ABC, CBS and FOX Ask Concessions from Comcast for NBC Merger

Throughout General Electric’s holding off NBC Universal, GE was criticized for using its media arm to promote its own interests through the political process. However, now that Comcast is entering the final stages of merging with NBC Universal, what does this mean to other channels?

Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), with its more than 23 million subscribers, is the largest multichannel video programming distributor (cable and satellite providers) in the country. But should Comcast and NBC Universal merge be finalized, would this put NBC’s broadcast competitors – ABC, CBS and FOX – at a competitive disadvantage? That question has prompted representatives from those networks’ affiliates to seek negotiations for possible concessions from Comcast according to CNBC media correspondent Julia Boorstin.

“I’ve confirmed that ABC, CBS and FOX affiliates have asked Comcast for a meeting and potentially some concessions regarding its acquisition of NBC Universal,” Boorstin reported on CNBC’s March 31 “Power Lunch.” “Earlier I spoke to Brian Grady, the head of FOX’s affiliate association, and he tells me, quote, ‘We're concerned about being in a competitive disadvantage and we want to have a conversation.’”

Affiliates from the three networks are seeking an arrangement where Comcast would volunteer concessions in a FCC-approved merger according to the report.

“I obtained the letter that the head of the CBS affiliates circulated to his affiliate stations,” Boorstin said. “It detailed what the FOX, ABC and CBS affiliates said in their letter to Comcast. Here is a very important quote, quote, ‘We are in the process at the moment of arranging a meeting with Comcast in the hope that Comcast will voluntarily agree to have certain regulatory conditions incorporated in any FCC approval of the merger to assure nondiscriminatory and fair treatment of affiliated stations following the merger.’”

Comcast just went through its last round of congressional hearings with a mixed reaction from members of the Senate Commerce Committee earlier this month. And Boorstin reported that Comcast had indeed confirmed the company was entering into this stage of the merger process.

“Now, I did hear back from Comcast just moments ago ago,” Boorstin continued. “They say they are in discussions with a variety of stakeholders including affiliates. And, they say they are pleased with the constructive way in which they are approaching these discussions. So it sounds like a meeting probably is in the works.”

Back in February, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee, told Comcast and NBC Universal executives he didn’t trust the promises they made on merger and compared green lighting the merger to relaxing so-called Financial Interest and Syndication Rules, also known as “Fin-Syn,” in the 1990s.