Don't Sweat Comcast/NBC, Either


Just in time for the latest mega-media deal, Adam Thierer has released a white paper on "A Brief History of Media Merger Hysteria: From AOL-Time Warner to Comcast-NBC." Excerpt:

Free Press has said the new entity "will have an incentive to prioritize NBC shows over other local and independent voices and programs, making it even harder to find alternatives on the cable dial." And Free Press Executive Director Josh Silver has called for the Obama Administration to block the deal "saying it would further starve Americans of [media] diversity." Even competitors are complaining. Liberty Media Corp. Chairman John Malone, which owns DirecTV, has suggested that they might push the government to reject the deal. Many other rivals will likely join that bandwagon.

These critics will likely raise vertical integration fears and claim that Comcast will act as a "gatekeeper" by limiting the ability of independent voices to get a slot on cable distribution systems, or by withholding NBC-Universal content from other platforms and providers. But there's little historical evidence that suggests this will be a problem. As the adjoining exhibit illustrates, the overall number of video programming channels available in America has skyrocketed, from just 70 channels in 1990 to 565 channels in 2006, the last year for which the FCC has made data available.

More importantly—and despite claims to the contrary—vertical integration in the video marketplace has plummeted over the past two decades. While many more cable and satellite networks are available today than ever before, the greatest share of the growth in the multichannel video marketplace has come from independently owned video networks.

Back in April 2000, Nick Gillespie gave several prescient "reasons not to sweat AOL-Time Warner–and other megadeals."