Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei Says Regulators Favor Silicon Valley Over Cable

Greg Maffei-Getty-H 2016
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Also: Maffei didn't dismiss the idea of buying some assets of Yahoo.

Riffing off of a recent report indicating a Google executive visited the White House 128 times during the Barack Obama administration, far more than any other lobbyist, Liberty Media CEO Gregory Maffei lamented that new media seems to have more access to the president than does traditional media.

"My observation is that Silicon Valley has a whole lot of influence with the FCC, and that they have a lot of weight," Maffei said Wednesday in response to a question about the difficulty Charter Communications had gaining approval to acquire Time Warner Cable and Bright House.

That mega-merger closed Wednesday, with conditions meant to protect Netflix and other Internet video services, and Maffei spoke about it at the MoffettNathanson investor conference in New York.

"I read somewhere that the Google lobbyist had visited the White House 128 times during the course of this administration ... and cable has not," he said. "I'm not sure why the voice has been clearly stronger for some groups than others with that administration. That's my observation."

Also at the conference, Maffei didn't dismiss the idea of buying some assets of Yahoo, which has been shopping itself or pieces of itself for several months. "We're probably not a buyer of all of Yahoo," he added. 

Maffei said Liberty also is "looking at content plays" to acquire, given that with digital platforms there are more customers for shows. "There's more benefit in trying to merge cable networks," he said.

Maffei also addressed Hulu's desire to become a virtual MVPD, a plan that Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger said earlier at the same conference was a good one, given Disney has an ownership stake in Hulu (along with 21st Century Fox and NBCUniversal) and also could license live channels to the service. Cable operators, naturally, aren't thrilled with Hulu's idea.

"They will walk that line very slowly," said Maffei. "There's a lot more at risk, it strikes me, for Disney and Fox than there is to gain." He also called Hulu a "three-headed Cerberus, directionally challenged."

The exec, though, called Sirius XM the "primary element" of Liberty Media, given its ownership stake is north of 62 percent and climbing. "We'd like to own the whole business, but it's price-contingent," Maffei said.