LOS ANGELES (TheStreet) -- After sparring for much of the past year, Comcast (CMCSA) - Get Comcast Corporation Class A Report and Netflix (NFLX) - Get Netflix, Inc. Report now have a chance to work together even as they compete for video subscribers.
With its $45.2 billion merger with Time Warner Cable (TWC) off the table, Comcast has an opportunity to take full advantage of Netflix's popularity -- in effect, to become its "frenemy."
Comcast, like all cable TV providers, needs to grow its broadband business to compensate for the loss of cable TV customers who are fast transitioning to Internet-based streaming services, most notably those from Netflix and Amazon (AMZN) - Get Amazon.com, Inc. Report.
With the Time Warner Cable deal removed, the relationship between the country's largest cable TV operator, Comcast, and the popular Netflix streaming service may improve. Comcast could even be incentivized to work with Netflix to boost its broadband subscribers.
In the fourth quarter, Comcast signed up just 375,000 new broadband customers, a 0.8% decline from the same period a year earlier. Analysts had expected Comcast to add 384,000 Internet customers. Meanwhile, growth at its pay-TV business is almost nonexistent. Comcast added just 6,000 video subscribers in the quarter compared to 46,000 for the same quarter a year earlier.
Clearly, Comcast's future is broadband. And Netflix is currently the biggest user of broadband in homes across the country in nearly every evening of every day of the year.
"I think they're definitely going to be looking at (broadband) as a hedge," said Steve Ridge, president of the media strategy group at consultant Frank N. Magid Associates, in reference to Comcast's post-Time Warner Cable plans. "It's going to be silly not to sink sufficient dollars into hedging the bet rather than being locked into a single strategy."
Broadband speed has long been at the root of the animosity between broadband companies and Netflix, with the House of Cards maker complaining that companies such as Comcast choke Netflix traffic, causing inconsistent service. Comcast and other Internet service providers counter that they haven't been slowing service to Netflix, which commands large amounts of bandwidth.
It may be shrewd for cable companies to play nice with Netflix as the streaming service's 40 million U.S. subscribers eat into traditional TV usage. Netflix contributed to 43% of the total decline in traditional TV viewing in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2015, MoffettNathanson said.
"Netflix's U.S. total streaming hours relative to traditional TV will steadily rise to the low double-digit range over the next four year, representing the majority of the declines in traditional TV viewing," the firm's Michael Nathanson said in an April 24 report.
Comcast can leverage the demand for streaming services by selling faster Internet packages, a business with higher profit margin than cable, said Christopher Marangi, an analyst at Gabelli.
"The cable industry has always had an opportunity to align themselves with Netflix," Marangi said. "There are some elements of a 'frenemy' relationship to the extent that Netflix [is] pushing ultra HD [high-definition] incentives to subscribers to take higher broadband speeds."
Comcast's failed bid for Time Warner Cable, which would have combined the country's two largest cable and Internet providers, frees Comcast to pursue new ways to both compete with streaming video providers, as well as to gradually increase rates on those that use a lot of video. Such is the advantage of being both a broadband provider and an owner of a large and profitable content company, NBCUniversal.
Another option on the table for companies such as Comcast to stem the flow of subscribers to Netflix and other online streaming platforms could be to offer the service itself as part of its TV-Internet package, Marangi said.
"Other distributors, including Charter, have spoken publicly about distributing Netflix, wholesaling Netflix as they do with HBO," Marangi said.
With streaming TV and small bundles of channels to be offered by the likes of Appleundefined, DISH Network (DISH) - Get DISH Network Corporation Class A Report and other major TV networks, it may be wise to profit with the trend, said Ridge.
"There doesn't have to be collusion for a business to leverage their strategy with the strategy of a competitor," he added.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.