Warner Bros. Discovery has found itself in the news a lot lately. Most of this has not been positive, truth be told. First, it was the decision to cancel popular CW shows connected to DC Entertainment like Batwoman & Legends of Tomorrow simply due to the studio they filmed at. This is on top of their decision to cancel the release of the Batgirl film that cost Warner Bros. $90 million to make before they sold off to Discovery Communications.
The company has technically only been around since April 2022, when Discovery and WarnerMedia officially merged. Discovery purchased WarnerMedia from cable & internet giant AT&T after only a few years of ownership. Due to the popularity of the Warner brand, Discovery decided to make this a merger rather than an outright takeover.
The President and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, Peter Zaslav, even stated that WBD’s goal was to compete directly with streaming giants Disney+ & Netflix. Their plan is to even merge HBO MAX with Discovery+ within the next year to form one massive streaming platform.
However, if this is their goal, WBD is off to a rocky start. This comes despite Netflix making it easier with its own controversies. If recent reports are to be believed, Warner Bros. Discovery might actually find itself for sale again very soon.
NBC Universal, owned by cable giant Comcast, is allegedly interested in merging with Warner Bros. Discovery. There are a lot of implications here to be concerned about. This involved the business itself, future storytelling, and potentially even the government.
Why? Well, NBCUniversal’s parent company, the Comcast Corporation, is itself a media giant already. Acquiring WBD would give Comcast a power-up to put them on the level of The Walt Disney Company.
Warner Bros. Discovery: A Quick People’s History
If tech and business deals aren’t your things, we’ve got you covered. As mentioned earlier, Warner Bros. Discovery came about from AT&T selling off WarnerMedia with Discovery, Inc.
WarnerMedia has its own long history of different owners and different media properties it owns and manages. Some are entertainment, like HBO, TruTV, and TBS. Some are news-related, like CNN Worldwide. Discovery, Inc. is similar to WarnerMedia in this way.
Alone, WarnerMedia and Discovery, Inc. couldn’t compete super well with the likes of Disney+ & Netflix. By merging together, they created Warner Bros. Discovery. If superheroes were businessmen aiming for global domination (would that make them supervillains?), Warner Bros. Discovery could be like a Justice League.
Once WBD was born, they owned three streaming services: HBO Max, CNN+ (yes, this was a thing that we forgot about too), and Discovery+. WBD plans to merge the two non-forgettable steaming services as referenced earlier, so that will cut down on our streaming platform clutter.
Annihilating the Competition
HBO Max has some great shows on it, like Titans, and some planned movies that seemed like certain successes. Unfortunately, after the merger, Warner Bros. Discovery axed a shocking amount of them.
One that we referenced earlier was actually one of the most unexpected victims, the DC Comics film Batgirl. What was especially jarring was that Batgirl had finished filming. Yet, WBD decided not to release it, thereby invalidating all the work all the actors, directors, writers, and technicians had put into making the movie.
This, as you might imagine, did not go over particularly well with fans. Nor did it go over well with the people who worked on the project.
Making matters worse, WBD didn’t just halt the post-production process. Instead, it deleted the footage from its server. All that work was suddenly gone, and irretrievably so. Furthermore, they did not even give the directors a heads-up about this, leaving them with hours of work simply gone forever.
For anyone involved in creative work, this is a horrifying idea. It’s worse than your cat accidentally deleting your novel. At least the cat didn’t mean to do it (and looks cute). Here, someone looked at someone else’s work and didn’t care. The sheer disrespect is appalling.
It gets even worse as Batgirl wasn’t the only victim. Warner Bros. Discovery has gone through and deleted dozens of other shows and films from its servers. Now, fans also will never, ever be able to see some of their favorite stories again. These stories are simply gone, because sadly, once it’s gone from a server, the Internet is not forever.
NBCUniversal and Warner Bros. Discovery
Okay, so what’s this potential new deal?
Well, the backlash to WBD’s scorched earth policy for stories it doesn’t want has been strong. Zaslav, the CEO we mentioned earlier, tried to reassure fans that the whole reason for Batgirl’s demise is that he wants to make the DC version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He just has to find a DC version of Kevin Feige.
Yet he could, and we’re just spit-balling here, bring back Zack Snyder to lead this the way he wanted to before people got in the way.
However, the scorched-earth idea didn’t just anger creators. The Hollywood Reporter recently reported that Walter Hamada, the DC Films president, plans to leave as a result.
Plus, WarnerMedia’s over $50 billion in debt. In fact, the debt was part of the reason for the WarnerMedia-Discovery merge in the first place. If a DC version of the MCU can’t arrive like Superman to save the day, then Warner Bros. Discovery will find itself for sale again. That is where the people with money come around.
Comcast has been eager for precisely this type of opportunity. The Hollywood Reporter writes that:
For reasons related to the complicated structure of [the Discovery and WarnerMedia] merger, no negotiations can happen until April 2024. But at that point, many industry observers believe that Comcast’s Brian Roberts will make a long-awaited move, looking to combine NBCUniversal and Warner Bros. Discovery.
What’s In It For Comcast?
All of this may make people scratch their heads a bit. Why would NBCUniversal be interested in acquiring over $50 billion in debt, even if the debt and profit are more balanced by 2024?
NBCUniversal currently owns a lot of smaller companies like Universal Pictures, the National Broadcasting Company, and the streaming service Peacock. Of course, we say “smaller” but these companies are still heavyweights in the entertainment industry.
While Peacock currently houses shows like the hit sitcom Brooklyn99, Vampire Academy, and the rebooted Queer as Folk, NBCUniversal no doubt wants to expand its offerings. They cannot rely on past glory and a few random exclusives that aren’t very prominent.
The more successful shows they have, the more they can compete with Disney and Netflix.
However, NBCUniversal isn’t the true identity of the company. NBCUniversal is itself owned by Comcast. On top of NBCU, Comcast owns Xfinity (the one that bills us every month), DreamWorks Animation, Universal Parks & Resorts, and much more.
If they gobble up Warner Bros. Discovery, the only media conglomerate on their level would be The Walt Disney Company.
Disney vs Warner Bros. Discovery
Why would Comcast having so many properties under its name be a problem? Would it be a problem at all?
The answer to this question really depends on who you’re asking. A lot of people side-eye Disney nowadays. Disney owns Lucasfilm, Pixar, and Marvel Studios. They even took over 21st Century Fox’s 20th Century Studios and other properties as of 2019 when they purchased the studio and everything that came with it.
This makes Disney an oligopoly poised to aim for a monopoly, and not the game you play with friends. A monopoly means that there is no competition. No one can start their little production company making stories they’re passionate about and succeed, because their success will always pale in comparison to a bigger company with more resources.
By more resources, we mean money, but also geographic distribution, industry connections, etc.
An oligopoly is similar, except there are a few different companies. We currently have an oligopoly with Warner Bros. Discovery, Comcast, and Disney among them. By Comcast taking over Warner Bros. Discovery, we would get even closer to a monopoly.
This gives consumers only a few choices. What if you don’t like any of them? If a company’s main goal is to make money and squash competition, what happens to the stories they tell? Won’t they all have similar messages? Won’t that stifle creativity?
If Comcast does try to buy Warner Bros. Discovery, the United States government might have something to say about it.
We’re “told” that the United States of America supposedly dislikes monopolies. They diminish the possibility of the American Dream, after all. You can’t become anyone you want if you have to wear a certain company hat. Also, a monopoly then gains influence over the aspects of the government by the sheer fact of controlling a lot of the economy.
Hence, the government has the power to intervene in some situations. In fact, AT&T, the same company that sold off WarnerMedia to make Warner Bros. Discovery, faced government intervention in 1984. Since it was becoming a monopoly, the government broke it up into smaller companies in 1984.
There has even been some discussion of breaking up internet giants like Meta, Google, and others simply to widen the opportunity to create a competitive environment.
The roots of the government’s power here come from the 1890 Sherman Anti-Trust Act. It passed nearly unanimously in the Senate, 51-1, and unanimously in the House of Representatives before that. While the Act has faced challenges since, including Supreme Court Rulings against it, the act has been invoked throughout the twentieth century.
The government didn’t, however, intervene in 2019 when Disney bought the 20th Century Fox studio. Whether they would intervene to stop Comcast from acquiring Warner Bros. Discovery isn’t known. Yet something tells us if they allowed one, they’ll likely allow the other. Regardless of the competitive imbalance that it would cause.