Comcast to Merge With NBC: A Behemoth on the Rise?

Will America's largest cable company kill consumer choice?

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The planets are aligning for the media merger of a lifetime. A new deal between General Electric and Vivendi media group has paved the way for Comcast, the largest cable company in the U.S., to acquire a 51 percent stake in NBC Universal. The deal would give Comcast control of local television stations, theme parks, a film studio and television networks such as USA, NBC and Bravo. Media observers and advocacy groups are split on the prospects. Some fear a massive concentration of media power while others see a potential for innovation. Here's the scoop:

  • Block the Merger! demands Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, a media reform group. Silver writes the merger would "open the door to a new era of media consolidation that reaches across content creation and distribution, giving one company enormous power over TV and Internet content.... If Washington allows this deal to go through, Comcast will have unprecedented control of marquee content and three major distribution platforms: Internet, broadcast and cable. We’ve never seen this kind of consolidated control."
  • Will Cause Even More Acquisitions, writes Seattle Times editor Ryan Blethen: "What's more troubling about this deal is that it would spark Comcast's competitors to try and swing similar deals, which would further consolidate an already narrow field of companies that control what Americans watch and read. By blocking the sale of NBC Universal to Comcast Corp., the Obama administration can send a message to the behemoth corporations that dominate nearly every aspect of American life."
  • Could Improve NBC's Content, writes Wayne Friedman at Media Post: "As a cable network, NBC would be freed up content-wise. After all, viewers were promised when the cable industry was starting up decades ago that programming would be daring and original, in part because cable shows wouldn't be restricted by FCC content and language rules. I'm not saying the freedom to curse will bring back viewers, but it'll send a creative signal to TV producers that future video content under Comcast is truly held in high regard."

  • Exciting Possibilities for Film, writes Diane Mermigas at BNet: "On the film front, Comcast is a long-time advocate video-on-demand coinciding with the DVD or even box office release of films to make exhibition windows more profitable.  NBCU also could use its co-ownership of the online video service Hulu to advance a pay model for TV programs and films.  Comcast is expected to use its control of Universal Studios to reduce expenses and radically alter the ways in which movies and produced and distributed."

  • Fine With Me, quips Gawker's Adrian Chen: "If regulators approve the NBC deal, Comcast will boast a double threat of content production and distribution with which it will squelch all opposition and force-feed The Office reruns to the American populace until we are witless, sitcom-dazed zombies at their beck and call. At least that's what some concerned media activists say will happen. (Doesn't sound so bad, honestly.)"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.