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Mouse rats out AOL to feds

Disney asks for FCC restrictions

WASHINGTON — The Walt Disney Co. urged the FCC Thursday to place “meaningful and enforceable” conditions on the AOL/Time Warner merger, but stopped short of asking the agency to block it.

Citing an “immediate risk to competition and consumers,” Disney noted that AOL/Time Warner will be a “cable/Internet powerhouse that will have the ability to favor its own content and disfavor the content of unaffiliated content providers like (The Walt Disney Company).”

Disney asked the FCC to place restrictions on the cable/Internet behemoth to prevent it from discriminating against other content providers, such as Disney.

Powerful outage

Earlier this month Time Warner made headlines across the country when it cut off ABC programming to 3.5 million of its own subscribers. Although the programming was off the cable systems for less than 40 hours, it focused the attention of Congress and regulators on the kind of market power that AOL Time Warner will have on the Internet.

However, in the wake of the fiasco, Disney and Time Warner have apparently worked hard to mend fences, and there is no specific reference to the incident in Disney’s filing at the FCC.

Maximum Service Television, which handles research and lobbying for the broadcast industry’s foray into digital technology, also filed comments highly critical of the AOL/Time Warner merger.

“The threat posed by AOL Time Warner to the broadcast service is real and imminent,” wrote MSTV. The industry group, like other critics of the deal, did take note of the ABC blackout.

Warning signals

MSTV used the comment period at the FCC to warn regulators that cablers are using their position as gatekeepers to millions of the nation’s most affluent homes to limit the services broadcasters may offer in the digital age.

According to some industry sources, Time Warner is refusing to guarantee that broadcasters will have the same ability to offer interactive advertising services as cablers.

For instance, broadcasters may want to offer interactive ads that allow viewers to click on an icon and get further information about a product. Cablers often trumpet their ability to offer these kind of interactive services but are resisting broadcasters’ efforts to offer the same kinds of advertising.

Time Warner also filed comments at the FCC defending the merger, but they were not available late Thursday.