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FCC is digging deep as it reviews Comcast-NBC Universal deal

May 25, 2010 |  3:46 pm

Looks like the legal teams at Comcast Corp. and General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal are going to be working this holiday weekend.

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission sent questions to Comcast and NBC Universal as part of the regulatory agency's review of the merger between the nation's largest cable and broadband provider and the entertainment giant.

GENACHOWSKI The questions are, to put it mildly, very detailed and probing and no doubt will require both companies to reveal confidential information, much of it involving third parties. About the only thing the FCC doesn't want to know about Comcast and NBC is what's on the menu at their respective cafeterias.

Some of the questions the FCC is asking may even go beyond the regulatory agency's purview. However, when regulatory agencies review mergers, they try to dig as deep as they can using the public interest angle as justification and since the companies want to get their deal done, they usually play ball. The due date for both companies is June 11.

Of particular interest to the commission is how NBC Universal and Comcast decide what content of theirs goes on what platforms. The FCC is asking NBC Universal to provide "total revenues and other consideration" it gets from cable and satellite distributors, online video distributors and its own NBC affiliates. The commission also wants to know details of every programming agreement NBC Universal has with all its distributors as well as the financial nitty-gritty on its production business. 

There are similar questions for Comcast. The FCC asks: "Describe in detail all discussions, deliberations, analyses, and decisions related to providing or not providing the company's video programming to unaffiliated online video programming distributors, including but not limited to Hulu, Boxee, YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes." If that's not enough, the commission wants to know all persons involved in such discussions.

With regards to Hulu, the FCC says it wants details on all "discussions, deliberations, analyses, and decisions related to the possibility of Hulu charging a monthly fee to access content on their website."

However, NBC Universal may have to tell the FCC to take a hike on that one, as Hulu is also owned by Walt Disney Co. and News Corp. and they may not want NBC to disclose confidential discussions and business strategies. Oh, and the FCC doesn't really have any regulatory say over whether Hulu charges for content or not (at least not yet).

ROBERTS Many of the questions give insight into what the FCC is concerned about regarding the merger. It wants NBC to cough up any research or presentations made to the company's board of directors or upper management about the "future viability of free over-the-air broadcast television." It also is very interested in how Comcast negotiates with broadcasters for retransmission consent and how owning NBC Universal might give the cable company leverage in negotiating with other cable and satellite distributors.

The FCC wants Comcast and NBC Universal to provide details of every sports rights contract their respective companies hold, including the NBA, the NFL and MLB. Comcast also owns sports teams and the commission wants to know what sort of distribution deals the cable giant cuts with other distributors. It also wants to know how much NBC makes in ad revenue for all the shows it airs.

On the movie side, the FCC wants to know the inner workings of Universal Pictures, including the costs of the movies the studio has made, acquisition costs and revenue from various windows. 

One of the concerns for Comcast and NBC as they try to answer all those questions is that the information they provide doesn't fall into the hands of its competitors. While all the fun stuff will probably be redacted in the answers they release to the public and media, some lawyers for those companies that are filing against the deal could get a look at a lot of the inner workings of Comcast and NBC Universal. 

 -- Joe Flint

Here are links to the FCC's questions.

For NBC:

For Comcast:

Top photo: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images. Bottom photo: Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts. Credit: Matt Rourke / Associated Press