FCC Approves Comcast-NBCU 4-1

WASHINGTON: The Federal Communications Commission today approved the merger of Comcast and NBC Universal. The commission voted 4-to-1 for approval, with Commissioner Michael Copps dissenting. The antitrust division of the Justice Department is expected to approve the deal today as well.

A draft item approving the proposed joint venture, valued at $30 billion, was circulated at the FCC just before Christmas by commission Chairman Julius Genachowski. The draft indicated that the proposal met the commission’s required public-interest standards, though some conditions are expected with the approval.

FCC officials in December mentioned such conditions in general terms, such as program access by competing pay TV carriers. Competing cable operators, particularly smaller ones, have lobbied hard against the proposed merger which would give Comcast a majority stake in NBC Universal. As a result, it will have control over the NBC and Telemundo broadcast networks, 26 TV stations, NBCU TV production, syndication and news. This is in addition to its own ownership in 23 cable networks, production operations and the largest cable distribution network in the United States with 24 million subscribers.

Competing operators are fearful that Comcast could price its content networks out of reach, rendering them inaccessible. The same goes for online content access, which the draft was also said to address. It was also said to cover carriage of competing and independent networks on Comcast cable and broadband systems. Diversity and localism were also mentioned.

The deal, announced in December of 2009, provides Comcast with a 51 percent stake in a joint venture comprised of the NBCU properties, for $8 billion in cash, with General Electric retaining the option of cashing out the other 49 percent over the next three to seven years. The transaction would make Comcast the largest media company in U.S. history and it would mark the first time a pay TV distributor would own a major broadcast network.
-- Deborah D. McAdams