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Allbritton's advertising assault against Comcast-NBC merger

As Comcast and NBC Universal push for a speedy review of its merger, one local media chief has launched an assault to tell federal regulators to slow down and look at potential problems the union could present to smaller competitors.

Robert Allbritton, chief executive of Washington-based Allbritton Communications, has run ads in his own Hill publication, Politico – online and in the print edition – and broadcast outlets saying the proposed merger by Comcast and NBC Universal could hurt local news. Critics say those news outlets haven't properly disclosed Allbritton's ownership of the media outlets in the advertisements.

In the Politico ads and others in WTOP, Allbritton says Comcast and NBC have bought up influence in Washington and urged regulators to consider how the merger could affect local broadcasters (he owns WJLA and News Channel 8) who depend on Comcast to carry them.

Here’s an example of an ad that ran this week in Politico’s Playbook by Mike Allen:

“A vast army of lobbyists is pushing hard to rush through the largest media merger in American history. The Comcast/NBC monopoly would present serious problems for local news in communities across our country. Washington’s decision makers must take the necessary time to carefully review this controversial merger to protect the public interest”

Allbritton has a huge stake in the merger, as Comcast carries his broadcast properties WJLA and Newschannel 8 on its systems locally, and WJLA competes directly against NBC-owned WRC, channel 4.

In an interview The Post’s Paul Farhi, he said Comcast has “hired every lobbyist in town” to talk up the merger and a speedy review. Rep. Rick Boucher, chairman of the telecommunications subcommittee, and several New York members of Congress have urged the Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department to wrap up their reviews quickly.

Comcast has been quick to note that the market is competitive in the greater Washington area with satellite television distributors Direct TV and Echostar carving out 600,000 subscribers in the region. Also, the Comcast-NBC merger -- first valued at $30 billion -- isn't as large as the union of AOL and Time Warner, which totaled $165 billion.

"We feel we’ve been a good partner to Allbritton," said Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice. "We have pledged early on that we would have a hands off approach on news. We’ve pledged to bring more local news and public affairs programming into the markets where we’ll have owned and operated stations in Washington."

The legal and lobbying costs for Comcast are high: In the quarter that ended June 30, Comcast said legal and other costs associated with the NBC Universal transaction amounted to $59 million.

"You've got to have some protection [for other media companies] if you're going to allow that much concentration of media power. It's dangerous for political discourse" if one entity controls so much and abuses its power,” Allbritton told Farhi last week.

"Comcast has been a good partner of ours." It distributes News Channel 8 locally and WJLA, the two local Allbritton-owned stations. But he says, "Do we really want the cable guy telling Jim Vance what to say every night?"

By Cecilia Kang  |  August 13, 2010; 10:50 AM ET
Categories:  Comcast , DOJ , FCC  
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I let out a "YAY" when I heard on WTOP, a newschannel 8 ad against the merger.

Posted by: Hattrik | August 13, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

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