Making the case for merger

Comcast, NBC Universal file statement with FCC

Comcast and NBC Universal made the case for their merger in a lengthy filing to the FCC on Thursday, pledging that their combination will provide a diversity of content, as well as expanded news and children’s programming.

The 136-page filing is among the steps the company has to take as it seeks the greenlight from D.C. regulators. The FCC will be weighing the public interest implications, while the Justice Dept.’s Antitrust Division is looking into the impact of the prospective merger on competition. Comcast is seeking a 51% ownership stake in NBC U. The process is expected to take up to a year, and the union has already drawn criticism from some consumer groups.

Both companies argued to the FCC that the new entity will increase local programming. For example, they pledged to provide an additional 1,000 hours of local news and information programming from the NBC O&Os and to provide an additional hour of kidvid each week (above the current three-hour requirement) using multicast channels of NBC O&Os. Other commitments include an additional 1,500 programming choices for children and families within three years on video-on-demand, along with increasing Telemundo and Mun2 VOD programming by up to 300 additional choices within three years.

They also promised that after Comcast Cable has converted its expanded basic tier of service to digital-only delivery, presumably next year, it will add two new independently owned and operated cable networks to its digital lineup each year for the next three years.

Two key lawmakers, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), chairman of the subcommittee on courts and competition policy, issued a joint press release in which Conyers called Comcast’s commitments on editorial independence “encouraging” and Johnson called the effort to address anticompetitive concerns “a step in the right direction.” But Conyers said he was looking for additional guarantees, including those to independent programming, access to sports programming as well as access to popular shows online at low or no cost. The subcommittee will conduct a hearing in February.

FCC filing also noted that women’s programming would be an area of focus. By combining NBC U’s interests in Oxygen and iVillage with Comcast’s interests in E!, Style and Daily Candy, the entity would “have the opportunity to share programming, production facilities, reporting and on-air talent among multiple women’s-oriented networks and websites and on multiple platforms.”

Another key topic in the submission involved Comcast’s plans for online video. It reviewed the introduction two years ago of Project Infinity, which will enable Comcast to deliver exponentially more video content to consumers. Although that announcement focused on on-demand choices, Comcast said its vision also encompasses expanding consumer choices on TV, online and other platforms. It said that’s why Comcast joined with Time Warner to develop the TV Everywhere principles.

Since then, Comcast has begun technical trials of its authentication platform, Fancast Xfinity. It said the transaction would open access to NBC U’s extensive TV and film libraries for distribution across multiple platforms.

The filing did little to allieviate the concerns of consumer groups opposed to the deal. Josh Silver, exec director of Free Press, said in a statement that “the company gives little evidence beyond assertions that this merger will produce anything other than job cuts, higher cable bills, fewer independent programmers and a retreat from public service media.”

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