The planned mega-merger unveiled this week by Comcast is likely to shake up the entire television market as many consumers move from cable to streaming video services such as Netflix.
Comcast announced its plan on Thursday to merge with Time Warner Cable, a deal which if approved would create a colossus with 30 million customers and some 30 percent of the US pay television market.
The $45 billion deal could have a ripple effect on the industry, impacting how content providers like film and television producers negotiate to get a bigger audience, says Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey.
"Those companies have a lot of power to raise their prices," McQuivey told AFP. Comcast "would be very aggressive in trying to get very good prices for the content that they're buying," the analyst added.
Comcast would be in a unique position as the largest cable provider as well as the owner of NBCUniversal, one of the major players with its NBC television properties and Universal film studios.
Last year, TWC cut off programs from CBS for some three million customers for one month, claiming the transmission fees demanded by the network were too high.
Another big network, Rupert Murdoch's Fox, has also been in disputes with cable operators.
A strengthened Comcast would have a "serious impact on the pay-TV as well as media industry," said the research firm Trefis. "If Comcast succeeds in convincing the regulators about the merger, it will gain a significant leverage on distribution front."
Some of the advantages Comcast may get could be offset if regulators put conditions on the merger, for antitrust reasons.
- 'Big bad cable?' -
"It will be much easier for other industry participants to portray Comcast (and cable as a whole) to Congress and regulators as 'big bad cable,' with broadcasters more likely viewed in a more positive light," said a note from Pivotal Research analysts.
Richard Greenfield at BTIG Research argues that "programmers have been crushing distributors over the past several years" and that a strengthened Comcast "will certainly have greater leverage, but at the end of the day they will still need to reach agreements with the major networks their subscribers' demand."
This could results in more consolidation on the content side, Greenfield, said in a blog post: "Disney & Discovery anyone?"
The shifting landscape has changed the roles for many companies: Netflix and Amazon are producing their own programs, and Verizon has acquired Intel's media unit to allow it deliver its own set-top boxes.
Apple is also believed to be developing a television service. McQuivey points out Comcast has another trump card in negotiating with programmers, which is the distribution of content on new platforms like tablets and smartphones.
Comcast is trying to position itself to fend off the threats from streaming video services like Netflix, Amazon and HBO, which can offer an alternative to cable and encourage "cord cutting."
McQuivey said Comcast "is trying to stay alive" and is "reacting to this new competition that comes in many forms, from satellite to telco to Netflix."
Some analysts point out that despite its dominance in cable, Comcast has competitors ranging from the former telecom giants like AT&T and Verizon and satellite broadcasters like Dish.
McQuivey said Comcast is seeking to expand its own streaming offer called Streampix, which can be offered outside its areas where it offers cable.
For Comcast, this streaming service "is a path to having a new kind of consumer relationship that competes with Netflix and with Amazon on Demand. The larger, newer Comcast would do this competitive move within a year."