FCC wants more information from Comcast and NBC
Although Comcast and NBC are hopeful that their proposed marriage will get through regulators and lawmakers before the end of the year, the Federal Communications Commission just hit both companies with requests for lots more information on how they do business as part of its ongoing review of the deal.
In letters to both companies, the regulatory agency asked dozens of questions that seem aimed at determining how both Comcast -- the nation's largest cable and broadband distributor -- and NBC Universal -- parent of the NBC network, Universal Studios and several cable networks including USA and Bravo -- interact with the rest of the industry.
Specifically, the FCC asked Comcast and NBC Universal for copies of their most recent distribution deals for their various cable networks. Comcast, for example, was asked to provide distribution agreements for its E! channel with Time Warner Cable, satellite broadcaster DirecTV, Cox and several other carriers. NBC Universal was asked to do the same for its cable networks. One might take away that the FCC wants to see what advantages bigger distributors have over smaller distributors when it comes to programming deals.
The agency also seems to want to know what Comcast's operating plans are once the deal is approved. One of the questions to Comcast requests that cable company "identify and describe, by parties, addressee, date, and subject matter, all agreements, memoranda of understanding, letters, correspondence, written testimony, e-mails and similar documents, by which the Company has made commitments with third parties in connection with the future operation of its proposed LLC with NBCU."
While that request certainly applies to deals Comcast has already cut with various parties that have a stake in the deal, including NBC's affiliates, it also leaves room to probe deeper into how far along Comcast already is in terms of running NBC Universal.
In May, Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said in an interview with former News Corp. Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin that the cable company did not intend to "Comcastize" NBC Universal.
However, last week Comcast announced that its Chief Operating Officer, Steve Burke, would be in charge of NBC Universal and that Jeff Zucker, who currently runs that company, would leave once the deal closes. While such a move had always been expected by media outlets covering the deal, Comcast management, including Burke, had said several times after the deal was announced that Zucker would run the company.
One of the groups opposing the Comcast-NBC deal, the Coalition for Competition in Media, whose backers include Bloomberg Media, the Writers Guild of America and media watchdogs such as Media Access Project and Free Press. The group is trying to make hay out of Comcast's announcement that Burke will replace Zucker when the deal closes. Citing stories that indicate Burke is no stranger at NBC's New York City headquarters, the Coalition for Competition in Media said Monday in a letter to President Obama that, "Comcast's actions are a complete affront to the regulatory process." The cable company, the letter added, is trying to create "an aura of inevitability" to the deal closing.
Comcast fired back that its deal has "already been the most thoroughly reviewed merger in media history" and that the Coalition for Competition in Media is "funded by our competitors" and that its implications about the review process are "insulting to the Congress, the FCC, and the Department of Justice."
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Comcast chief executive officer and future NBC Universal chief Steve Burke. Credit: Stephen Chernin/Getty Images