FCC delays review of Comcast-Time Warner Cable and AT&T-DirecTV mergers

The FCC's delay of the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger is bad news for thousands of Dodger fans

The Federal Communications Commission has acknowledged that its reviews of two enormous media mergers have been delayed.

The FCC on Friday officially stopped its so-called "shot clock" on its reviews of Comcast's proposed $45-billion takeover of Time Warner Cable, as well as the agency's separate review of AT&T's bid to take over DirecTV.

Both were scheduled to expire in late March.

That's bad news for thousands of Dodgers fans. 

Baseball fans had been hoping that a festering dispute over limited distribution of the Dodgers cable channel would be resolved by the start of the new baseball season, which begins in April.

Now such a timely resolution is highly unlikely.

Currently Time Warner Cable is the only major distributor of the Dodgers channel, SportsNet LA, in Southern California. That leaves about 70% of the homes in the region without access to the TV channel.

Although Time Warner Cable has held recent talks with pay-TV companies about carrying the channel, those talks did not break the yearlong impasse, according to people close to the situation.

Neither the Dodgers channel dispute nor controversy over the two mega-mergers was responsible for the delay.

Instead, the cause of FCC's postponement is an ongoing legal battle between the FCC and a group of television programmers, including Walt Disney Co., CBS Corp., 21st Century Fox, Viacom Inc., Univision Communications and Scripps Networks Interactive.

The programming companies have protested the agency's request to disclose portions of their contracts with cable and satellite providers, including the rates that the programmers are paid. 

The programmers don't want to reveal the sensitive business information, and the matter has been tied up in a lengthy legal process.

"At this time, we believe that it is prudent to pause the informal 180-day transaction clocks because the commission would be advantaged by knowing the resolution of the pending petition for review before the clocks reach the 180-day mark," the FCC said in a statement on Friday.

"In reaching this conclusion, the commission reserves the right to restart the clock as it believes will best serve the public interest," the FCC said.

Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast spokeswoman for government affairs, acknowledged the move late Friday but said the review of the Time Warner Cable takeover was proceeding.

"FCC appears to be making significant progress in its review of our transaction," Fitzmaurice said. "We look forward to working with the government to complete the regulatory review process."

In recent days, media executives have privately acknowledged that a delay at the federal level probably means that the FCC's two merger reviews probably won't be completed for several more weeks.

Twitter: @MegJamesLAT

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