Critics of Comcast-NBC merger expect widespread consumer frustration if merger is approved

Haven’t seen your favorite Glee or House episode lately? Your regularly scheduled sports game not airing on FOX this week? This is what Cablevision customers have to deal with as the Fox-Cablevision retransmission dispute rolls on. While you might be hard pressed to find your friends discussing the dynamics of media company rate disputes, they sure as heck know when their favorite show isn’t on.

Cablevision subscribers are continuously frustrated as FOX and Cablevision remain in a stalemate over their dispute. Many Americans will be feeling the same way if the Comcast- NBC merger is approved. A recent NY Times article suggests that Comcast is looking to challenge ESPN if it’s proposed merger goes through. Comcast could block ESPN content entirely, or create a paywall where Comcast subscribers would have to pay for particular events and games. Comcast subscribers would then be forced to watch Comcast’s sports channels.

To rub salt on consumers open wounds- News Corporation tried to cut Cablevision subscribers access to shows like House and Glee via Fox.com and Hulu. When Cablevision viewers attempted to find a second source for their beloved shows, many shows ended up being blacked out online and only offering a message that Fox shows were blocked from Hulu. This has never been done before and Fox was sending a message loud and clear, that consumers have to subscribe for the service providers that is willing to cough up Fox’s carrier rates.

DirecTV and the American Cable Association even echoed the concern of many media policy advocates, that the Fox-Cablevision dispute will have repercussions for the Comcast-NBC merger. DirecTV and the American Cable Association on Wednesday wrote FCC chairman Julius Genachowski saying: “Without appropriate safeguards, it is reasonable to assume that Comcast/NBCU would take similar action against non-Comcast broadband subscribers in the event of a dispute because it could increase its leverage in carriage negotiations and encourage subscriber defection to Comcast’s own video and broadband platforms,” the letter warned.

This long time dispute raised some reaction from the FCC when they wrote to the companies asking Fox and Cablevision to resolve their dispute. The FCC still has done very little though to signal an intention to stop the long term effects of the Comcast-NBC merger or the root of the problem. In a letter to the dueling parties, the FCC writes, “Your contract dispute extends beyond just Fox and Cablevision,” it said. “It affects millions of innocent consumers who expect to watch their preferred broadcast programming without interruption. We urge you to place the interests of these consumers first and conclude your negotiations promptly.”

New Media Rights is concerned that there is plenty of evidence that the vertical integration of Comcast and NBC will stifle the success of independent creators who want to work with cable providers. Indeed, if Fox versus Cablevision is a stalemate between giants, individual complaints from independent media would easily be steamrolled by unregulated Internet Access Providers.

Susan Crawford in her latest blog, “Sister Spat”, an excellent rundown of this retransmission case and it’s link to the merger, writes: “The media conglomerates need the tens of billions of dollars they get from the cable industry players, and the cable industry helps out by ensuring that there is almost no non-media-conglomerate programming made available. Really, just about zero programming not owned in part by one of those five media companies comes across the cable distribution platform.”

We need all stand up for consumers and independent creators by fighting the merger. Don’t be fooled, while Comcast would like media policy advocates and citizens to believe that they already have this merger in the bag, they don’t. We still have work to do.

Mera Szendro Bok is the Communications and Information Officer at New Media Rights in San Diego. New Media Rights offers free legal assistance on copyright and online publishing as well as a free public media studio. To read more about why the Comcast-NBC merger matters, read Executive Director of New Media Rights, Art Neill’s op-ed. 

This article was orginally posted on www.newmediarights.org and is shared under Creative Commons license Attribution Non-Commercial 3.0

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