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Comcast and NBC strike deal with Independent Film &Television Alliance

July 12, 2010 | 11:41 am

In February, Jean Prewitt, president and chief executive of the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA), told Congress that the proposed merger between cable giant Comcast Corp. and NBC Universal would be bad not only for the creative community but America as well.

"This merger places at risk the opportunities for diverse, original and independent programming to reach the public through traditional media and the new platforms," Prewitt said in written testimony presented to the House Judiciary Committee.

Now the IFTA is singing a different tune. In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, which is reviewing the merger along with the Justice Department, Comcast and NBC said they have struck a pact with the IFTA.

As part of the agreement, Comcast and NBC have promised to allocate $6 million over four years to a development fund for independent productions.

Though that's better than nothing, it is a far cry from the concessions Prewitt told Congress the association wanted before giving the merger its blessing.

"We respectfully urge decision-makers to insist on specific and enforceable requirements on the minimum number of program slots that must be filled with independent programming, or a percentage of the overall acquisition and production budget for content that must be allocated to independents," Prewitt demanded in her testimony. 

Of course, the odds of getting Comcast and NBC to agree to that were very long. The FCC long ago gutted its regulations that prohibited broadcast networks from owning the programming that runs on their channels. Cable networks have never been prohibited from owning their content.

Over the last several weeks, Comcast and NBC have been cutting similar deals with advocacy groups and watchdogs worried about their merger. The FCC and the Justice Department are not expected to sign off on the deal without some conditions dealing with how Comcast and NBC interact with the rest of the industry. Whether all these pacts will ease concerns among regulators remains to be seen.

On Tuesday, the FCC is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the deal in Chicago.

-- Joe Flint

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