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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)

I feel sorry for anyone invested/ing in networks, cable or newspapers... they are all going down in the face of the Internet. I can add the two big political parties to the list of Internet casualties.

Internet news and opinion has completely obliterated the economics and power of network news and the print media. I can skip all the commercials, choose for myself what I am interested in, dig as deep as I want and then publish my own views on the matter.... essentially for free.

Likewise, Internet TV will provide entertainment on-demand, precisely what and when the viewer wants, allowing the viewer to select pay-for-view or what commercials he/she will tolerate.... and requires only high speed DSL. ...no cable complex dedicated to shared access to real-time (one time!) broadcasts.

The quicker this merger is approved, the quicker they can discover their mistake and go out of business, clearing the way for real innovation.

And as for the Political Parties... the Parties are OVER. They no longer control the message, nor are they the center of money raising. Look at what the Internet did for Scott Brown. The people have been empowered by the Internet and the old "gatekeepers", telling us what we should think and what we should enjoy, are dead.

I appreciate Franken's position on this and that he appears to be taking his job seriously and not just being a rubber stamp for the rest of the corporatists in both parties.

What a clod.

I'm a conservative, and Franken is correct. Even in free market capitalism; there needs to be a period of regulation and deregulation. What is the incentive to build broadband pipes to the home if you can't make money? I have 5mb to the home and I buy content through Apple TV. Apple is making the money for the $23.00 per season rentals.

Why are democrats such unhappy people? Do they all have chips on their shoulders?

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