MERGER WORRIES: WGAW Complains To FCC That Comcast-NBCU Threatens Competition & Content Diversity

Washington, DC – The Writers Guild of America, West called on regulators today to impose strict guidelines on the proposed merger of Comcast-NBCU in order to protect competition, ensure the value of creative product, and to promote broadcast and cable program diversity and independence.

In its filing to the Federal Communications Commission, the Guild noted:

“WGAW is concerned about the impact the proposed merger of NBC Universal (NBCU) and Comcast will have on content creators and consumers. The WGA has represented television and movie writers for more than 50 years and over that time, has witnessed the consolidation of the media industry into the hands of a few conglomerates. This consolidation has led to a decline in creative and economic opportunities for WGAW members, and has reduced the dissemination of diverse and independent viewpoints in the media, all to the detriment of consumers. If approved, the Comcast–NBCU entity will cause a further concentration of content sources.

“While the applicants have proposed voluntary public interest commitments and continue to pronounce the putative benefits of this merger, we fear that, unless substantial requirements are placed on Comcast and NBCU, they will be the only parties who truly benefit from this combination.

“This merger will compound the consolidated state of the entertainment industry and will likely lead to further consolidation as other companies merge to challenge the dominance of Comcast-NBCU, a vertically integrated entertainment company that will control content from its inception through the cable lines that deliver the content to consumers. Media consolidation did not start with Comcast and NBCU, but the proposed merger represents a significant advance along that path; the effects of this consolidation on the public and on entertainment industry workers must be mitigated. The FCC can and must require strong protections of competition and promotion of content diversity as part of this merger. Doing so will limit the negative impact of this merger and can provide constructive precedent for the consideration of proposed media consolidation in the future.”

“Promoting Content Diversity and Independence
“In order to effectively meet the FCC goal of diversity and to promote independent programming Comcast must go beyond its offer of six independent channels, which will have little impact in a market of 500 plus channels. The FCC should encourage Comcast to live up to its promise of investing in new programming with the requirement that the company invest in programming from outside sources. In doing so, the Commission will ensure program source diversity. The Commission must define requirements that protect competition in the media industry and should include specific requirements on independent programming as part of
Comcast – NBCU network schedules. The requirement for independent programming should be substantial enough to create meaningful program source diversity on Comcast – NBCU channels and include a variety of program types like dramas, comedies and nonfiction. In addition, the
definition of independent programming should be crafted in such a way as to ensure maximum diversity of voices and artists on such programming, not just to provide more programming space for other media conglomerates. Further, Comcast should be required to promote these
programs through subsidized advertising campaigns.

· Program Source Diversity Requirement: Require Comcast – NBCU networks to air a meaningful amount of programming that is owned and produced by independent producers. Independent producers should be defined as studios or production entities that are not owned or affiliated by a major broadcast or cable network or an MVPD provider. The type of programs should also be defined to ensure that independent programs do not include only those programs the company does not wish to own.

Protecting the Value of Content
To protect content and those who create it, the FCC should require Comcast and NBCU to evaluate all content licensed or sold internally at a fair market value. Similar deals made between Comcast and a third-party content supplier or the internal content producer and an independent distributor must be used to evaluate the fairness of the internal deals.

· Fair Market Valuation Requirement: Accountable receipts received by the internal content producer must be measured by Comcast’s payments to unrelated and unaffiliated entities in arms’ length transactions for comparable pictures or, if none, the amounts received by the content producer from unrelated and unaffiliated exhibitors/retailers in
arms’ length transactions for comparable pictures, or, if none, a comparable
exhibitor/retailer’s payments to comparable unrelated and unaffiliated entities in arms’ length transactions for comparable pictures.

Protecting Competition
To protect the public from potential abuses given the vertical integration of this merger, the FCC should require that Comcast commit to maintaining current channels positions among its cable offerings and to prohibit the company from bumping current cable networks out of tiers to be replaced by Comcast-owned or controlled networks. Further, to ensure competition among MVPD’s, Comcast must be required to offer its cable network programming to competitors at reasonable rates.

· Channel Positioning Requirement: Restrict Comcast from bumping unaffiliated cable networks out of its basic cable tier to make room for affiliated networks.

· Content Access Requirement: Ensure availability of Comcast – NBCU content on an unbundled basis to unaffiliated multichannel video programming distributors on fair and reasonable rates, terms and conditions.

In the online space, regulators must require that Comcast – NBC Universal not discriminate in favor of or against content on the Internet. The merged entity should also not be allowed to use its market power to deny distribution of programming on alternative services on the Internet that might compete with Comcast – NBC Universal’s various platforms or Video-On-Demand services and should preserve Internet availability of NBC video content on non-Comcast/NBC websites at fair and reasonable rates, terms and conditions.

· Internet Access to Content Requirement: Preserve Internet availability of NBC video content on non-Comcast/NBC websites at fair and reasonable rates, terms and conditions.

· Nondiscrimination: Require that Comcast remain neutral in the distribution of Internet content over its network.

For a full copy of the WGAW filing click here:

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