Allbritton Communications, owner of both ABC affiliate
WJLA-TV and NewsChannel 8 in Washington, has asked the FCC to impose conditions
on the Comcast/NBCU merger to protect its regional cable news channel and
similar ones and to delay its decision on the deal until it can fully vet the
implications of Comcast's distribution power in markets where it will have
NBC O&O's as well as cable systems.
That came in a meeting Monday (Aug. 9)
between Allbritton President Fred Ryan and Senior VP Jerald Fritz and
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, according to an FCC filing.
Allbritton argues that Comcast's effort to package its
negotiations for renewal of the news channel with retransmission consent rights
to Allbritton's TV stations "in far-off markets" devalues the
channel and "exposes Comcast's true intention to devalue the news channel,
rendering it financially non-viable."
Allbritton argues devaluing the cable news channel would
directly benefit WRC-TV Washington, the NBC-owned station that would become a
Comcast-owned station post-merger.
"With the extensive array of NBC's programming content
combined with unprecedented control over distribution
facilities," Allbritton argues, "Comcast will have the ability
and incentive to eliminate NewsChannel 8 as a competitive threat."
Allbritton wants the commission to either make Comcast sell
off the NBC-owned stations in markets where it has "greater than 25%
control of distribution," or require it to negotiate nondiscriminatory
carriage at market rates.
The non-NBC affiliate associations have essentially signed off on
the deal after coming to an agreement with Comcast on conditions relating to sports
programming, retrans and not bypassing the stations for cable delivery of
that Comcast has said will be legally binding.
But Allbritton clearly still sees room for the merged
company to throw its weight around to the disadvantage of local-market
competitors, saying there were "potentially grave implications" to
the deal absent those conditions and saying the result would be the loss of a
"separate, locally-owned voice in the market."
Joe Flint of the Los Angeles Times, who late Wednesday reported
the ex parte filing on the Allbritton concerns, points out
that Allbritton has been running ads critical of the deal on its
as well as WJLA and NewsChannel 8, which this week was renamed TBD TV
as part of a multiplatform approach to its Washington news coverage.