UPDATE, 7:03 PM: Comcast EVP David Cohen’s comments about Discovery seem to have gotten under its skin. “It is very unfortunate that Comcast is trying to divert attention away from the real issue and chooses to not talk about their current substantial program discounts, or what they would do post-merger to demand extreme discounts from cable programmers or block the launch of new networks and brands,” the programmer’s Chief Communications Officer David Leavy says in a response. “We stand by our concerns that Comcast could use its enhanced leverage from the proposed merger to impose deep price reductions and onerous terms that advantage themselves and jeopardize the ability of independent programmers like Discovery to continue nourishing the many ethnic and demographic groups across the country with quality channels and content. Comcast’s continued strategy of intimidating voices that are not fully supportive of its position is troubling.”
PREVIOUS, 2:11 PM: Fans of corporate smackdowns should have fun tomorrow: Tonight’s the FCC’s deadline for reply briefs related to Comcast’s planned acquisition of Time Warner Cable and its side deal to swap systems with Charter Communications. And Comcast is teasing today that its several-hundred-page document will come out swinging against deal critics. In a blog post this afternoon, EVP David Cohen, who’s leading the cable giant’s campaign for the acquisition, takes a few jabs at some of the leading challengers who say that Comcast would become too powerful.
He notes that Dish Network, unlike Comcast, “reaches almost 100% of American video homes.” He calls Discovery Communications “the self-proclaimed ‘#1 Pay-TV Programmer in the World’ and a $25 billion company that has grown by $10 billion in market capitalization in just three years.” Netflix is “the country’s largest subscription video provider with 36 million domestic customers and controller of a third of Internet traffic.” Cohen observes that the Writers Guild of America West, which says the deal could threaten program quality and diversity, “acknowledges we are in a ‘Golden Age of Television.'” And he blasts activist groups including Consumer’s Union, Consumer Federation of America, and Free Press “whose predictions of doom and gloom for every large transaction in the cable space since the 1990s have never come to pass.”
You can bet that others will give just as good as they get. Netflix told the FCC in August that the merger would give Comcast “the incentive and ability … to harm Internet companies, such as online video distributors,” which it sees as competitors. With about a third of all broadband subscribers, Comcast would “control of a dominant share of the nation’s residential high-speed broadband customers at a time when those customers increasingly engage with more content-rich applications that require high-speed broadband to work properly, such as Internet-delivered video.”
Discovery argued the TV programmers’ case in a meeting with FCC staffers early this month. Comcast would become “a ‘must have’ multichannel video programming distributor” that could “use its enhanced position to impose prices, terms and conditions on programmers that are overly favorable” to the cable company, Discovery said in a summary of its arguments. In addition, Comcast would have an “unfair information advantage over programmers” when it’s time to negotiate carriage agreements if it refused to share set-top-box data.”
Tomorrow won’t be last opportunities the debaters will have to make their cases. October 8 is the deadline for replies to today’s reply briefs. We’re just 75 days into the FCC’s informal 180-day clock to decide whether it will approve or challenge the deal.