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Comcast tells FCC critics of its NBC deal are `self-serving'

July 21, 2010 |  5:28 pm


Comcast Corp. fired back at its critics Wednesday, telling the Federal Communication Commission that the cable giant's proposed merger with NBC Universal will not hurt consumers or competitors.

"Despite the self-serving claims of various competitors and the predictable responses from certain familiar critics, this transaction will not diminish competition in any relevant market ... the combined entity cannot and will not pursue anti-foreclosure strategies, despite the contrived efforts of certain opponents to show otherwise," Comcast said in its filing.

The filing at the FCC is part of the back-and-forth Comcast and NBC Universal have been engaged in with media watchdogs, consumer activist groups, competitors and politicians over what impact their proposed $30-billion marriage will have on the public as well as on the media industry. The FCC, along with the Justice Department, are reviewing the deal and will decide if it should be given a green light and what, if any, conditions should be put on the two companies as part of any approval. 

Opponents of the deal include public interest groups such as Free Press and Media Access Project as well as Bloomberg LP, the business news giant which owns a cable network that competes against NBC's financial channel CNBC. Various factions of the creative community have expressed concern that the deal will further squeeze independent producers, and some minority groups are worried that the deal will harm diversity both in front of the camera and in the executive suites.

In a 327-page response to its critics, Comcast argued that the merger of its cable systems with NBC's content is primarily a vertical one and hence "does not pose any of the traditional harms that some associate with traditional media consolidation."

Competitors worry though that by acquiring NBC Universal, Comcast, already the nation's largest cable and broadband provider, will have an unfair advantage over rival pay television distributors, Internet companies and will have the clout to raise cable prices.

Comcast noted that after its merger it will still trail Time Warner, Viacom and Walt Disney in terms of content assets and that there are no benefits to the company by withholding content from competitors.

"Intense competition among programming networks and among MVPDs [multichannel video programming distributors] ensures against misconduct," Comcast said.

Many of the arguments Comcast made in this filing are what the company has been saying since the deal was unveiled last December.

However, behind the scenes Comcast has been very active in courting opponents and smoothing potential bumps in the road. It has committed to adding a Latino to its board of directors and to carrying more networks that are owned by minority groups. Earlier this month, one of the harsher critics of the deal, the Independent Film & Television Alliance, gave its thumbs up after Comcast and NBC agreed to allocate $6 million over four years to a development fund for independent productions.

Comcast and NBC have also been trying to win over support of their business rivals. NBC affiliates have agreed to support the deal if Comcast agrees to, among other things, not take big-ticket sporting events such as the Super Bowl and the Olympics off of NBC and move them to cable channels. Other broadcasters who own stations that are affiliated with NBC rivals ABC, CBS and Fox have agreed not to make a lot of noise about the deal provided Comcast treats them well.

Opponents of the deal now until Aug. 5 to reply to Comcast's latest comments. After that, the comments cycle of the merger review will be considered closed. A final verdict from the FCC and the Justice Department is not expected until the end of the year at the earliest.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker huddle during a congressional hearing about their deal. Credit: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg.