In a letter to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus, the lawmakers contend that the newly merged company will reach over 90% of the Latino households in the United States.
“Unfortunately, independent Latino program providers operate on an uneven playing field that threatens to limit the Latino community’s access to their important perspectives,” the letter states. “For years, the nation’s largest mainstream program providers have continued to attract available channel capacity and fees from cable and satellite providers while independent program providers struggle to gain access to channels, let alone fees, for their program offerings.”
The lawmakers are asking Comcast and TW Cable to make a “formal commitment” to carry independent Latino channels, as well as to ensure that they will be available to a wide set of audiences and that they won’t operate on an “uneven playing field.”
In response, Comcast’s executive vice president David L. Cohen defended its offerings of Latino-focused content in a letter to the lawmakers, calling it “best in class in the industry.” But he also seemed to suggest that the pending merger could be used as an opportunity by “parochial business interests.” Comcast may face additional commitments before the FCC as it conducts a public interest review of the transaction.
“Through the transaction with Time Warner Cable, we are committed to bringing high-quality Hispanic content to millions of additional Americas,” he wrote. “My only caveat is that the importance of independent and Hispanic programming, which we are excelling at delivering, should not be confused by parochial business interests seeking more money and distribution for themselves.”
The lawmakers’ letter does commend the two companies for commitments they have already made to the Latino community, but says that “in today’s increasingly consolidated media environment, these program providers are facing new challenges in addition to their historic disadvantage in the marketplace.”
“For most of the Latinos in our nation, merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable would mean one company controlling their window to the world of culture and entertainment,” Cardenas said in a statement.
The Department of Justice and the FCC are reviewing the proposed transaction.
When Comcast acquired a controlling stake in NBCUniversal in 2011, it committed to adding 10 new independent channels by 2019, as well as to increased carriage of independent networks. The company said in a recent diversity report that it has greatly increased on-demand and online content aimed at the Hispanic market, as well as for other groups, since the end of 2010.
In Comcast’s letter Cohen noted that the company distributes more than 60 Latino networks in Spanish and English and and, since the NBCU merger, launched two new independent networks, El Rey and Baby First Americas with Latino ownership and management.
“Since 2011, Comcast has expanded the total distribution of seven Hispanic programming networks by more than 14 million subscribers,” he wrote. “This exceeds by more than 40 percent our commitment in the NBCUniversal transaction to expand three Hispanic networks by 10 million subscribers.”