Government approval of Comcast-NBC Universal deal expected this week
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Comcast and NBC Universal are hopeful that approval of their proposed merger from the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department could come within the next few days and perhaps as early as Tuesday.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski already signaled last month that he was in favor of approving the deal, which would pair Comcast, the nation’s largest cable and broadband provider, with a content giant in NBC Universal, whose holdings include the NBC network, Universal Studios and cable channels USA, Syfy, Bravo and MSNBC. It is expected that a majority of the four other commissioners will also sign off on the pact.
Also expected to give its blessing will be the Justice Department, which has been conducting its own review of the deal.
While the government is giving a green light to the merger, there will be conditions on how Comcast can operate. The combination of Comcast’s distribution platforms and NBC Universal’s content has many lawmakers, consumer groups and competitors worried that two companies will have too much power to control the flow of content.
With that in mind, Genachowski’s office proposed conditions that include requirements that would attempt to prevent Comcast from favoring its own content over that of its competitors as well as make it difficult for Comcast to withhold its own content from rivals.
Specifically, one condition would require Comcast to provide its programming to an online video service if rivals such as Walt Disney Co., Time Warner or News Corp. were also feeding content to it.
While some media watchdogs fear the conditions won’t go far enough, there are concerns from rival media companies that the FCC may try to go to far in putting restraints on Comcast.
Last week, Disney, Time Warner and News Corp. all expressed fears that the conditions on Comcast could have unintended consequences that could hurt them as well.
News Corp. spelled out those fears in a filing about a recent meeting the company had with FCC staffers.
‘We expressed our concerns with respect to the potential anti-competitive implications of program access-related merger conditions dealing with online video providers,’ News Corp. said, adding that it was particularly worried that by forcing Comcast/NBC to enter into a deal with an over-the-top (OTP) Internet provider ‘it could open the door to a single unfavorable business deal ‘establishing the market.’’
Once the government approves the deal, Comcast is expected to rush to close the acquisition before the end of the month.
— Joe Flint