The Post-Shell WBD-NBCU M&A Fantasy

Does Comcast C.E.O. Brian Roberts’ decision to appoint Mike Cavanagh as Shell’s interim successor suggest that he’s preparing for a hypothetical combination of NBCU with Warner Bros. Discovery?
Is Comcast C.E.O. Brian Roberts preparing for a combination of NBCU with Warner Bros. Discovery? Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
William D. Cohan
April 26, 2023

It’s been an astonishing 72-ish hours in the media business. First, there was Jeff Shell’s defenestration as the C.E.O. of NBCU in the wake of a sexual harassment complaint filed with Comcast H.R. by CNBC anchor Hadley Gamble. And then there was the practically concurrent firing of Tucker Carlson at Fox News, as first reported by my partner Dylan Byers, and of Don Lemon at CNN, followed by their practically simultaneous hiring of the ferocious litigator Bryan Freedman.

Lemon and Carlson will probably get their money, or at least some of it, but the larger economic and governance questions (where was the Comcast board of directors in all of this?) pertains to the future of NBCU—specifically what Shell’s departure means for the inevitable M&A activity that must occur as legacy media businesses (such as network and linear TV) slowly fade into oblivion and are replaced by streaming businesses that, while wildly popular, remain years away from meaningful profitability. Does Comcast C.E.O. Brian Roberts’ decision to appoint as Shell’s interim successor his right-hand man, company president Mike Cavanagh, suggest that he’s preparing for a hypothetical combination of NBCU with David Zaslav’s Warner Bros. Discovery? Wall Street is obviously preparing the tea. So let me read the tea leaves for you.