Whatever you think of the FCC approval of the Comcast-NBC merger, it seems to be giving a big wet kiss to the online video industry. In approving the marriage, the FCC defined "conditions and enforceable commitments" that Comcast/NBC universal had to abide, and the Commission went out of its way to acknowledge and include digital distribution and emerging online video business models.
Chief among these commitments was ensuring "reasonable access to Comcast-NBCU programming for multichannel distribution," which ensures NBCU brands will not become proprietary to Comcast cable. But more to the point, the FCC made a special provision aimed at helping online video business models thrive.
The sub-provisions are worth quoting verbatim since they will affect a number of players in the video ecosystem. These items may also signal the FCC's general perspective that could inform subsequent decisions involving online content. Hulu is singled out by name, but notice how provisions put Online Video Distributors (OVDs) on an equal footing with Multichannel Video Programming Distributors (MVPDs). The big boys of traditional media and the upstarts of digital-only media have to get an equal and fair crack at the content. The FCC is requiring that Comcast-NBCU:
In a settlement with the Department of Justice over terms of the deal, Comcast also agreed to relinquish its voting rights and presence on the board of Hulu. On the Comcast blog yesterday, the company states that it can retain its financial stake in the joint venture and agrees that "provide content to Hulu in a manner consistent with Hulu's other broadcast network partners. So NBCU must maintain its content participation but without control.
And while the FCC is requiring Comcast-NBCU to make its content available on a reasonable basis to OVDs, that requirement is contingent on the OVD having comparable deals with Comcast-NBCU "peers." NBCU can still say 'no' to deals for streaming its content online, at least until a competitor says 'yes.' But how the plan of equal content distribution is implemented sounds like it may be a bone of contention in the future. Or at least, the Comcast/NBCU lawyers have devised a suitably vague interpretation of the meaning. "As part of this transaction, Comcast has agreed to a focused mechanism for online video providers to obtain access to certain NBC Universal content. The process has been carefully crafted to be fair to all players. There is no general extension of the program access rules to online video."