Viacom, Verizon CEOs talk Comcast, retrans

Verizon's Seidenberg sees retrans, Hulu as fads

NEW YORK -- Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman expressed some concerns about a possible Comcast acquisition of a majority stake in NBC Universal Friday, but said his firm will wait with a full evaluation until terms and other details are announced.

"One must be somewhat concerned when you have a dominant, aggressive distributor" making a major push into the content space, he said during a morning session at the Paley Center here.

Experts expect a long and tough regulatory review in case of a deal with some competitors likely to make arguments against it. Liberty Media chairman John Malone has already signaled he could try to play spoiler in Washington.
"We'll have to evaluate it" when more details become known, Dauman said about Viacom's approach to the possible Comcast deal in Washington.

Dauman also quipped that he has "never seen such a big transaction with so much leakage" of news. Interviewer and CNBC anchor David Faber replied that maybe the reporting around the potential deal was simply too good.

Joining Dauman in the Paley conversation was Verizon chairman and CEO Ivan Seidenberg.
"This isn't my industry," he said when asked about a potential Comcast-NBC Uni link-up. "The only issue we have is when we become their customer, do they treat us fairly." Size alone doesn't bother him, but he is looking for open distribution of content, he added.

Asked if he worries that Comcast-NBCU could give further traction to retransmission fee payments to broadcast networks, Seidenberg shrugged off any concerns about any kind of retrans and other carriage fees.

"We pay retrans," he said, describing it as the necessary cost for having entered the video business. "We don't fight this stuff. These are all the little games the media guys and content guys play."

But he predicted this may simply be a temporary expense until technology makes it obsolete. "It's an avoidable (payment) that our technology will get rid off," Seidenberg vowed without going into details.

Earlier in the debate, Dauman had suggested the carriage cost for Viacom's networks were "small" for distributors.
"It's significant," retorted Seidenberg, but "worth it."

Asked about online video service Hulu and its effect on telecoms and other content distributors, Seidenberg said: "I think Hulu is a cool thing," because it is "exactly" what people think they should be able to do with content on the Web today. But he also argued it may have run its course over the medium term. "In two years, it won't matter, because the world will have moved on," he argued.

Dauman lauded online viewing as an ongoing opportunity for his and other companies even though monetization must be improved. "Viewership is up. It's at all-time record highs," he said. People spend more time with content as they can nowadays consume it at the office during the day.