As Shark Week nears its weekend air date, talks between Comcast and Discovery Communications appear to be navigating steadily through the negotiation waters.
With one major carriage deal already under wraps – AT&T and CBS announced their agreement earlier today -- the Comcast-Discovery renewal is less certain. While neither side would comment on negotiations citing confidentiality agreements, sources familiar with both companies said talks are continuing and the networks remain accessible to Comcast subscribers.
Whether that will change in the near future remains to be seen.
Discovery had seemed to be worried about its Comcast negotiations early on, with sources saying the programmer feared Comcast would use the negotiations to retaliate against Discovery speaking out against its merger with Time Warner Cable. Comcast terminated the TWC deal on April 24, after realizing the $67 billion union would not pass regulatory muster.
Some analyst have speculated that the need to appease Federal Communications Commission officials for the deal, Comcast could flex its considerable distribution muscles in future carrier deals. Comcast is the largest cable operator in the country with about 22 million video subscribers.
Discovery even moved its popular Shark Week programming block to July 5 from its traditional August spot, in what some observers said was an attempt to thwart any possible incentives for Comcast to drop the network.
Last August, Shark Week broke records, earning the highest ratings ever for Discovery among total viewers and women ages 25-54, as well as women ages 18-49. In addition to the July 5 debut, Discovery will also air new shark-oriented programming during a special weekend in August.
In a research note Wednesday, Telsey Advisory Group media analyst Tom Eagan said Comcast has an incentive to “let Shark Week go.”
“Without major FCC approvals pending, we expect [Comcast] might negotiate more aggressively than they would have six months ago when they were pursuing TWC,” Eagan wrote, adding that he believes Comcast is willing to pay Discovery higher affiliate fees, especially if they include mobile rights. “But we expect [Comcast] might balk at paying significantly more than a 15-20% increase.”