Mega-Merger On: FCC, Justice OK NBC/Comcast

SteveBurke

Federal approval for the proposed Comcast-NBC deal came in as expected -- taking just over a year to complete and with a number of long-term restrictions.

On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department approved Comcast Corp.'s deal to acquire control of NBC Universal from General Electric Co for $13.8 billion in cash and assets. The vote among the commissioners was 4-1, with Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps voting against it. Copps has been a major opponent of increased media consolidation.

As expected, the FCC imposed a variety of conditions on the deal designed to prevent Comcast from denying NBC programming to multiple TV channel cable, satellite and digital retailers. The approval also prevents Comcast's regional sports networks from restricting the selling of programming to Comcast's pay-TV and online competitors.

In the interest of protecting independent cable network programmers, Comcast agreed to set aside a specific number of channels on its cable systems. Finally, it agreed to keep NBC network programming on free over-the-air TV stations.

Comcast will offer more children's programming, as well as restricting interactive TV ads targeted to kids.

Opponents also worried about Comcast growing Internet business. Comcast says it would offer a stand-alone Internet service for $49.95 a month, plus agree to offer $10-a-month Internet service and subsidized computer equipment to low-income Americans who have children in the federal school-lunch program.

Comcast has 17 million high-speed Internet customers and 23 million cable system video subscribers.

Most of these concessions were already made by Comcast in an attempt to move along the approval process.

Many public interest groups opposed the deal; they worried that it would contribute to growing media consolidation and higher pricing for TV and Internet content, and hinder independent producers and programmers.

The deal, in which Comcast agreed to acquire 51% control of NBC Universal's television and movie business from GE, was announced last December and was expected to have a 12-month to 18-month approval process.

The newly merged conglomerate's executive structure makes Steve Burke NBCU's new CEO. Current CEO Jeff Zucker will leave, along with NBCU Television Entertainment chairman Jeff Gaspin, Zucker's top communications executive, Allison Gollust, and ad sales and marketing chief Mike Pilot.

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