The deals that CBS, Fox, Disney, and Time Warner have with Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications, AT&T and DirecTV will remain private, at least for now. The U.S. Court of Appeals in DC today granted an emergency stay that bars the FCC from sharing the information under controlled circumstances with outsiders who might help commissioners understand how Comcast’s acquisition of TWC, or AT&T’s of DirecTV, might affect the competitive landscape. The court said that the FCC “has access to the relevant documents” and can “continue to evaluate the proposed merger during the stay.”
The content producers said they could lose negotiating leverage with pay-TV distributors if the terms of their previous contracts became known. But the FCC said that it needs help understanding the arrangements. The information would only go to “a very restricted category of persons” – and wouldn’t include anyone engaged in “competitive decision-making.” They would have to promise to keep details private at risk of criminal prosecution or disbarment.
Comcast and AT&T sided with the FCC, mostly to help move their merger reviews along. But Comcast says that today’s stay “deals with a procedural matter that has never had anything to do with the substance of our transaction. As the court stated, the Commission has access to all the documents at issue and can continue its review of the transactions while the stay is in effect.”
The two GOP members of the commission, who dissented from its decision to share the programming information, cheered today’s ruling. Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly urged the FCC to move on the deals, while the commission and programmers “come to the negotiating table and reach a compromise.”
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