After some tough negotiating over key points with Comcast in Philadelphia, the NBC
affiliates have issued a thumbs-up on the pending Comcast-NBC merger, in
the form of a letter the affiliates association will file June 21.
FCC is asking for public comments on the merger, with a deadline of
NBC affiliates board chairman Brian Lawlor and past chairman Michael Fiorile were the affiliates' point-people on the
negotiations, meeting with Comcast COO Stephen Burke, among others. The affiliates wanted assurances that Comcast would remain
committed to over the air television, and would keep the same amount of
sports programming on NBC and not shift it to cable.
"It gives us and the public interest some protections that I think are needed," says NBC affiliates board chairman Brian Lawlor, who's senior v.p. of TV at Scripps.
Perhaps most crucial, the affiliates wanted what one insider termed a "firewall" between retransmission consent
negotiations and affiliate renewals if and when Comcast takes over. "That way, we can negotiate each thing without recourse," said Lawlor, of Comcast's cable and, potentially, broadcast interests.
Networks such as CBS
and ABC are pushing affiliates for retrans cash as part of their
affiliation agreements, and some affiliates are pushing back. The NBC
affiliates are adamant about keeping the issues separate.
worked out a deal with General Electric to acquire a 51% stake in NBC
Universal late last year. The deal is awaiting regulatory approval.
the merger was ironed out, NBC
affiliate GMs were mostly pleased with the prospect of a new parent,
hoping Comcast would help NBC's slumping primetime.
NBC affiliates board veteran said Comcast and the affiliates mostly see eye to eye. "We've got a signed agreement for all the
safeguards we're pursuing," he said. "We'll be supportive of the
The affiliates board will discuss the Comcast
update with the nation's NBC affiliates on a conference call this
Lawlor said he emerged from the Philly meetings feeling as though the affiliates' concerns are taken to heart by Comcast. "I have a comfortable feeling that the things that are of most concern to us will be secured with these conditions," he said.