SBD/January 19, 2011/Media

FCC, DOJ Approve Comcast's NBC Universal Acquisition, With Conditions

The FCC and the Department of Justice have approved Comcast's deal "to take a majority stake" in GE's NBC Universal, but the FCC "didn't give carte blanche to Comcast," according to Joe Flint of the L.A. TIMES. The approval was "contingent upon Comcast Corp. agreeing to conditions that the government hopes will [rein] in the media giant." Comcast also "made commitments to boost NBC Universal's news and public affairs programming." The conditions, "most of which run seven years, include requirements that Comcast make its content available to rival cable and satellite distributors as well as online distributors." Comcast also "has to sell its content to online distributors at the same price it offers it to cable and satellite companies." The FCC said it will require Comcast to "offer standalone broadband Internet access services at reasonable prices and of sufficient bandwidth so that customers can access online video services without the need to purchase a cable television subscription from Comcast." Comcast has said that it "hopes to close the deal on Jan. 28" (LATIMES.com, 1/18). In Philadelphia, Jeff Gelles writes the deal "will change the entertainment and communications landscape for years to come," and its "potential effect was nowhere more clear than in the extraordinary list of conditions" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 1/19). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Vascellaro & Catan report under the settlement agreement, Comcast "won't be allowed to withhold NBC programming and Comcast regional sports networks from its pay-TV and online competitors in many instances." Comcast also "will be required to set aside a number of channels for independent programmers and agreed to keep NBC network programming on free over-the-air TV stations." A "fair number" of the FCC's conditions "were expected." Still, analysts said that their "number and scope were significant and further illustrate the challenges Comcast will face in using NBC Universal's content to its advantage, as it tries to fend off new pay TV rivals while reviving struggling areas of the media conglomerate" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/19).

CONDITIONS OF THE APPROVAL: DAILY VARIETY's Ted Johnson noted the conditions imposed by the FCC and DOJ "include a requirement that Comcast submit to arbitration to resolve disputes over prices and terms for rights to carry the combined cable and broadcast channels, as well as regional sports networks" (VARIETY.com, 1/18). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Georg Szalai cited observers as saying that a "process that the FCC established for cases where rivals believe that Comcast isn't making NBC Universal content available to them at fair rates could in some cases mean the company will fetch lower price boosts than it may otherwise be able to." But Comcast "emphasized Tuesday that the process also ensures more clarity for its own management team" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 1/18). USA TODAY's David Lieberman writes the FCC and DOJ "did something remarkable on Tuesday: They came up with a set of conditions on a major business deal ... that leading consumer advocates and company executives both like." Now, fans of "local sports and news channels in Comcast's cable markets should have more choice." Also, the FCC's terms "could end disputes such as the one Comcast has had with Dish Network," which has alleged that Comcast "unfairly withheld its Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia regional sports network" (USA TODAY, 1/19). The INQUIRER's Gelles notes Philadelphia-area sports fans "should finally be able to get Comcast SportsNet via satellite TV" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 1/19).

MORE PROGRAMMING: USA TODAY's Lieberman notes the conditions are "designed to promote competition and boost the amount of TV programming for kids, local communities and minorities" (USA TODAY, 1/19). In DC, Cecilia Kang notes Comcast "will offer more children's programming and local news," and the company "will also offer low-income households Internet service for $9.99 a month and stand-alone broadband Internet subscriptions for $49.99." Comcast also "agreed to share NBC channels to online video providers who strike deals for similar content with competitors" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/19). In N.Y., Claire Atkinson reports Comcast is "being forced to add more kids' shows to its on-demand service, expand the diversity of shows for Hispanic viewers and add 10 new independently owned channels to digital services" (N.Y. POST, 1/19). Also in N.Y., Brian Stelter reported Comcast was "not forced to sell off any assets," though it did agree to "give up NBC's management role in Hulu ... while retaining a financial stake" (NYTIMES.com, 1/18).
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Related Topics:

NBC, GE, Comcast Corp., Media

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