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It's probably not a good time for Comcast to get tangled up in Ticketmaster-Live Entertainment merger

November 17, 2009 |  1:00 pm

Lets see. Comcast is on the verge of announcing a deal to take control of NBC Universal. Said deal will draw lots of attention from Washington. Even though, on the surface, the deal appears to face few regulatory obstacles, now is the time to maybe think about a low profile in our nation's capital.

TICKETMASTER But either in a case of bad timing or bad judgment, Comcast has become somewhat entangled in the Justice Department's intense review of the merger between Ticketmaster Entertainment Inc. and Live Nation Inc., according to Bloomberg, which reported the story this morning. The Bloomberg story specifically says Comcast is "working with Ticketmaster Entertainment Inc. and Live Nation Inc. to help the two companies salvage their music industry merger now under U.S. antitrust scrutiny."

The Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger, which would pair the globe's biggest ticketing company with the largest concert promoter and arena owner, has raised red flags both here and abroad. Last month, British regulators said they were opposed to the merger. Here, many lawmakers and consumer groups have warned that the combination would create a powerful monopoly that could hurt both artists and consumers.

ROBERTS Comcast has a lot of interest in the outcome, for obvious reasons. The company is the owner of a couple of sports teams (Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers) and arenas as well as its own ticketing unit -- New Era Tickets. Comcast also owns Ovations Food Services, which has deals with arenas and stadiums all over the country to supply food and beverages. Bloomberg says Comcast could get client contracts and software as part of the concessions that Ticketmaster and Live Entertainment would have to make to get through the Justice Department.

Comcast already testified in support of the merger on Capitol Hill earlier this year. If, as Bloomberg reported, Comcast is now trying to help push the deal through the Justice Dept., this does not seem like the ideal time for such a move, particularly when the deal is facing such dramatic opposition. Somehow, we're guessing that regulators won't be pleased to hear that a huge conglomerate, which is looking to get huger, doesn't not have an issue with another huge merger -- from which it might stand to benefit

The Obama administration has talked about being tougher on mergers than the Bush administration was, and although there is little on paper to stop a Comcast-NBC Universal deal, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to make the spotlight on your company even bigger.

Now if the Justice Department asked Comcast for information to help them decide how to proceed on the Ticketmaster-Live Entertainment merger, that's a different story.

We called Comcast spokesman Ike Richman to try to figure this out, but he wasn't interested in even hearing our questions before offering his no comment. We explained that we'd like to actually ask questions before getting his no comment and then he begrudgingly agreed to listen to one question before again declining comment. For their sake, let's hope he's not put in charge of the schmooze regulators effort at Comcast after the NBC deal goes down.

-- Joe Flint

Photos: At top, Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino (left) and Ticketmaster Entertainment CEO Irving Azoff testify about their merger on Capitol Hill in February. Credit: Kevin Wolf / Associated Press. At bottom, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. Credit: George Widman / Associated Press