Justice Dept. will join FCC in review of Comcast-NBC Universal deal
The Dept. of Justice will join the Federal Communications Commission in reviewing Comcast Corp.'s deal to take control of General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal, according to people familiar with the situation.
There was a bit of a tug-of-war between the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Dept. to see who would get to weigh in on the deal, which is valued at $30 billion.
Other recent media mergers have gone to Justice, so this is not a complete surprise. It reviewed Liberty's purchase of satellite broadcaster DirecTV, has been handling the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster and also oversaw the Disney-ABC and Viacom-CBS deals. The FTC did review AOL and Time Warner.
Overseeing the probe will be Christine Varney, who heads up the antitrust division at Justice. Varney is a Washington insider who most recently was a partner in the powerful D.C. law firm Hogan & Hartson and before that was a commissioner at the FTC. One of her top aides is Gene Kimmelman, who is chief counsel for competition policy. When Kimmelman was head of the public interest group Consumers Union, he often warned of media concentration and consolidation. However, he also supported the proposed merger of satellite broadcasters DirecTV and Echostar, which was blocked by the Justice Department.
Congress will get its shot at Comcast executives next month. The Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), who has expressed concern about the way cable programmers bundle their channels together to operators, is in the process of finalizing a date.-- Joe Flint
Photo: Christine Varney. Credit. Dept. of Justice.