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Allbritton, parent of Politico and other DC media, making noise about Comcast - NBC deal

Allbritton Communications -- the parent company of Politico, the influential Capitol Hill news operation; WJLA-TV, the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C.; and NewsChannel 8, a local cable news network -- is the latest looking to throw a road block in front of cable giant Comcast Corp.'s pending deal to acquire a controlling stake in NBC Universal.

Over the last several weeks, Allbritton has run lots of advertisements both on Politico's website and on cable and broadcast television about the potential pitfalls of a marriage between Comcast, the nation's largest cable and broadband provider and NBC Universal, the entertainment giant.

One advertisement that has been running calls the proposed deal "the largest merger of media power in American history" and warns that "if Comcast and NBC are allowed to create their media monopoly, then local viewers like you lose." Some of the advertisements have become a regular presence on Politico writer Mike Allen's "Playbook" page, which is one of the most-read columns by D.C. power brokers.

Why is Allbritton so concerned about the Comcast - NBC Universal deal? If the deal is approved, Comcast will own WRC-TV, the NBC station in the market and a chief rival of WJLA and NewsChannel 8. Not only does Allbritton think Comcast will play hardball when it comes to negotiating distribution deals for the two channels, but it also fears that WRC could benefit unfairly in the battle for TV news supremacy.

Earlier this week, Allbritton President Fred Ryan and its legal counsel Jerald Fritz took the company's concerns to the Federal Communications Commission and met with Commissioner Michael Copps and his advisor Joshua Cinelli. Details of the meeting were disclosed in a regulatory filing by the company.

In its filing, Allbritton said Comcast has "indicated" it will negotiate to continue to carry NewsChannel 8. However, Allbritton argued in its filing that Comcast's insistence on "packaging" a deal for the channel with Allbritton's Washington TV station WJLA as well as other stations it owns around the country "ignores" the value of NewChannel 8.

In other words, Allbritton doesn't want Comcast to lump NewsChannel 8 into a distribution deal for its broadcast stations and wants a separate deal instead. Without that, Allbritton says Comcast will have "the ability and incentive to eliminate NewsChannel 8 as a competitive threat."

There may be another reason why Allbritton wants to keep negotiations for NewsChannel 8 separate from the rest of the Allbritton stations. Walt Disney Co., the parent of the ABC network, is aggressively going to seek a cut of the distribution fees its affiliates such as WJLA get from cable and satellite operators. By having a separate fee for NewsChannel 8, Allbritton would be able to protect some of its revenue stream.

Interestingly, other ABC affiliates have already indicated that they won't fight the Comcast - NBC deal if the two companies follow some guidelines with regards to negotiating distribution deals.Allbritton's Fritz is an at-large member of the ABC affiliate board.

An Allbritton representative did not immediate respond to a request for comment on the situation.

-- Joe Flint

 
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