Competitor raises concerns over Comcast-NBC merger
Competitors are starting to speak out against Comcast's expected bid to take over NBC Universal.
Dish Network CEO Charlie Ergen said last week in an earnings conference call with analysts that he is concerned about a mega merger between the nation's largest cable system and television and movie producer NBC Universal. And he said look to Comcast's current practices with content distribution on how a merged Comcast/NBC may act in the future. Ergen said:
"Obviously, we would have concerns with anybody who owns programming and ... distribution, particularly if they owned distribution in both broadband and cable. Programming access and broadband neutrality would be important issues there."
"We've purchased programming content from Comcast for a long time. We're not treated fairly when it comes to the sports teams in Philadelphia. That ... has always smelled a little bit... So, there always have been some issues there."
Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice noted in an email that their carriage decisions over SportsNet Philadelphia abides by the 1992 Cable Act. The Federal Communications Commission has examined the issue twice at the request of satellite competitros and in both instances found that Comcast complied, she said.
"Congress specifically and intentionally exempted local terrestrial programming from the same requirements as satellite-delivered programming to foster local programming diversity,"
She added that Comcast sells Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia programming to Verizon and RCN.
Public interest groups have also expressed concern that by combining the biggest deliverer of video content with a company that creates so much of the content consumed by cable customers would give one company too much control over entertainment and distribution. They are concerned the company could force consumers to buy services they may not want in bundled packages or pay high fees to get videos over televisions or computers. Check out my post from weeks ago about regulatory hurdles the merger would have to clear.
Yesterday, Comcast top lobbyist David Cohen told Bloomberg that Comcast's ownership of content is "totally appropriate," pointing to its ownership already of the Golf Channel and former ownership of shopping channel QVC.
“We’ve always seen a synergy, and a valuable synergy, between distribution and content,” Cohen told Bloomberg editors and reporters. “It’s totally appropriate for us to be involved on both sides of the business.”
Comcast appears to be moving closer to finalizing a deal to purchase NBC Universal, which owns broadcast programming and Universal Studios. But before the parties can complete a deal, France's Vivendi would have to divest its stake in NBC, according to reports. That could happen later this week.
November 17, 2009; 9:30 AM ET
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