NBC affiliates tell FCC to make sure Comcast keeps sports on NBC after merger
NBC's affiliates are worried that the network will stop carrying big-ticket sporting events after its deal to merge with Comcast Corp. closes.
In a meeting with commissioners and top staffers at the Federal Communications Commission this week, NBC affiliates said one of the conditions of regulatory approval of cable giant Comcast's proposed takeover of NBC Universal should be a commitment to keep sports on NBC. Details of the meeting were disclosed in a regulatory filing by the D.C. law firm of Covington & Burling, which represents the NBC affiliate board.
Specifically, NBC's affiliates told the FCC that the agency needed to ensure the "availability of highly valued sporting events on free, over-the-air broadcasting by preventing the migration of such programming to Comcast cable channels," according to the Covington & Burling Ex-Parte filing.
NBC Sports' lineup includes the Olympics, NFL Football and NHL Hockey as well as golf and the Kentucky Derby.
The affiliates also want the agency to safeguard against the possibility that Comcast would drop a station from being an NBC affiliate in a market where it owns the cable system and could create its own channel to carry NBC. The FCC must "protect the integrity of local markets by preventing a bypass of local affiliates via a direct feed from the network to Comcast cable systems."
Lastly, the affiliates also don't want Comcast to be able to tie affiliation agreements and retransmission consent agreements together. The so-called retransmission consent rules allow local TV stations to seek money from distributors such as Comcast in return for carrying their signal. Affiliates fear that Comcast could use its leverage as owner of NBC to cut favorable deals for itself on retransmission consent.
Making the rounds of the FCC to make their case were executives from NBC's biggest affiliate groups including E.W. Scripps, Gannett and Hearst Television. Besides NBC affiliates, Covington & Burling also represents the National Football League.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: The Chicago Blackhawks celebrate their Stanly Cup, which was televised on NBC. Credit: Matt Slocum/Associated Press.