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NBC affiliates to oppose Comcast deal

Media giants Comcast Corp. and NBC Universal will make the case for their merger before Congress on Thursday with hearings scheduled by both the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet and the Senate antitrust subcommittee.

Also testifying will be opponents of the $30-billion deal, including consumer activists and media watchdogs. Brian Roberts and Jeff Zucker, chief executives of Comcast and NBC Universal, respectively, will probably face questions over whether the proposed marriage of the nation’s biggest cable and broadband provider with an entertainment goliath puts too much control over content and distribution in the hands of one corporation.

Some of the biggest concerns over the deal are from NBC’s own affiliated television stations.

In advance testimony submitted to the House subcommittee, Michael Fiorile, chairman of NBC’s affiliates board of directors, said stations want strong conditions to protect their interest.

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Fiorile, who is scheduled to testify Thursday, wrote that affiliates are concerned that Comcast could “gradually migrate some or all of the most compelling sports, news and entertainment programming and talent away from free, over-the-air distribution on NBC to its newly owned cable channels that are made available only to paying subscribers, such as Bravo and USA Network.”

He cited as a hypothetical example an attempt by Comcast to move NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” games to the broadcast network’s cable sports channel, Versus. Such a move, Fiorile wrote, would be “devastating to affiliates.”

Though that may seem farfetched, Fiorile did note in his testimony that in Comcast’s recent filing with the Federal Communications Commission to seek approval of the deal, the cable company said the marriage would “allow for NBC’s sports programming to be distributed on Versus, Golf Channel” and other Comcast sports networks.

Also submitting testimony was Colleen Abdoulah, chief executive of Wow, a rival to Comcast’s cable TV operations in Detroit and Chicago. Writing on behalf of other small distribution services, she expressed concern that the new entity would use its clout to keep popular programs and networks away from rival distribution services.

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Adam Thierer, president of the Progress & Freedom Foundation, a Washington think tank, plans to testify on behalf of Comcast and NBC Universal. In his written testimony, he told the subcommittee to be wary of “paranoid predictions of a media apocalypse.”

Citing mergers such as AOL-Time Warner, News Corp.-DirecTV and satellite radio firms XM and Sirius, he said the only harm was not to consumers or content providers but to the firms and their shareholders.

joe.flint@latimes.com


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