Comcast/NBCU review going to DOJ


That’s as apposed to the Federal Trade Commission. Since television licenses are involved, the FCC was always a lock to review the merger of cable giant Comcast and broadcast/programming giant NBC Universal. But the antitrust portion of the review could have gone to the Department of Justice or FTC. At least one watchdog hailed the DOJ decision.

According to Reuters, DOJ’s main area of concern is likely to be assuring that NBCU programming will remain available to Comcast’s MVPD competitors. Others are concerned that Comcast will wield too much internet programming power.

Free Press executive director Josh Silver said, “A Comcast/NBC merger would create a media behemoth with too much power in too few hands. It is a good sign that the Justice Department was given the green light for the review. The DOJ’s antitrust division now has a chance to make a clean break from the inactivity of recent years and tackle this merger with the urgency it deserves.”

Silver lauded the presence of Christine Varney at DOJ as head of the antitrust division. A former FTC employee, she is on record as being wary of vertical integration.

Silver quoted her words from a 1995 speech, when she said, “[V]ertical acquisitions can be anticompetitive. Vertical mergers can create or raise entry barriers that lead to higher prices or lower quality or innovation for consumers…. Vertical mergers can, in certain instances, increase those barriers to entry even more, raising costs and reducing innovation and quality for consumers.”

RBR-TVBR observation: It will be extremely interesting seeing how the DOJ approaches this. Meanwhile, there should be no problem getting the television licenses transferred from General Electric/NBCU to a new entity, unless an odd grandfathered situation is present that we are not aware of, and at worst that would only impact a small fraction of the licenses being transferred. But FCC Commissioner Michael Copps will probably push a public interest investigation just as far as he possibly can.