Friday, June 25, 2010

FCC Stops Clock On Comcast-NBCU Deal

RBR-TVBR: The FCC has again halted its transaction review clock on the proposed acquisition of a majority of NBC Universal by Comcast. The Commission wasn’t satisfied with material they submitted earlier this month in response to an information request issued last month.

The Media Bureau’s dissatisfaction focuses on requests that each company provide a complete list of every video venture in which they have a financial interest and provide a detailed description of each and every one.

The parties also apparently overlooked or ignored a requirement that they submit a specific certification that the information was complete and accurate. The 180-day transaction clock is now stopped until the new responses are received and are found satisfactory.

In fact, the clock on the FCC’s website will have to be rolled back to June 11th, when the responses had been due. By our calculation the clock will be stuck on Day 37 for a while.

Both companies have been asked to answer a few more questions. Well, more than a few – try 63 for Comcast and 59 for NBCU.

The FCC wants organizational charts, the precise location of every cable system and broadcast station in which the companies have an interest, subscriber information, details of programming deals – the list goes on.

The FCC would like details on the situation where markets served by Comcast cable systems are also served by NBC broadcast stations.

It wants details from NBCU on its plans to divest both KWHY-TV Los Angeles and KXAS-TV Fort Worth.

RBR-TVBR observation: For parties interested in delaying this transaction, the request for additional information will be fuel to drive a push for new comment, reply and reply to reply dates, which at this point stretch to early August.

Other Network Affiliates Will Support Conditional Comcast/NBC Merger

Affiliate associations for ABC, CBS and Fox have six items on their requirement list, and if they are made a condition of approval, they say they will essentially be willing to sit back and forever hold their peace at the nuptials of Comcast and NBC Universal.In a filing with the FCC, the affiliates listed the conditions they want to see:

1. That the conditions will be in force for seven years or upon Comcast’s divestiture of NBC Television Network, should that event occur earlier.

2. There will be no discrimination by Comcast against ABC, CBS and Fox stations, in contrast to the way NBC stations are treated.

3. Comcast and NBCU will not collaborate on retransmission decision-making and negotiation.

In other words, NBCU officials will solely negotiate with other non-Comcast MVPDs, and Comcast officials will solely negotiate with broadcast channels, not NBCU, and further, without any input from NBCU.4. Comcast may not use terms agreed to with an NBC affiliate in reference to any legal proceeding of any kind involving retransmission with a non-NBCU station.5. Comcast must negotiate retransmission and carriage “at arm’s length and in good faith with respect to non-NBCU stations.”6. Comcast will not strive to create a competitive advantage for NBC stations over others in any way.

RBR-TVBR observation: As with the NBC affiliates, this is one group of businesses with a huge stake in this matter. Getting a nod of approval is a big plus for Comcast as it moves toward making its acquisition of NBCU happen.

Ex-NBCer Sen. Al Franken Objects To Comcast/NBCU Merger

In comments filed with the FCC on the pending merger between Comcast and NBC Universal, former Saturday Night Live star Al Franken (D-MN) strongly opposed allowing it to go forward. And if approved, he requested the imposition of nine conditions.

He wrote, “Approval of this deal as it currently stands poses a grave threat to the public interest, threatening to set off a dangerous trend of further media consolidation, create even higher prices for consumers, and risk job loss in an already fragile economy. Simply stated, the effects of this deal will undermine the Commission's goals of competition, diversity, and localism.”

He added that claims by the companies that they will bring significant public interest benefits to US consumers “could not be further from the truth.”

He claimed harm will be done to competition, localism and diversity, that existing regulatory structures are not up to the job of riding herd on the merged entity, and that the commitments already made by the merging parties do not go far enough.

If it is going to be approved, Franken wants the following conditions imposed:

1. All programming and channels owned by Comcast/NBCU must be made available to any MVPD on “reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms.”

2. The merged entity must not discriminate against other program sources in favor of its own, whether or not there are existing and applicable carriage regulations.

3. Online programming must be made available to competitors operating in that medium.

4. The merged entity may not discriminate in favor of its own programming on the internet.

5. A subscription to a property of the merged entity should not be required to view its online programming.

6. There should be an FCC shot clock for resolving carriage disputes.

7. The merged entity should have limited power to bundle its programming when selling it to competitors to prevent abuse of market power.

8. To enable the FCC and public to assess the merged entity’s commitment to serving the public interest, it must file regular reports on the amount of local news and public affairs programming it airs on its broadcast stations. It should also disclose the amount of independently-produced programming aired over broadcast and cable platforms.

9. The merged entity may not use “able to use limited distribution agreements to keep content off Internet web sites or distributors.”

Franken concluded, “The proposed Comcast/NBCU merger fails to promote competition, diversity or localism, instead wreaking havoc on those very values. I urge the Commission to examine the numerous direct and collateral effects this merger would have on consumers and small and rural cable companies; on people's cable bills; and on the programming they view on TV and on the Internet. Perhaps most of all, I urge the Commission to consider the precedent this merger would set. Five years from now, we could live in a world in which most Internet Service Providers own Hollywood studios. The question is whether we'd be all be better off for it. The answer, in my mind, is clear: we would not.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Franken has been leading the charge in opposition to this merger, bringing it up in any hearing where he is in attendance, along with either a party to the merger or a regulator reviewing it – so his comments come as absolutely no surprise.

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