Maxine Waters not impressed with Comcast/NBCU MOUs


Attempting to gain support for their pending merger, Comcast and NBC Universal have arrived at memorandums of understanding with a number of organizations representing minorities. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) has indicated to the FCC that she will not be impressed until the MOUs become something more like binding commitments in return for approval of the merger.

The background buzz of late is that the FCC may be getting close to coming to a decision on the merger, most likely early in 2011, although there has been a smattering of speculation that the five FCC commissioners could deal with the transaction on circulation before 2010 is over. Waters, on the other hand, is suggesting that the brakes be applied to further study the proposed merger and attached conditions.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Waters wrote, “While Comcast Corporation and NBC Universal (NBCU) have filed a number of memoranda of understanding (MOU) and voluntary diversity commitments they have reached with the African American, Asian American, and Latino communities, many of the proposed conditions appear to be a series of vague goals and nominal gestures – lacking specificity and binding authority on the applicants.  I am further alarmed by the fact that Comcast-NBCU has not filed any of these diversity pledges as official amendments to its application.”

She noted that the such pledges were necessary from the betrothed, since the FCC has trouble enforcing diversity set-asides, as was the case with channels made available for that purpose as a condition of the Sirius-XM merger.

Waters also noted that without strong binding commitments she is not impressed with the offer to provide opportunities for a diversity of programmers. She said, “In fact, as Comcast-NBCU continues to laud its commitment to launch ten independent channels over eight years as a landmark concession (without going into detail about carriage and placement), the Commission continues to receive program access and carriage complaints from larger and more established networks and companies.  I hardly believe Comcast will abruptly decide to negotiate in good faith with smaller and/or new independent channels, when networks such as the NFL Network, Wealth TV, and the Tennis Channel have had carriage complaints against the company.”

Waters commended the FCC and DOJ for time already invested reviewing the merger, and added, “I also recommend that the Commission encourage the applicants to file the MOUs they have reached with civic and professional organizations as amendments to their application.  If the Commission and DOJ approve this merger, the public will heavily rely on your conditioning this acquisition upon substantive conditions that mitigate the potential harm many believe this merger will cause to our nation’s media landscape.”

RBR-TVBR observation: As far as this wedding is concerned, Waters has chosen to speak now rather than forever hold her peace throughout the year. However, a certain amount of Democratic legislators have indicated they’d let the merger go forward, a strong sign that approval is in store. The conditions will be the interesting part – stay tuned.