The Obama administration has not been shy – or quiet – about stepping up antitrust enforcement.
And the largest U.S. cable TV company purchasing 51% of one of the three main broadcast companies seems likely to raise the eyebrows of Christine Varney, the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division.
Bloomberg: Regulators may ask whether a Comcast-NBC combination would give rival television providers, led by AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Dish Network Corp. and DirecTV Group Inc., fair access to films and TV shows, said Andrew Lipman, a Washington-based analyst.
“There’s increased focus at the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice on exclusive programming,” Lipman, a Washington-based partner in the media, telecommunications and technology practice at Bingham McCutchen LLP, said in an interview today.
Agencies reviewing a deal would include the FCC and either the Justice Department or the Federal Trade Commission, according to Harold Feld, legal director of Public Knowledge, a Washington-based advocacy group.
Read the rest of the story here.
Though there is endless talk about the variety of places to get your media fix now that the Interweb has taken over the world, the truth is still that with the biggest and most mainstream outlets, specifically in television, a lot is owned by a few. And if Comcast, already in the business, steps in for GE, the pool becomes even smaller.
When Vivendi and NBC were agreed to merge, they hit a small speed bump when internal NBC documents showed the merged company could raise fees that cable operators paid for programming.
Broadcast Engineering (2004): James Langenfeld, a former FTC economist [said] NBC might try to make cable operators pay higher fees to get the merged company’s larger group of channels. But he noted they would still face significant competition from the other five large media companies, including ABC-Disney and Time Warner.
Nothing really came of it (Vivendi currently owns a 20% stake in NBCU, which it is was reportedly planning to get rid of as recently as two weeks ago), but the comments made then could be instructive as to what the Justice Department may be worried about now. Comcast, after all, is basically in the same business as Time Warner. And we have certainly left the relaxed antitrust enforcement of the Bush years behind.
Bloomberg asked Feld, of Public Knowledge, whether Comcast potentially having exclusive use of Universal Pictures films before other channels would be one of questions raised by regulators.
“This kind of program access issue is very significant,” Feld told Bloomberg. “Given the tenor of this administration, which is both more technologically sophisticated and attuned to these kinds of antitrust concerns, these are issues that the deal would have to have some good answers for.”
While not beyond the range of possibilities, an outright ban on the acquisition of NBCU by Comcast is unlikely. Far more likely is an attempt by the Justice Department to win concessions from Comcast barring anti-competitive activities such as charging non-NBC networks more for access to subscribers or giving NBC networks better placement in the channel line-up.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.