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Comcast-NBC Universal deal gets Mayor Villaraigosa's blessing

June 18, 2010 |  5:28 pm

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has given his blessing to cable giant Comcast Corp.'s proposed $30-billion takeover of General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal.

In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, Villaraigosa said that because of the city's demographics and its role as the entertainment capitol of the world, the merger is of "vital interest to me and the residents of Los Angeles." The FCC and the Justice Department are reviewing the merger, which would combine the nation's largest cable and broadband provider with a huge entertainment entity that owns Universal Pictures, NBC and many cable channels including USA, Bravo and CNBC.

VILLARAIGOSA Villaraigosa wrote that he is "particularly pleased to note the positive impact there will be on minority programming, employment and purchasing practices, as well as local programming and local content opportunities" as a result of the merger. Although Comcast does not have any cable systems serving Los Angeles, it does have cable programming networks that are based here, including E!. In addition to its three television stations, NBC Universal operates Universal Pictures out of the Universal City area.

NBC has said that as part of the merger, it would divest itself of its Spanish-language station KWHY-TV Los Angeles. That could mean a loss of jobs. Villaraigosa was pleased that Comcast has said it will make an effort to find a minority buyer for the station.

The mayor even took a veiled swipe at NBC Universal's current owner. He wrote, "based on the experience of General Electric's ownership, it is vitally important that the next owner be an entity that understands and helps promote the entertainment industry and is attentive to the communities it serves."

Villaraigosa's letter is one of hundreds from public officials and agencies on behalf of Comcast and NBC's merger. Both Comcast and NBC Universal have been aggressive in lobbying for political and community support for the deal to counterbalance resistance from media watchdogs and some consumer advocates.

In other news about the deal, NBC's affiliates are going to file comments Monday at the FCC with three conditions it would like the agency to include in any approval it gives on the deal.

Specifically, as previously reported in Company Town, NBC's affiliate group wants a commitment from Comcast not to move big sporting events currently broadcast on NBC to a cable channel. NBC's sports programming includes football, golf, the Kentucky Derby, NHL coverage and the Olympics.

The affiliates also want a commitment from Comcast that it won't drop NBC stations in cities where it owns the cable system and could create its own channel to carry NBC.

Finally, the affiliates don't want Comcast to be able to tie affiliation agreements and retransmission consent agreements together. Retransmission consent rules allow TV stations to seek money from distributors such as Comcast in return for carrying their channels. Affiliates worry that Comcast could use its leverage as owner of NBC to cut favorable deals for itself on retransmission consent.

Comcast has held meetings with NBC affiliates and indicated that it is on board with those conditions, people from both sides say. The affiliates still want those conditions included in any FCC approval.

The FCC may decide not to weigh in on some of those suggested conditions. The agency has never gotten involved in issues of sports coverage migrating from broadcast television to cable. It is unclear whether the agency would have the clout to tell a company where it can and cannot put certain programming.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Wednesday. Credit: David McNew/Getty Images