Was Comcast Too Aggressive With Its Merger Defense?

NYT columnist thinks so.

When we posted Comcast’s defense of its merger with Time Warner, we noted that the document — filed last week with the Federal Communications Commission — was “combative in tone and words.”

In fact, that combativeness may work against getting federal approval for the merger, New York Times media columnist David Carr writes today.

A particular problem, he said, was accusing rival companies of “extortion” for opposing the Comcast-Time Warner merger after failing to extract concessions from Comcast for doing so.

A senior executive at Comcast agreed that its aggressive response was “uncharacteristic,” but said, “Enough was enough.” This executive spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy.

“The increases that these companies are looking for in exchange for not opposing the deal are exorbitant,” the executive said. “Programmers don’t expect to get called out on this stuff, but the industry is reaching a breaking point, and we needed to stand up for ourselves.”

It sounded sincere and very likely is, but going on the attack is probably not good strategy. Comcast has always combined its political might with restraint of tongue, a brutally effective combination that it has temporarily abandoned. In reminding the F.C.C. to scrutinize motives behind the arguments it will hear as it weighs whether to approve or challenge the deal, Comcast seemed defensive and frantic.

Comcast already faces allegations it is over-powerful and bullying, Carr said. Last week’s FCC filing, Carr said, might’ve added to that perception.

“The word extortion is usually applied to guys with names like Nicky who wear bad suits and crack their knuckles a lot,” he said. “If this is how the company acts in the wooing stage, imagine how charming it will be once it actually gets what it wants.”