Comcast Today: NBCUniversal Merger Promises Under Scrutiny

Company says it has "over-delivered" on its commitments.

We told you last week that Sen. Al Franken is racing to block Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable, saying Comcast had failed to deliver on its commitments made during the NBCUniversal merger. 

It’s probably a coincidence, but Comcast has just released its own annual report—the third since the NBCUniversal merger—detailing its progress on those commitments. Its take on things is, unsurprisingly, different from Franken’s. “It is simply indisputable that we have honored – in fact, over-delivered – on our commitments,” the company says.  “And we’ll continue to do so.”

Anyway, let’s compare Franken’s charges with Comcast’s self-assessment:

Accommodating competitors

Franken: “Franken complained that Comcast had interfered in 2007 with BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer network that Comcast viewed as a competitor to its cable offerings.”

Comcast: Doesn’t mention BitTorrrent, but says: “We continued to enter into a variety of content arrangements with OVDs, (online video distributors) including new or renewed agreements with Amazon and Netflix, among others, and we completed deals with a variety of MPVDs for the third year in a row without resort to arbitration.”

Judgment: In other words, Comcast says it has made its pipes safe for cord-cutters. But the Netflix deal is relatively recent, and since it involves payment by Netflix to service, might still come under scrutiny. On the other hand: Lots of illegal stuff gets carried over BitTorrent; it’s hard to make that service sympathetic to regulators. And 2007 preceded the merger, anyway.

Increasing localism

Franken: “Franken also cited a study by the Free Press consumer advocacy group, which found Comcast had failed to live up to promises to increase local news and programming. “The FCC should scrutinize whether these allegations have merit,” Franken wrote.”

Comcast: “We preserved and enhanced local news by making strategic investments in our owned stations, including the expansion of local news, news-gathering equipment, transmission upgrades and technology, and distribution platforms. During 2013, the 10 NBC Owned Television Stations produced and aired approximately 2,500 hours of regularly scheduled local news programming over and above the amount aired in the year preceding the Closing of the Transaction, surpassing the requirement to add 1,000 hours or new, local news programming by   approximately 1,500 hours.  At the Telemundo Station Group, the stations aired approximately 2,300 hours of regularly scheduled local news programming over and above the amount aired in the year preceding the Closing of the Transaction, not including the news from the recently acquired stations.  This total exceeds the requirement in this condition by approximately 1,300 hours. ”

Judgement: If it’s a matter of fulfilling math requirements, Comcast looks like it should evade deep scrutiny on this matter.

Aiding low-income customers

Franken: “He also questioned whether Comcast had lived up to promises to provide reasonably priced broadband to customers who did not take cable.”

Comcast:  “Connecting an estimated 1 million low-income Americans, or more than 250,000 families, to the Internet at home through our Internet Essentials broadband adoption program; Providing an additional 664 courtesy video and broadband Internet access accounts to schools, libraries, and other community institutions in underserved areas in which broadband penetration is low and there is a high concentration of low income residents, 64 more than were need to satisfy the year-three requirement.”

Judgement: Again, by sheer numbers, Comcast ought to be able to turn this criticism aside. We’re not under the impression the government has been especially heavy-handed on the Comcast merger with NBCUniversal, we’re guessing that won’t change right away.

Other Comcastic headlines:

Comcast Corp. is closing in on a deal to acquire the video ad platform FreeWheel for around $320 million. FreeWheel’s platform facilitates the cross-platform insertion of advertising in on-demand programming and live streaming feeds, making it easier for content companies and distributors to squeeze more advertising revenue from their content offerings over time. FreeWheel is known for its ability to offer highly targeted advertising insertion based on a range of user-specific factors that are attractive to advertisers. (Variety

• Comcast’s plan to buy out industry peer Time Warner Cable for $45 billion has already achieved one thing: damaging consumer perceptions about both cable companies and their services. According to YouGov’s BrandIndex, consumer perceptions of Time Warner Cable have sunk to their lowest levels since last summer, when it was embroiled in an unseemly carriage dispute with CBS. Meanwhile, Comcast’s ranking has also taken a significant hit. (Quartz)

• A huge merger may turn the son of a Philadelphia Jewish entrepreneur into one of the most powerful Americans in the media industry. Brian Roberts, 54, chairman and CEO of Comcast, a cable and broadband provider that announced on February 13 its intention to take over Time Warner Cable in a $45 billion deal, seeks to control the cable services of more than 32 million American homes, which would make him the unchallenged leader in the field. Roberts, a Maccabiah Games squash gold medalist known for his affinity for Israel, has not made his mark on Jewish life. But his Jewish identity, friends say, should not be doubted. “Brian’s commitment to religion and Jewish causes is like every other thing he does: It is extremely personal and low-profile,” Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor, told the Forward. Roberts, he added, “does not carry these things on his chest.” (Jewish Daily Forward)