An Industry Split in the Comcast-NBC U Deal

The Directors Guild of America is for it; the Writers Guild of America West is against it.

As I mentioned before, today is the deadline for public comment to the FCC on the Comcast-NBC Universal joint venture. Comcast has a site up that links to letters from all of the politicians, labor groups and other broadcasters that are for the transaction,  including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Teamsters and Tribeca.

Although the DGA and the WGA have significant overlapping membership, they’ve also had a history of friction, so in a sense their divergent views of the transaction is not too great of a surprise.

In a letter to the FCC, the DGA’s national executive director Jay Roth writes that “many parties have criticized the proposed merger without considering key areas of concern for this industry that we believe may be positively impacted by this transaction.

He adds, “Specifically, too little focus has been placed on the issue of jobs maintenance and creation. In a time when the industry is facing financial pressure from all sides, we expect that Comcast’s commitment to grow the industry, infuse new capital into the entertainment business and invest additional resources into programming will represent a change from the uncertainty caused by many of the current owner’s past decisions concerning commitment to our industry, programming and jobs.”

While the DGA also expressed satisfaction over Comcast’s commitment to support independent programming, including a vow to add new non-Comcast channels to its cable line-up, the WGA sees the loss of independent programming as on of the transaction’s “core threats.”

The WGA’s opposition was expressed as part of  a group of 13 organizations who filed a joint letter with the FCC and the Justice Department, who must each give their greenlight to the transaction. Also included in the letter were the Communication Workers of America, Free Press, Public Knowledge and Bloomberg LP. The latter has a competiting business network to NBC Universal’s CNBC.

“The merged entity will, to an unprecedented degree, have the means and the incentive to prevent the success of independent programmers. Put simply, as the owner of both content and the means of distributing content, Comcast will have every reason to undermine the many independent news, sports and entertainment channels that compete with the channels it owns.”

They also say that the merged entity will undermine competition among video distributors, have the means to drive up costs of cable TV and satellite service, harm the merging online video market and have an “unprecedented among of power” over news programming as well as influence in labor negotiations.

WGA West President John Wells testified on the merger in March before the Senate Commerce Committee.

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