The FCC set its informal 180-day merger review clock at Day 85 for Comcast’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable, and Day 70 for AT&T’s deal with DirecTV. Commissioners decided they could move ahead after several content companies – including CBS, Disney, Time Warner, Fox, Univision, Viacom, and Discovery – agreed to let some outsiders see, under controlled circumstances, parts of their programming deals with the pay-TV companies. The information, which must be kept private, will not include financial terms that the programmers deem to be confidential.
The FCC stopped the clocks in October after the content companies tried to block the commission from sharing the contract terms with consultants and critics of the deals. Regulators overruled them, saying that the information is essential for anyone trying to determine whether the mergers might hurt the public. The content companies said that they’d be at a competitive disadvantage if some of the data fell into the wrong hands. Last month the US Court of Appeals in DC granted the content companies’ motion for a temporary stay.
The FCC says that it may adjust the calendar for the Comcast and AT&T deals when the court rules on the merits of the dispute with the content companies. For now, though, Comcast says in a blog post that it will “continue to work with the FCC to complete its review of the transaction in the first quarter of 2015.”
The company also took a swipe at a new group that wants to block the combination of the two largest cable operators. The Stop Mega Comcast Coalition includes Dish Network, Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, and the Writers Guild of America, West as well as activist groups Public Knowledge, the Consumer Federation of America, the Parents Television Council, the Sports Fan Coalition, and the Future of Music Coalition. They noted today that a Comcast-TWC combo would control 50% of the high-speed broadband market and – with NBCUniversal – would “have the means and the incentive to advance its own content at the expense of other programmers and force consumers to pay more for content not controlled by Mega Comcast.”
The company says that there’s “no real news here — a group of existing opponents making the same arguments they have already made and leveling essentially the same criticisms that have been leveled in the past, and weren’t found to be credible in our past transaction reviews.” It vows to spend “hundreds of millions of dollars annually to upgrade the Time Warner Cable and Charter networks,” which will “incentivize competitors to invest as well, fueling a virtuous cycle that will benefit consumers everywhere.”