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Cable Technology Feature Article

January 28, 2010

Comcast CEO: No Discrimination with NBC Universal Access

By David Sims, TMCnet Contributing Editor

Comcast’s (News - Alert) CEO Brian Roberts says existing law keeps the cable TV operator from denying satellite TV providers and other rivals access to NBC Universal programming “on reasonable terms” when Comcast takes control of the media company, according to the Associated Press.
“Satellite companies such as DirecTV (News - Alert) and smaller cable companies fear that if regulators approve Comcast's plan to acquire a majority stake in NBC Universal, Comcast would be able to drive up prices for – or even withhold – popular national and local programming, including NBC television broadcasts,” the AP said.
ABC News is reporting, however, that “promises the cable company has made so far don't impress opponents who want federal regulators to attach strict conditions” to the deal.
“Comcast is either promising to do what it was already planning to do or simply what it is required to do by law,” said Corie Wright, policy counsel at the public interest group Free Press, to ABC News. “I don't think Comcast can just tie a bow around the status quo and call it a public interest commitment.”
BusinessWeek has reported that the late-night programming snafu at NBC is really grinding his gears as well. “It’s a frustrating period of time because we are unable, legally, to be involved,” Roberts said when asked about the situation surrounding television hosts Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien. “We, like you, read about it.”
In November, according to BusinessWeek, “NBC told Comcast that Leno’s ratings for a show earlier in the evening had hurt local stations.” It all shook out with Leno returning to host “The Tonight Show,” late night TV's crown property, while O'Brien took a buyout to get lost.
Comcast wants the FCC (News - Alert) and Justice Department to approve its plans to acquire a 51 percent interest in NBC Universal from General Electric.
Roberts says program access rules established by a 1992 cable law would keep them from discriminating against competing subscription TV services, adding that their takeover does not raise traditional media consolidation fears “because NBC Universal (News - Alert) is a media company while Comcast is primarily a content distributor,” according to the AP.

David Sims is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of David’s articles, please visit his columnist page. He also blogs for TMCnet here.

Edited by Kelly McGuire