Mouse in the House

Disney tells panel AOL TW will rule interactive TV

WASHINGTON — The Walt Disney Co. has once again taken a public role in rallying against the AOL/Time Warner merger, telling a congressional panel Friday that the united company will rule the interactive TV market for years to come unless government regulators intervene.

“The preservation of consumer choice and robust competition require no less,” Disney VP and general counsel Louis Meisinger testified Friday before a House Commerce Committee subcommittee.

Meisinger said AOL Time Warner can’t be trusted to allow competitors, such as Disney, to open up valuable cable lines to other content providers of interactive TV. He testified that the merged company will make it difficult for consumers using AOL TW cable lines to interact with independent content providers, such as the Mouse.

The Mouse is hardly alone anymore in sounding the battle cry over the $183 billion merger, with government regulators themselves seriously questioning whether approval of the merger should be conditioned upon binding promises. Other media giants, such as NBC, also oppose the union.

Overseas, Time Warner announced last week that it is shelving, at least temporarily, the proposed $20 billion merger with EMI group to appease European antitrust regulators. That should clear the way for approval of the AOL/TW merger by the EC.

In the U.S., the FTC and FCC are reaching the final stages of merger review. If AOL and Time Warner should refuse to accept conditions regarding open access, the FTC would have the option of going to court to block the union.

AOL and Time Warner have repeatedly said they would not discriminate against competitors who need their technology to reach consumers.

Friday’s congressional hearing followed a Sept. 27 session at which Time Warner topper Gerald Levin and AOL chairman Steve Case testified. Case promised that a combined AOL Time Warner “will make interactivity and convergence accessible to consumers around the world…in ways that really enrich peoples’ lives.”

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