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Bloomberg Television has won a hard-fought ruling at the Federal Communications Commission. On Thursday, the media regulatory agency decided that Comcast had an obligation to put the business channel alongside its own affiliated news stations like CNBC and MSNBC in its channel lineup.
In deciding this, the FCC turned to what what was agreed upon in 2011 when the agency gave its approval of Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal.
As a condition for the merger and the transfer of broadcast licenses, Comcast agreed to a “neighborhooding” rule meant to guard against the potential anti-competitive effect of grouping similarly themed TV channels together. In order to prevent discrimination, Comcast would be required to carry independent stations in that same neighborhood.
Bloomberg argued that Comcast had violated the “neighborhooding” condition.
In reaction, the Philadelphia-based cable distribution giant argued that the definition of a “news neighborhood” was arbitrary and bad policy, that the condition didn’t apply to channels groupings that existed at the time of the merger and that it was a violation of its First Amendment rights.
The FCC rejected those arguments.
In explaining the importance of a neighborhood, the ruling says that “viewers tend to ‘flip’ between channels using the channel up and channel down commands on their remotes, as well as by looking at nearby channels on programming guides. This phenomenon supports the Bureau’s conclusion that four news channels in any five adjacent channel positions is significant; that is, it is ‘important’ from a network’s perspective because viewers tend to stay within neighborhoods, and these neighborhoods ‘have meaning’ to viewers because they mean that the viewer does not need to wander the channel lineup in search of lone news networks.”
The First Amendment challenge is also waived off because Comcast voluntarily assented to the “neighborhooding” condition.
In reaction to the ruling, Sena Fitzmaurice, vp government communications at Comcast, said the company was disappointed that the agency went “well beyond the express language of the FCC’s Comcast-NBCUniversal order and what is justified by the evidence in that case. The FCC’s interpretation very likely will lead to significant and unwarranted burdens on us, our customers and other programming networks. We are evaluating our options.”
Bloomberg, of course, was happy with the development.
“The Commission was correct in January, 2011, when it deemed the condition necessary to ensure that the merger was in the public interest,” said Greg Babyak, head of government affairs at the company. “The Commission is correct today, in moving to keep the important promise it made to the public. We very much appreciate the diligent work of so many at the Commission and in the public interest community in promoting the availability to the public the diverse sources of news.”
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