FCC Eyes Longer-Than-Usual Conditions on Comcast-NBC Universal Deal

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Incoming NBC head Bob Greenblatt and NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke must await regulatory approval before they can get down to work.

NEW YORK - Many of the expected FCC conditions on the proposed acquisition of 51 percent in NBC Universal by cable giant Comcast would last seven years, somewhat longer than normal, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

Some conditions would expire earlier, such as an expected three-year requirement that Comcast offer stand-alone Internet service to consumers for $49.95 a month, it said.

The FCC and Justice Department are expected to approve the deal this month, but with various conditions.

In talks with the FCC, media giants such as Walt Disney, Time Warner and Viacom, have expressed concerns that a proposed condition that Comcast offer NBC programming to any online video service that has reached a content deal with at least one competitor, according to the Journal. The other conglomerates worry that this would reduce their leverage in content negotiations.

The Journal also reported that the delay in the regulatory review process has left NBC executives - old and new - in limbo. For example, the network couldn't schedule a TCA press outing for the new team due to the pending approval, it said.

NBC's incoming programming head Bob Greenblatt and designated NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke met last week with senior staff, but since they aren’t formally in charge until regulatory approval is official, they couldn’t issue directives, according to the paper.

At the meeting, a lawyer instructed NBC executives not to ask Greenblatt questions whose answers could be construed as orders, the report said. Asked whether he prefers many meetings or email communication, Greenblatt reportedly replied that he is "very email-friendly."

With networks starting to pick fall season pilots, NBC is hoping for a quick deal approval, so its new team can get fully involved.

As far as his taste goes, the Journal said that in at least one instance, Greenblatt was said to have read and disliked a script that NBC had ended up buying. 

As far as merger conditions go, Comcast resisted them, but says it can live with the ones mentioned in a draft ruling on the deal circulating at the FCC. "We continue to believe the draft FCC order as circulated ensures public interest benefits and will enable us to operate the NBC Universal and legacy Comcast businesses in an appropriate way," Comcast executive vp David Cohen told the Journal.

The Justice Department is also expected to impose conditions on Comcast to protect online video competition.


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