Last updated: July 22, 2010 - 9:07am
Comcast may have to sell some NBC television stations or agree to have independent arbitration settle pricing disputes to get government approval for buying General Electric's NBC Universal.
These are among the remedies the Federal Communications Commission or the Justice Department may require to ease fears about keeping television markets competitive following the $28 billion deal, antitrust analysts said. Comcast, the largest U.S. cable operator, would get control of the NBC television network and broadcast stations and sports networks in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, six of the biggest U.S. television markets, plus Hartford, Connecticut. Comcast also would acquire NBC's national cable networks, including Bravo, USA Network, MSNBC and CNBC, and national sports and Olympic Games programming. Philadelphia-based Comcast's power in key markets is "absolutely going to be a major concern" for officials, said Craig Moffett, an analyst at New York-based Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Investigators will take into account Comcast's past attempts to thwart competition, said Lloyd Constantine, a former New York state assistant attorney general in charge of antitrust enforcement. For more than a decade, Comcast has refused to sell Philadelphia sports programming to DirecTV and Dish Network Corp., two satellite competitors, DirecTV said in an FCC filing. "They have in essence a rabid dog here," Constantine said. Noll said Comcast has several points in its favor, including its small share of national TV and cable channels and increased competition from the Internet to distribute programming.