The Comcast-NBC Universal merger could open the door for a handful of entrepreneurs to pull off one of the most difficult feats in TV these days: securing cable carriage for a new linear channel.
Comcast’s agreements with the FCC and Dept. of Justice to win approval of its $30 billion merger with NBC U calls for the cable giant to add 10 independently owned channels to its cable systems over the next eight years. Four of those channels will be reserved for outlets with majority African-American ownership or management, and another four will be reserved for outlets with majority Hispanic ownership or management.
Although Comcast’s commitment to the channel launches is spelled out in the FCC order issued earlier this month, there are still questions about the specifics. “Independent” is loosely defined as a channel not affiliated with one of the TV industry’s major content providers. That could be a boon to World Wrestling Entertainment , which has been hoping to unleash its own 24/7 cabler for some time.
WWE has had a long relationship with NBC Universal, with two of its weekly series, “Monday Night Raw” and “Friday Night SmackDown” airing on USA Network and Syfy, respectively. NBC regularly airs the company’s “Tribute to the Troops” special, and USA will soon revive “Tough Enough,” as the cabler’s expanded foray into reality fare.
WWE’s cable channel would comprise repackaged programming from its growing library of TV shows and live events, as well as its expanded slate of movies.
It’s unclear how widely the new indie channels will be distribbed among Comcast’s nearly 23 million subscribers — whether on the widest platform for digital subscribers or perhaps added as part of themed digital tiers (sports, lifestyle, how-to, movies, etc.).
Comcast reps declined to comment on the specifics of the commitment. Insiders say execs have been focused on closing the merger deal and have not had the time to concentrate on the channel launches.
Still, the prospect of getting a toehold on Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator, is sure to be an enticing market opportunity for budding TV moguls. Comcast’s programming execs are constantly fielding pitches for new channels. Now they have an extra incentive to listen a little harder.
As a Comcast exec noted, the merger conditions that have been spelled out in numerous memoranda and Congressional hearings “have real meat to them.”
Marc Graser contributed to this report.