If Comcast and NBC CEOs Will Fib to Congress, How Do You Trust Them About Broadband's Future?
Originally published: February 6, 2010
Last updated: February 6, 2010 - 4:01pm
[Commentary] Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and NBC CEO Jeff Zucker went in front of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust and Competition and the House Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications to defend their proposed merger. And while "Say Anything" was actually produced by competitor 20th Century Fox, that seemed to be the mantra of both CEO, as both got caught out in some creative truth stretching -- if not outright lies.
Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) pressed Jeff Zucker on the possibility that the combined Comcast/NBC would try to crush broadband-based competitors and slow down the trend of people "cutting the cord" and dropping their cable subscriptions, Zucker told what can only charitably be called a major fib. Rep Boucher asked Zucker about online video provider Hulu.com (of which NBC owns a chunk and provides a bunch of the content), which last year blocked users of the application Boxee from using Hulu -- a move apparently designed to keep users from streaming Internet content to the TV screen. Zucker promptly responded that "Hulu's management" had made the decision because Boxee was "illegally taking the content that was on Hulu." Oddly, when asked about this very same incident last May, Zucker said something entirely different. Back then, Zucker claimed that he (not Hulu's management) wanted Hulu to remain "an online experience" rather than something people watched on their television. This version -- rather than what Zucker told Rep Boucher -- is far more consistent with what Hulu CEO Jason Kilar wrote on his blog at the time Hulu blocked Boxee. And while claiming that an online innovator encourages piracy is always a safe bet, no one appears to have previously made the claim that Boxee was "illegally taking" Hulu's content before -- probably because Hulu gives its content away for free to anyone with an Internet browser.
Why would Zucker have said in an interview in May that Hulu blocked Boxee because they wanted it to remain an "online experience" (rather than an "over the top" cable competitor) when he could have said in May that Boxee were "illegally taking" Hulu's content, if that really were the reason?
Frankly, it seems far more likely that Zucker knew that his quote from May 2009 would undercut everything he and Roberts keep saying now in February 2010 about how they won't try to squash Internet competition with their cable service. So he decided to tell Rep Boucher something more politically acceptable, apparently on the assumption that no one would notice the conflict between Zucker's May 2009 interview and Zucker's February 2010 testimony.
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