CNBC’s Julia Boorstin, whose media outlet is privy to private info surrounding the deal, breaks the news today that independent affiliates of ABC, CBS, and Fox “are raising concerns” about Comcast’s acquisition of rival network NBC Universal. They’re looking to ensure that the Comcast buy won’t hurt their negotiating power with the largest U.S. cable carrier on retransmission consent, advertising and promotions, even the placement of affiliates. The three networks’ independent affiliates sent a letter to Comcast to set up a meeting to discuss their concerns that the deal substantially increases Comcast’s market power when it owns NBC TV stations and the NBC network, not to mention cable channels and a movie studio..
The head of Fox Affiliates Association Brian Grady told Boorstin “we’re concerned about being at a competitive disadvantage and we want to have a conversation.” Tim Busch, head of CBS Affiliates Group circulated a letter to his stations saying, “We hope that Comcast will voluntarily agree to have certain regulatory conditions incorporated in any FCC approval of the merger to assure non-discriminatory and fair treatment of CBS-affiliated stations following the merger.” (See entire letter at THUMBS DOWN: CBS Affiliates Chairman Circulates Anti-Comcast/NBCU Letter)
Boorstin noted that the letter to Comcast does not come from the ABC, CBS, or Fox parent companies, but from these affiliates who are independently owned by Gannett or Nexstar or others. Comcast issued a statement in response acknowledging that it is in discussions with affiliates, saying: “It appreciates the constructive way in which they are approaching the discussions.” (And if you believe that, I have swampland in Arizona to sell you.) Boorstin stressed that, when the NBCU deal was announced, Comcast made a point of saying it would offer rivals’ access to NBC TV stations on fair terms. Meanwhile, the FCC and U.S. Department Of Justice are still reviewing the deal and is sure to set conditions before approving.