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Comcast/Allbritton Spar Over Coverage - Broadcasting & Cable

Comcast/Allbritton Spar Over Coverage

Fight shows contentiousness of content negotiations
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Allbritton continues to press its case at the FCC for conditions on the Comcast/ NBCU merger, a move Comcast has labeled a “misuse” of the transaction process to extract concessions in advance of carriage negotiations. The fight illustrates the growing contentiousness of negotiations between broadcasting and cable over content.

According to an FCC filing, Allbritton President Fred Ryan and SVP Jerald Fritz met with a top advisor to Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to argue that the deal should not be approved without conditions protecting Allbritton’s NewsChannel 8 in Washington and other channels that compete with NBCU-owned stations.

Allbritton says that while Comcast has agreed to negotiate for renewed carriage of NewsChannel 8, its insistence on tying that to retrans consent for Allbritton stations in other markets devalues the news channel—which Allbritton further argues is Comcast’s intent.

In comments to the FCC, Allbritton said it opposed the merger without those conditions and argued for either forced divestitures of stations or cable systems in key markets or unbundling carriage negotiations for local/regional cable channels—like NewsChannel 8—from retrans talks.

Comcast counters that Allbritton is refusing to engage in reasonable negotiations and has “concocted” a theory of harm.

Besides, adds Comcast, Allbritton did not raise the issue in initial comments, as the FCC required all parties to do. In fact, the commission expressly stated that, “new issues may not be raised in responses or replies.”

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