its balky and often troublesome affiliates to be middlemen when it can pipe the programming directly to you?
Comcast wants to get into the content business because it sees the end of the cable business looming on the horizon. It will be interesting -- and, no doubt, depressing -- to see if the government will get in the way of a far-sighted company's prudent attempt to deal with technological upheavals in its industry.