Comcast-NBCU deal criticized by affiliates

CBS, ABC and Fox stations unite to voice concerns

NEW YORK -- CBS, ABC and Fox TV station affiliates are pushing for conditions on the proposed acquisition of a 51% stake in NBC Universal by cable giant Comcast Corp.

"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," Tim Busch, chairman of CBS affiliates, said in a letter to his member stations, adding that he has coordinated with ABC and Fox affiliates, which seem to have similar worries. "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."

CBS Corp. didn't comment as the letter comes from independent CBS affiliates owned by TV station groups, which are separate from CBS Corp. Busch said that his team is "in the process" of arranging a meeting with Comcast in the hope that the cable giant "will voluntarily agree to have certain regulatory conditions incorporated in any FCC approval of the merger to assure non-discriminatory and fair treatment."

Comcast said in a statement that it is "in discussions with a variety of stakeholders, including affiliates of the major broadcast networks." It added: "We appreciate the constructive way, in which they are approaching the discussions."

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts has faced the affiliates question in various regulatory approval hearings in Washington before. Most concern has so far focused on NBC affiliates.

Michael Fiorile, chair of the NBC Television Affiliates Board that represents some 200 affiliates, previously delivered testimony at a House hearing that highlighted that the stations he represents "make a wealth of local and national programming freely available to their communities." While the planned merger "presents fundamental questions about our shared future in the media landscape," Fiorile said he was "cautiously optimistic" that the stations, NBC and Comcast can agree on conditions to a merger that enable them to "strengthen and extend our combined ability to serve the American public with free services in new and interesting ways."