In the aftermath of Telecom 1996 and the very public battle over media ownership dereg in 2003, there is very little tolerance for big media mergers in the watchdog community, and the prospective nuptials of Comcast and NBC/U are certainly no exception.
One of the biggest worries is that the deal will combine Comcast’s large cable subscriber base with NBC’s stake in popular internet video site Hulu. But there are plenty of other concerns to go around. The sheer size of the resulting conglomerate is enough to inspire many watchdog howls.
According to the New York Times, GE currently holds 80% of NBC/U, and Comcast is thought to be looking for a 51% stake. Not knowing the full parameters of the deal cloud prognostications of its regulatory viability.
The FCC may be involved in any case since it oversees cable companies to a degree; it will certainly be involved if NBC’s O&O stations, both carrying the NBC Television Network and Hispanic oriented Telemundo, are part of the deal. The FCC would have to approve that portion of the transaction.
The Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice would likely be called on to assess the antitrust implications of the merger.
Some analysts suspected that there are few obstacles to ultimately getting the deal approved that could not be resolved with conditions, such as, for example, Comcast’s promise that it would not discriminate in any way against competitors to NBC on its cable lineup decisions.
The Wall Street Journal reported that GE and Comcast have agreed on a value of $30 billion for NBC Universal. Still to be heard from is Vivendi, which owns 20% of NBC Universal and holds the key to whether or not any deal gets done.
If the companies decide to move forward, they are said to expect to spend at least a year trying to get the deal approved.
RBR-TVBR observation: If the two companies decide to go forward with a possible merger, they had better be prepared for a long haul. And it will likely be much more difficult to gain approval in the Washington of 2009 and 2010 than it was while George. W. Bush was in office, with his choices running FCC, FTC and DOJ.