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Sen. Al Franken comes out swinging against Comcast-NBC deal

Doesn't look like comedian turned senator Al Franken is planning a return to NBC's "Saturday Night Live" anytime soon.

In his opening remarks about the proposed Comcast-NBC deal at a hearing held by the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, Franken (D-Minn.) ripped into the deal and the risks it could present to not only consumers but media competition as well.

Franken, who was a regular on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" for years and also had a short-lived sitcom on the network called "Lateline" in the late 1990s, dismissed the claims made by Comcast and NBC Universal that the partnering of the nation's largest broadband and cable provider with the entertainment giant would not harm competitors or the public.

FRANKEN "You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t trust these promises, and that is from experience in this business," Franken snapped.

Franken noted that similar promises were made by NBC when it was supporting the gutting of federal regulations that limited the amount of programming a broadcast network could own. Known as the financial interest and syndication rules, the Federal Communications Commission removed them over a decade ago after years of debate between producers and networks. Getting rid of the so-called fin-syn rules cleared the way for the mergers of Walt Disney and ABC as well as Viacom and CBS.

At the same time, most independent production companies were either gobbled up or went out of business. Today, the majority of programming is made by the big broadcast networks and studios.

Franken even pointed to NBC General Counsel Rick Cotton during his opening remarks and accused NBC of demanding that producers give them ownership in shows if they wanted the shows to get on the air.

"If an independent producer wants to get show on, it is routine practice, and you guys know it, for the network to demand at least part ownership of the show," Franken said. "Lateline" was produced by Paramount, NBC and Franken's own company.

Franken's remarks have provided the biggest fireworks of the day so far. Earlier Thursday morning, Comcast and NBC Universal chief executives Brian Roberts and Jeff Zucker faced a mix of hardball and softball questions about the deal from the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet.

Lots of the same ground is being covered in the two hearings. There is great concern from lawmakers about media concentration, discrimination against small and independent programmers, and programming available on free television migrating to cable.

It was pretty easy to tell who was on team Comcast - NBC Universal and who wasn't in the House hearing, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who is chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Comcast needs to "ensure independent writers, directors and producers won't be harmed" by the deal to acquire majority control of General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal.

Also wary was Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who expressed fears that the deal will stifle competition and end up costing consumers.

Skeptical of the concerns of media watchdogs was Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who said he was more interested in talking about the deal and not a bunch of "what if" scenarios.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Sen. Al Franken. Credit: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg

Comments () | Archives (105)

If Comcast doesn't change NBC's progressive, @ss-kissing news format, than no one is going to watch it anyway. BTW dump cable and satellite and get AT&T U-verse - it is cheaper and much, much better.

I have never been a fan of Franken but I believe he is on to something here. Comcast doesn't give a darn about its customers or others in the industry. It sort of reminds me of Rupert Murdock taking control of the news industry to where I can't believe a thing I see in print. Next we will be hearing that Comcast is to bif to fail!!!!!!

I always thought Franken was a shill and never liked him, but I'm starting to respect him a lot more as a Senator. Lots of politicians go to Washington claiming they are going to shake things up and not go along with the status quo, and they're shown to be full of BS when they get there. Franken looks like the real deal. There are times when he could show a little more class, however. We'll see how this goes.

Wow!This is a good news/bad news scenario.The bad news(for dims) is that he doesn't behave like a puppet(so far) to media lobbyists.The good news is that he may actually be independent and represent the people of Mn.,but I'll hold judgement for a while still.This has to torque someone there at NBC.

If I call Franken a Libutard will Palin call me out? I could agree marginally with Franken except my motives are based on the benefits of freer competition in the market place and his are based on basic hatred of corporations and the desire to destroy them regardless of the damage it causes to employees, competition, investment and productivity. I doubt Franken can spell and define 'free market'. If this comment slips by Palin maybe Rahmbi Emmanuelle can instead start calling his own "Libutards" from his WH office and conference rooms. Don't forget Rahmbi, you also have the option of cataloguing your libutards as either morons, imbeciles, or idiots all of which falls under the 'retard' broad brush. Hope I've been helpful. Free speech uber alles!!!

I see the trolls from the Drudge Report are here.

In any event, kudos to Al Franken, the one U.S. senator not owned by any major U.S. corporation (a rarity, indeed). He is promoting true liberalism by fighting the conglomeration and merger of the corporation-state entity. He's fighting the good fight, but I'm afraid it's too late--fascism is already here, as can be seen by corporate control of Congress and complete ownership of the U.S. political right wing.

Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Franken is despicable but that doesn't mean he can't stumble over the truth occasionally. I don't think it's smart to fight him on everything--especially since he's going to have plenty of opportunity to hang himself in the next few years. Whack him on what he NEEDS whacking on.

>>> "If an independent producer wants to get show on, it is routine practice, and you guys know it, for the network to demand at least part ownership of the show,"

Yeah, and? A network is not a charity whose sole purpose is to provide free delivery of any producer's content. If a producer wants a piece of the network's delivery capacity it stands to reason that a network could ask for a piece of the prodcuers product as well.

If a producer wants to air his content without an arrangement with a network, he is free to start his own. Ooops, that's right, the government and Al Franken decide who can be a network, so he'd have to go groveling before them in order to do so.

I'm not a fan of Franken and lord knows I've lambasted him but wow, what a complete 180 he's taking. First he fires on Axelrod now this. Did the angel of common sense pimp slap him or what? If he starts doing the right thing Democrat or not he'll have my backing.

So, we finally found a subject on which Franken has some "local knowledge". Just keep this ACORN beneficiary away from healthcare and most everything else on which he is clueless. Wish he could return to his epic days at Air America, but he facilitated their assisted suicide so that won't happen. Guess we're stuck!

hey, franken - it's none of your business how comcast operates. if you don't like the business tactics or business strategy, then raise capital and buy it; otherwise shut up and get busy convincing your commie-crats to permanently lowering ALL taxes!

Al Franken is not an intellectual or a policy wonk, far from it. That is like saying Al Gore is a global warming expert during this extremely cold winter. Al Franken has a hissy fit each time he does not get his way and he raises his voice and screachs like a stuck pig to get people to back down. But in the end, childish morons like Al Franken are marginalized and soon go away.

"You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t trust these promises, and that is from experience in this business," Franken snapped. ..Experience?!?!? Al Franken was/is a comedian and never produced or headed up any part of the "industry" he claims to know so well. This is like a car salesman understanding the manufacturing process of how a car is built, ridiculous...Al Franken should go back to what he does best; rolling around in diapers....

I don't see all the fuss, network TV is going the way of the horse and buggy. 5 years from now Comcast, TimeWarner and the telcos will just be IP gateways between consumers and content providers such as prodution companies that are are currently bundled under the cable network model. Comcast knows this an their trying to keep relevent going forward.
Anyone associated with TV, whether cable, sat or rabit ears; better take a close look at the internet model, that's the future. Less money but greater freedom.

Al Franken are you trying to do the right thing? I thought I was the only one who remembered why all the baby bells were forced to be created. Careful sir if you start having a real opinion on things you may find yourself thrown under the bus.

I'm an independent...don't like Franken...don't respect Franken, but in this case he's right on the mark. Comcast reps. gave me a 'deal' when I signed on and then changed it soon after. There is no other cable tv/internet service where I live so there is no choice...and we have to pay for programs we don't watch...cable companies should give people the option of picking, let's say, 20 channels of their choice...instead, they spread them around so that if you want to watch a certain channel and it's not on your list, you are forced to choose a hundred more of which you only want one or two...it's a scam and Comcast is growing more and more powerful, and corrupt...so, Franken is right and is fighting in this case for the little guy and I hope he pulls it off...it shouldn't matter if someone is a democrat or a republican or an independent as long as he or she is on the side of the people and has integrity...

The alligator tears from the left in these comments are quite telling. We all know why you are opposed to this deal. You don't want to see Immelt and GE loose control over NBC. Thats it end of story. All these 'competition' stuff is just bull. If Comcast was buying FOX from News Corp you would be doing back flips.

What GE and Immelt have done with NBC is shameful. They have used it as a propaganda arm to push their other interests. Immelt has driven the company into the ground pushing its green technology arm while ignoring its real money makers like their coal and grass turbines and home appliances.

Then when it becomes clear that he bet on the wrong horse he uses NBC's media influence to buy politicians who promise to make their green technology cost comparative through subsidies and cap and trade. He uses NBC to push their green technology and guilt people into buying their overpriced products.

If there was ever a need for a break up it is GE being broken apart from its propaganda arm of NBC.

Too bad he won't fight this hard against the coming government take over of something truly important like our health care.

Solution: Quit watching TV. Read a book, get your news unfiltered on the internet, play games with your family. Turn the stupid-box off.

Put them out of business and do yourself a favor at the same time.

Dimocrites don't want these companies to have a position that allows them to take advantage of the people of America. Dimocrites want the monopoly of that advantage all to themselves.

Hey, Eric Bressler, you do realize a policy wonk is not a good thing, don't you?

Who in the hell gets cable from Comcast? Cable blows. Switch to DirecTV.

Actually, he want to make sure that the National Barack Channel continues is unwavering fawning under the management of Comcast. Not to worry.

I use to have respect for the guy, but the way he stole the election in Minnesota has left a bad taste in my mouth. It just goes to prove that if your average, you can be in the Democrat party.

He's absolutely right, this will harm media competition. It will go from a 3 to 1 conservative to liberal coverage down to a two to two. That's not going to be fair for the democrats when TWO networks are pointing out democrat mistakes, though at this point we NEED two networks to keep up.

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