After being announced nearly two years ago, the union of cable TV provider Comcast with NBC Universal has finally been approved. The Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department handed down the decision, and the deal is expected to be finalized by the end of the month.
As the New York Times points out, the deal marks the first time a cable company has had control over a major broadcast network. Not surprisingly, the deal has sparked concern since it was first announced in March 2009, as such a large media powerhouse could end up strong-arming its providers and partners. Comcast could, for example, give web speed preference to NBC shows or prevent other carriers from streaming NBC content altogether.
But just as we reported it would last month, the FCC has made sure to include conditions for Comcast-NBCU to follow. In a statement released today, the FCC writes: “Comcast-NBCU will be required to take affirmative steps to foster competition in the video marketplace. In addition, Comcast-NBCU will increase local news coverage to viewers; expand children’s programming; enhance the diversity of programming available to Spanish-speaking viewers; offer broadband services to low-income Americans at reduced monthly prices; and provide high-speed broadband to schools, libraries and under served communities, among other public benefits.”
The deal was approved by a 4 to 1 vote. Senior Democratic commissioner Michael J. Copps, who cast the dissenting vote, said in a statement that the deal “confers too much power in one company’s hands.” FCC chair Julius Genachowski responded with his own statement that reiterated why he believes the agency’s conditions on the deal will ultimately drive innovation in online video.
Indeed, Comcast will become an even bigger player in online video through the deal. Comcast will gain a minority stake in the popular video site Hulu, and it will also be able to control the availability of NBC content on Netflix’s streaming video library.