Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker used appearances before the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet to insist that cable giant Comcast is firmly committed to broadcast television if it is permitted to acquire control of NBCU. In fact, they insisted, the deal will help to preserve the broadcast TV business.
“The transaction puts two great American communications companies under one roof. It will help to preserve traditional broadcast television – a business that faces serious challenges,” Roberts told the subcommittee.
Sitting by his side, Zucker declared that NBCU’s marketplace is a “media free-for-all” so there is no need to worry about the deal impeding competition. And he said Comcast is committed to investing in programming that will improve NBCU’s properties. “Also, Comcast’s written commitment to over-the-air broadcasting has been widely underappreciated,” he insisted.
As Chairman of the NBC Affiliates Board, Dispatch President & COO Michael Fiorile laid out the big concerns of non-NBC-owned affiliates regarding the merger. “The potential exists to reach a standstill on negotiations with the cable carrier over retransmission consent and then to have that same company withhold an affiliation renewal from the network,” he said. The affiliates asked Congress to ensure that the two negotiations are kept separate and that Comcast not be able to bring in NBC programming to such a system and circumvent the traditional network affiliation model.
Zucker insisted that no special restrictions need to be imposed to preserve the relationship between the NBC Network and its local affiliates.
Throughout the hearing, numerous Republican congressmen warned against any attempt to tie conditions to the merger which would have the effect of creating new rules for the TV/cable/Internet marketplace without any actual legislation, such as net neutrality. Numerous Democrats were just as insistent on making Comcast commit to net neutrality as a condition of getting the deal approved.
“The issue before us really boils down to the seven ‘C’s. Will this combination of communications colossi curtail competition and cost consumers? That is the question that must be answered as this process moves forward,” said Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) in one of the more interesting comments of the day.