NBC Uni-Comcast deal heads to D.C.

Committee hearings on proposed merger set for Thursday

NEW YORK -- The outlook for the relationship between NBC, its affiliate stations and possible future NBC Universal majority owner Comcast Corp. will be one area of focus during Congressional committee hearings Thursday that will shine the spotlight on the proposed NBC Uni-Comcast deal.

Prepared testimony that Michael Fiorile, chair of the NBC Television Affiliates Board that represents some 200 affiliates, is set to deliver at the House hearing was leaked Tuesday.

According to the prepared remarks, Fiorile will highlight 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 plans to say that he is "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."

The affiliates chair will highlight three areas of concern for the NBC-affiliated stations:

1. "Protecting the value of the network and the availability of free, over-the-air programming to the public by preventing the siphoning of key programming from the network to Comcast-owned cable channels."

2. Preventing the bypass of affiliates. One key worry for affiliates is that Comcast could provide NBC network programming -- for which affiliates have contracted "first call" rights -- to other, competing platforms.

3. "Protecting the integrity of the retransmission consent principle."

Fiorile will also point out that more detailed negotiations about conditions and more specific commitments between the sides will take place in the coming weeks after some "promising" first contacts.

Meanwhile, Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts and NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker are expected to use their Thursday appearance in Washington to once again confirm their commitment to local TV stations.

"NBC, Telemundo, their local O&Os and their local broadcast affiliates will benefit by having the full support of Comcast, a company that is focused entirely on entertainment, information, and communications and that has strong incentives -- and the ability -- to invest in and grow the broadcast businesses it is acquiring, in partnership with the local affiliates," the executives will say, according to prepared testimony obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.

They will reiterate that Comcast's first voluntary public interest commitment is one to "continuing to provide free over-the-air television through its O&O broadcast stations and through local broadcast affiliates across the nation."

Roberts will promise that as Comcast negotiates and renews agreements with affiliates, the cable giant will continue "its cooperative dialogue with its affiliates toward a business model to sustain free over-the-air service."