The Most Important Media Merger Since Lucy Married Desi

The biggest media news this week was the pending merger of NBC with Comcast, as I’m sure you know, unless you have been in a tryptophan-inspired coma for a week.  “This is the most important media merger since Lucy married Desi,” declared Andrew Schwartzman of the Media Access Project. “The merger clearly threatens to transform video markets nationwide.”  The new media behemoth is certainly going to change the picture, but how?  At the outset, you can see why Comcast would want to own NBC – for its content. It will give Comcast control over several cable properties as well as a TV network. What does this mean for Hulu, the leading online video site, owned in large part by NBC?  Comcast owns the third largest video site, Fancast, and this will greatly increase its searchable video universe. And of course, Comcast’s experiment with TV Everywhere will get a boost with more stuff to watch everywhere. The Christian Science Monitor points out that Comcast will be able to bundle all of its bundles more effectively with more content. “Comcast is pursuing NBC Universal precisely because it wants to transition from being just a subscription-based cable company to a media content provider.”

Some people are not so happy with the deal, notably net neutrality proponents. It’s not like Comcast hasn’t had its share of problems in that area, in its blocking of P2P traffic. The concern is that Comcast could use its status as the country’s largest Internet service provider to privilege its own online content, says Marvin Ammori, a University of Nebraska law school professor who advises Free Press. For example, Comcast could theoretically prioritize traffic to NBC.com at the expense of visits to other sites. A lot will depend on the new neutrality rulings that are expected to come about next year. As ArsTechnica points out, “… the Comcast/NBC deal faces a very different regulatory environment than any recent mergers, notably the Sirius/XM or AT&T/BellSouth approvals. One wonders whether either of these marriages would have gotten past a Federal Communications Commission with Democratic rather than Republican majorities—not to mention the scrutiny of the Justice Department, which will be weighing in on this latest question, too.”

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