To paraphrase one of the zillion comments that followed the announcement of the Comcast-NBCU deal: The sky isn't falling. To hear some folks in Washington talk, the merger was between Darth Vader and Lord Voldemort. Hardly. It is between two veteran media companies with much to recommend them, separately and together.
It is not like combining two archrivals in a single space, either. Executives last week pointed out that 99.9% of their staffers work in non-overlapping businesses.
Anti-consolidation forces were massing on the Potomac last week, taking potshots at the public interest pledges the companies were offering up. These pledges fell far short of the deal foes' desires, which would have included divesting the broadcast stations, unbundling programming and applying program access conditions to online content. But they will likely help the deal in Washington, according to one Justice Department veteran—the rending of garments notwithstanding. And Comcast CEO Brian Roberts pointed out that these were “initial commitments,” with more due when the companies file a public interest statement with the FCC.
Some groups, like consolidation arch-foe Free Press, would not be satisfied with any conditions of the deal, and others will want more than Comcast and NBC are willing to provide. But the Justice Department (or the Federal Trade Commission) and the FCC will decide.
The betting money last week was still on the deal going through after careful scrutiny and perhaps some further guarantees of access to programming. For viewers, this will mean wherever they want, whenever they want, if the companies deliver on their pledges.
In fact, they will have to. To be competitive, content silos must come down all over the media map. The FCC advised as much last week when it issued a request for comment on devices that will turn TVs into one-stop-shopping for cable, broadcast and online content.
And all of those platforms will be necessary to build a digital media future. Comcast says it was committed to the NBC network, but also points out that the cable channels will drive 80% of the cash flow. It is not time to shovel dirt on broadcast networks and stations just yet, however. They remain assets worth protecting. That means continuing to demonstrate to a government hungry to reclaim broadcast spectrum that there is both a public interest, and a public interested, in preserving free-over-the-air TV.
Comcast Executive VP David Cohen said last week that the combination of assets will allow for innovative programming opportunities, “including local viewers in the markets served by NBCU's owned-and-operated stations,” that will better serve the interests of minorities, kids and families.
Make that case, and you've made the deal.