Comcast/NBCU Pledge Diversity Channels

Despite one senator's efforts, Comcast continues to have no plans to divest its stake in Hulu if a joint venture with NBC Universal is completed. But looking to appeal to legislators, Comcast pledged to add eight independent TV networks -- four each controlled by African-American and Hispanic interests -- to its cable system, while creating a $20 million fund to assist minority entrepreneurs.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) has asked that the joint venture sell its stake in Hulu within a year of the transaction closing, arguing that the merged company could stifle competition in the online video space.

Yet in a letter to Rep. Bobby Rush (D. Ill.) released Thursday, Comcast said that except for a Spanish-language local station in Los Angeles, "no additional divestiture of media assets is contemplated in connection with the NBCU transaction."

Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen, who wrote the letter, noted that in the case of future divestitures, including cable systems not part of NBCU, the company will "use commercially reasonable efforts to provide first priority to minority ownership groups." Comcast has said it will try to sell NBCU's independent KWHY in L.A. to a minority-controlled group.



Rush, a member of a House subcommittee on communications, technology and the Internet, participated in a hearing on the proposed NBCU joint venture in Chicago on Thursday. It was the sixth congressional hearing on the would-be transaction since its late-2009 proposal. Comcast would have the controlling stake.

In a summary of diversity commitments unveiled Thursday, Cohen further said that two networks majority controlled by African-American interests will be added to Comcast's digital tier in the first two years post-transaction. Overall, Comcast will add 10 independent networks in the first eight years.

The Hispanic-network pledge was not mentioned in Cohen's letter. But the executive said that two networks majority-controlled by African-American interests will be added to Comcast's digital tier in the first two years post-transaction.

Networks such as TV One or BET J could also receive a distribution bump soon after the venture debuts. Comcast pledged to increase carriage on its systems of networks controlled by, and targeting, African-Americans within six months.

Comcast also promised to establish a new venture-capital fund with a minimum of $20 million to seed ventures by minority entrepreneurs in the new-media arena. Details about the fund to be managed by Comcast Interactive Capital will be released in the fall. The fund, which currently manages $500 million-plus in interests, has stakes in companies such as ad-targeting Visible World and TidalTV.

In prepared testimony, NBCU's executive vice president of diversity, Paula Madison, indicated that Comcast is in "support" of its cable system paying retrans-consent dollars to local stations.

"As everyone recognizes, broadcast stations have struggled to survive on advertising revenue alone," Madison said. "These retransmission-consent negotiations have the potential to provide broadcast stations with a second stream of revenue to reinvigorate that business."

Madison also said that over the last year, the NBC network has increased the number of minority actors (31% to 33%), as well as writers/producers (12% to 14%) and directors (9% to 11%). At the USA network, minority actors rose from 19% to 23% and writers/producers from 14% to 18%. At Syfy, writers/producers went from 4% to 10%, she said.

Before the hearing, the newly formed Coalition for Competition in Media, which includes WealthTV, Common Cause, Writers Guild of America arms and National Coalition of African American Owned Media, expressed its opposition to the proposed joint venture.

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