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Viacom tells government it is worried about Comcast - NBC Universal deal

December 13, 2010 |  1:27 pm

Viacom Inc., the media conglomerate whose holdings include Paramount Pictures and cable networks MTV, Comedy Central and VH1, has raised concerns with the Federal Communications Commission about the merger between Comcast Corp. and NBC Universal.

According to a FCC filing, officials from Viacom including DeDe Lea, executive vice president of government relations, met with agency officials last week to talk about its issues regarding the deal.

Until now, most of the major media giants have remained quiet on any fears they may have about the nation's largest cable and broadband operator acquiring a majority stake in NBC Universal, whose assets include the NBC network, Universal Pictures and several powerful cable channels including USA and Bravo. Among those still keeping quiet on the deal, at least as far as the FCC is concerned, is Walt Disney Co., News Corp., Time Warner and CBS.

Among the topics Viacom discussed were concerns it had that Comcast would have "increased incentive and ability to impede competition ... by favoring its own content to the detriment of independent programmers."

Viacom, the filing said, asked the FCC to "carefully evaluate" the effect that the deal would have on independent programmers "and consider taking steps to safeguard competition and protect unaffiliated providers of video programming from anti-competitive practices."

One motivation for Viacom's filing may be that Comcast has as yet not signed a deal to carry Epix, the pay movie channel the company launched last year. Also, Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman is on board of the Tennis Channel, a cable network that has been in a bitter fight with Comcast and has also talked with the FCC about its concerns with the merger.

The meeting is sure to get attention from lawmakers on Capitol Hill and media watchdogs already worried about the Comcast - NBC Universal deal. Both the FCC and Justice Department are reviewing the proposed deal to ensure it serves the public interest and doesn't reduce competition. Comcast has agreed to a number of conditions to try push the deal through Washington, but the review is still going on and may not be concluded until early next year.

Internet video is the area getting much of the attention from the government. There are worries that Comcast could use its clout to stifle innovation on the Internet, and a push for conditions that prohibit Comcast from withholding its own content — such as cable channels — from any potential broadband competitor, or from blocking rival video service providers from accessing Comcast's broadband pipes into homes.

Separately, Congressman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the incoming chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent the FCC a letter urging the agency not to let "opportunistic competitors or special interest groups undermine your regulatory process by using the transaction review as a vehicle to implement their industry-wide policy wish lists or unwarranted conditions.

-- Joe Flint

Related story: Internet issues bog down Comcast - NBC Universal merger.

For the record: This post was updated at 2:10 p.m. to include Rep. Fred Upton's letter to the FCC.

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