FCC endgame on Comcast/NBCU defaults to approve with conditions


The FCC regulatory review of the proposed transaction between Comcast and NBC Universal has been placed in circulation by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, and word from senior FCC officials is that it is an order proposing the conditional approval of the transaction. Next steps include review by the other commissioners and their staffs, possible modification of the order, and an up or down vote.

According to the officials, who would speak only on background and on guarantee of anonymity, the FCC considered harms and benefits, and in turn, mitigated harms and augmented benefits after the application of conditions, and determined that ultimately the transaction is in the public interest.

Areas of concern are access to NBCU programming by competitors, access to Comcast MVPD platforms by competing programming services, concerns about how the merger will affect the emerging internet video marketplace, and the usual public interest standards of competition, localism and diversity.

The FCC was invited to the review party chiefly due to the NBC broadcast television licenses, while antitrust concerns brought in the Department of Justice. The officials said that there was a great deal of beneficial cooperation between the two agencies.

The FCC also took pains to narrowly address the specific transaction on the table and tried to avoid using the review as an opportunity to set industry-wide policy that should properly be addressed in a regular formal proceeding.

Here’s how the process will shake down going forward: Each commissioner’s office has a copy of the order, and will have time to review it and suggest modifications. It’s possible that all four may accept it as is, but that was said to be a very rare occurrence. Modifications that get three votes will be worked into the order, and eventually a final order will be ready for a vote. There is no time line. However, it was noted that all of the commissioners are well-versed in the issues and are aware of the importance of a timely ruling to the stakeholders involved.

There is no set procedure for the final commissioner vote. It could be done within the confines of the FCC 8th Floor, or openly in a public meeting.

RBR-TVBR observation: The devil will as usual be in the details, and those won’t be known for some time, even at the FCC, since the current process could bring change. But this has to be great news for those who have a stake in the transaction moving forward.