Regulators approve Comcast-NBC Universal deal


by Marguerite Reardon

The Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice today approved a deal to create a joint venture between cable giant Comcast and NBC Universal.

In a 4-1 vote, the FCC determined that the deal is in the nation’s public interest. The Justice Department also issued a statement that it has approved the union, which will be the first time a cable company has merged with a major TV network. The new joint venture, which will be majority-owned by Comcast, will become a media powerhouse joining the nation’s largest cable operator with one of the leading movie studios and TV networks in the U.S..

The FCC and Justice Department put several conditions on the deal. Most of them center on making sure that the deal does not hamper development of the online video market.

The Justice Department’s main requirement was that Comcast be required to license its content to online video competitors. The FCC also is requiring that Comcast offer Internet versions of NBC content to video providers, such as Apple TV, YouTube, or Netflix at the same terms and conditions it gives to other cable and satellite competitors.

Comcast is also required to offer shows to online video providers who have also partnered with NBC’s competitors.

The FCC is not requiring the joint venture to divest its stake in Hulu, the online video site started by NBC and its partners News Corp. and Walt Disney Co. Several lawmakers had asked for that to be a part of the conditions. But the FCC did say that Comcast-NBC Universal would not be able to unreasonably withhold programming on Hulu.

Some of the other conditions require Comcast to offer standalone Internet access at a “reasonable price” and with “sufficient bandwidth.”

Democratic Commissioner Michael J. Copps was the only member of the FCC to vote against the deal. He said in his dissenting vote that he was concerned about the concentration of media that the deal would bring into the market. He believes that Comcast will have too much power over entertainment and news as a result of the deal.

Comcast will be hosting a conference call at 1:15 p.m. PT. So stay tuned for more updates.


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