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:

Pretty colors

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."

NEXT: Garrett Peck on The Prohibition Hangover

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. if only Mr. Gillespie had used his prescience to caution both AOL and Time-Warner stockholders.

  2. Will this make my GE stock go up? That's what I really want to know.


      1. Is that a yes? I think the analysts think it's a yes. Then again, they've always hated GE's diversification, even for the decades it made its investors billions of quatloos.

  3. I just hate Comcast and want them to die. I have DirecTV and am already pissed they pulled Versus from being available to DirecTV customers. I wish the NHL were back on ESPN. 🙁

    1. So does the NHL.

    2. The NHL and that little western mid-major NCAA conference that got screwed over by Comcast have no one but themselves to blame. I was pissed when I found out that - even though I get my CA Fox Sports channel - the SJ Sharks games are block out. WHY did I get DirecTV then???

      But the NHL signed away all their rights to a huge cable company. Live and learn.

      What happened to the Mountain West Conference was worse. IIRC, they signed with Comcast to be on CSTV, then Comcast sold the majority stake in that channel to CBS (who renamed it CBSCS or something). Because the MWC had an expensive contract, CBS was worried it would give the SEC leverage in their negotiations the following year. Comcast realized that their contract with the MWC allowed them to create a new channel ("the MTN") and put all the MWC games there, clearing CBS. Then they played hardball and refused to sell the MTN to dish providers as a regional package - even though Comcast didn't offer the channel nationally.

      The MWC had their lawyers look at the contract, but they couldn't get out of it.

      So I blame the orgs that signed bad contracts more than Comcast, which - yes, their service sucks - is just doing what a good business would do.

  4. 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.".

    Except that the cable dial, whatever the fuck that is, is not the only game in town. I currently have Verizon FIOS and have about 500 channels of audio and video to choose from. I doubt NBC has anything to do with more than 1% of those channels. I also have internet access, digital rabbit ears or satellite should I choose. Explain again how this is going to limit my choices.

    1. one possible issue is where comcast is the only cable provider in a market.

  5. Give me the direct feeds and free me from the tyranny of local affiliates forever. WLEX can suck my kiwis.

  6. If you want to fearmonger all powerful media consolidation, go after Oprah. I darez ya.

    1. Yeah, I mean OWN*? Come on. That's foreshadowing, kind of like Mein Kampf telegraphed what Hitler would do when he got in power.

      * The Oprah Winfrey Network, formerly Discovery Health.

  7. Even competitors are complaining.

    Wait- Whuuuuuuuuut?

  8. Pro Lib- I see this as proof the Presidential Suit has decided not to subsidize the "broadcast/legacy" networks; Immelt would never let go of a government revenue stream.

    1. What's good for GE is good for Pro Libertate. Damn their evil ways!

  9. "Law & Order" (in its various incarnation of the original, "SVU" and "Criminal Intent") is on NBC. And USA. And Bravo.

    The variety of channels argument fall apart when you consider how much "cross-pollination" there is now - the prime example being Disney, who owns ABC and ESPN - which regularly show each others' programs.

    There really is a startling lack of diversity on TV. As the saying goes, "400 channels and nothing but crap."

    That being said, who cares? TV isn't some right, it's entertainment. If you don't like it, turn the damn thing off and read a book.

    1. It's 400 channels of diverse crap. The cross-pollination you speak of hardly makes a dent in the diversity angle. It's the broadcast networks themselves that are not diverse. 5 nights of Leno at 10? GMAFB.

      Pedantic note - Criminal Intent is not on NBC. New episodes are on USA.

    2. 400 channels, half are showing Law & Order at any time, the other half reality shows.

      Thank dog for the internets. At least until these guys figure out how to take that over too.

      1. I second that. Online, I can see stupid Japanese prank shows, anime, [adultswim] reruns, and fail videos all within seconds. Oh yes, and pandas being surprised. I almost forgot about that...

    3. And TNT... Don't forget TNT. They also run old episodes on my local UPN (or did they get bought) channel. Too much "don-da"...

  10. According to Wikipedia and SourceWatch, PFF (and Adam Thierer who works for them) is funded by Comcast and NBC-Universal, so they might be expected to champion this deal. However, they're also funded by competitors to Comcast and NBC-Universal (Verizon, Time Warner, AT&T), so they might be expected to advocate against this deal.

    1. Hey, thanks for adding absolutely nothing to this conversation.

  11. Personally, I think Comcast is trying to take over the world but they better watch out cause Google might suck them up!


    1. What have you done with Jess, you sick fucker?

  12. I'm just confused as to why Immelt thinks it's a good deal. GE is giving assets valued at $30B, walks away with about $8B in cash, and get a minority ownership in the new deal. Comcast puts up $7.5B in assets and has majority ownership? WTF? How does this make sense from a business perspective?

  13. I don't oppose media consolidation, I oppose to Comcast getting more media power. The thought of Comcast controlling Hulu (one of my favorite sites) really bothers me. Mostly because it will make Hulu suck and be behind a pay wall.

    Plus, after seeing what happened to Versus because of DirecTV's spat with Comcast, I'm not looking forward to this marriage.

  14. Too big to fail.

    They are preparing for the up and coming media welfare handouts.

  15. If Comcast is so all-powerful, how come they can't show me NFL Sunday Ticket?

  16. Not to worry. Much like the Time-Warner/AOL debacle, this thing will collapse from its own weight. Much like the government takeover of health care.

  17. Wow, that graph is HORRIBLE.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.