Comcast/NBCU Deal Gets Boost From BroadcastTrust-but-verify retrans side deals pave way for support 6/28/2010 12:01:00 AM Eastern
AS THE FCC closed out its first round of comments
on the Comcast/NBC Universal deal last week, some
agreements Comcast struck with the major broadcasters
seemed to help smooth the road toward eventual approval.
Petitions to deny came from expected sources, with Media Access
Project, Free Press, Consumers Union and Consumer Federation
of America saying there was no way the deal should go
through no matter the conditions. But even opponents have said
they expect the deal to be approved, likely with some conditions.
And the first round appeared to go to deal proponents. Affiliate
groups representing all the major broadcasters said last week
that they had struck informal agreements with Comcast that
cleared the way for their support. Those included promises of
retrans fairness, a key condition for both competing stations and
the NBC affiliates that would be under Comcast’s wing.
NBC affils were the first to cast their lot with the deal. They
said Comcast has promised to meet three key conditions: not to
migrate must-have sports programming from free TV to cable,
not to use affiliation renewals to retaliate for something that happened in retrans negotiations, and not
to bypass stations with a direct-to-cable
feed of network programming.
But while the NBC affils went so far as
to say they’d welcome the merger, they
were not ready to let Comcast’s promise
substitute for more official guarantees.
“While the [affiliate] Association and
Comcast have had productive discussions
and reached agreement on a number of
matters pertaining to ownership of the
NBC Television Network by Comcast,”
said the affiliates in their official comments,
“the three risks identified herein
raise unique concerns for the future of the
network-affiliate partnership and the public
it has served so well for so long. The Association therefore believes
that the Commission, and not just private agreement, should
govern enforcement of measures to protect against these risks.”
Ditto the ABC, CBS and Fox affiliates, which came to agreement
with Comcast over several retrans-related conditions but
also said these must be incorporated into “binding conditions” in
the FCC order. The conditions ensure Comcast will negotiate “at
arm’s length” and “in good faith” with non-NBC affils, and that it
will take no technological moves to favor those owned stations.
For commenters who have not struck any deals with Comcast,
and those who don’t have a middle ground on which to compromise,
the issue of access to online programming took
center stage. Some were looking to use the FCC vetting
process to impose network neutrality-like access
and nondiscrimination conditions on the company.
Public Knowledge put the strongest spotlight on the
issue. It argued that the public interest requires the FCC
to look beyond competition in “mature markets” like
traditional video to competition in an emerging market
like online video, especially since online video is in its infancy.
And in a meeting with FCC staffers, DISH combined a pitch for
network neutrality rules with a warning that Comcast would be
able to “degrade or block” the video content of competitors—the
boilerplate phrase in calls for network nondiscrimination.
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