Media Money with Julia Boorstin

ABC, CBS and Fox Affiliates Ask Comcast for a Meeting & Concessions

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As Comcast awaits approval of its acquisition of NBC , the affiliates of rival stations are anxious to ensure that this mega-deal doesn't put them at a disadvantage to NBC. Earlier this week ABC, CBS and Fox affiliates sent a letter to Comcast, asking to set a meeting.

Brian Brady, the head of Fox's affiliate association tells me: "We're concerned about being at a competitive disadvantage and we want to have a conversation." He wouldn't get into any of the details of what they're looking for, and wouldn't say what, if anything, they've heard back from Comcast but said repeatedly, "We're rational and reasonable people." (*Note: CNBC and NBC are both owned by parent company General Electric)

It's worth noting — these are the independent affiliates, the ABC, CBS , and FOX proper are not involved. These affiliates could be owned independently, by the likes of a Gannett or a Nextar. I've spoken to each of the three networks, and none of them have any comment.

The affiliates are concerned that if Comcast's acquisition does indeed go through, they'll lose negotiating power with the nation's largest cable carrier when it owns NBC TV stations and the NBC network, not to mention cable channels and a movie studio.

Here's the letter Tim Busch, the head of CBS affiliates, circulated to his stations. I have reached out to Comcast about their response to the letter and have not gotten any response yet.

I bolded the part I find most interesting.

March 29, 2010

Dear CBS Affiliate:

Your Association is carefully monitoring the proposed merger of Comcast and NBC Universal. We are concerned that the proposed merger would competitively disadvantage CBS affiliates by reposing an unprecedented level of media market power in a single, vertically integrated cable/television broadcast network company. Our specific concern is that Comcast/NBCU would have incentives to competitively disadvantage and discriminate against non-NBC affiliated stations in terms of Comcast’s cable carriage, retransmission consent negotiations, and advertising and promotion practices.

To that end, upon the direction of your Board, I have conferred with the FOX and ABC Affiliate Associations, along with legal counsel, for the purpose of communicating our concerns to the FCC. We are in the process at the moment of arranging a meeting with Comcast in the 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.

The FCC has announced a deadline of May 3 for comments and June 17 for reply comments.

We will keep you informed of our efforts and welcome your helpful thoughts and suggestions on this important issue. In that regard, please feel free to reach out to your district representative or any Board member at anytime in the near future.


Tim Busch

Questions?  Comments?