December 3, 2009
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Comcast+NBC-U=TLAIt’s official: Comcast has purchased a majority share of NBC-Universal from parent conglom GE, owning 51% to GE’s 49%. Today’s New York Times reports that the papers have been signed and the deal has been made, though the purchase still needs to be approved by regulatory bodies–a process that could take up to 18 months.

Since the potential purchase became public in September, there has been a great deal of speculation about what the sale means for the media industries and for consumers. Ultimately, the move reveals crucial strategies at work within both Comcast and GE, as reported by The New York Times. The cable company obviously looks to NBC-U as the means to producing their own content, while GE seems to be refocusing what has always been a strangely diverse conglomerate. Perhaps the most telling part of the deal, though, is the fact that the buyout seems to be clearly focused on the value of NBC-U’s cable holdings (including USA, MSNBC, Bravo, CNBC and SyFy), not the flagship broadcast network, which is floundering in fourth place.

And, of course, there’s the spectre of AOL-Time-Warner casting its shadow over the union. That particular combination of cable and content simply didn’t work out, a fate that may still befall this new Comcast-NBC-U venture.

In addition to general concerns about increased media consolidation, consumer advocates are also worried about the effects of the deal on the prices demanded by Comcast for cable content. As Time explains, Comcast could start requiring higher fees from subscription services (such as DirecTV and Dish) in exchange for access to their cable holdings, a cost that would be passed on to consumers in the shape of higher fees.

In terms of content, the sale could mean that audiences are in store for some changes to the way they access NBC & NBC-U cable content online and via DVD, and the speed and means by which they access Universal film content both on cable and online.

However you look at it, the purchase is certainly an impressive and revelatory deal, and one that invites speculation about its potential effects. One thing is for sure: the honchos at Comcast and NBC-U are facing some challenges in the months and years ahead. Of course, all I am pondering this morning is…what would Jack Donaghy do?

(Edited to Add)
Related Links
Kim Masters at The Daily Beast: 5 Comcast-NBC Game Changers
Ben Grossman at Broadcasting & Cable: 10 Things to Watch About Comcast-NBC-U


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6 Responses to “ Comcast-NBC-U-OMG ”

  1. Erin Copple Smith on December 3, 2009 at 10:50 AM

    I feel remiss for failing to (snarkily) note that according to today’s New York Times (the first link above), NBC-U president Jeff Zucker calls the merger, the “start of a new era” for NBC, an interesting assertion in light of the frequency of “starts of new eras” at the network lately. NBC itself, in fact, called the Jay Leno move a “new era” for the network only two months ago in an news item.

  2. Jonathan Gray on December 3, 2009 at 11:03 AM

    For all its problems, I wish Studio 60 were still around, since for all the comments and jokes I’m seeing from people about what Jack Donaghy would say, and how Tina Fey will find comic material in this, I most want to hear Aaron Sorkin’s take.

    As for the “new era,” without firing Zucker and Leno (a move which most reports suggest is not in the cards), I don’t see how Comcast could improve the dire mess that is NBC

    • Erin Copple Smith on December 3, 2009 at 11:08 AM

      I know. The Jack Donaghy joke was tired and cheap, and yet…I was powerless to resist. You’re right that Aaron Sorkin’s take on the situation would be fascinating and incisive.

      And the point about the “new era” is exactly right. Frankly, the thing I find most fascinating (and sad) about the buyout is the fact that NBC is like a freebie air freshener you get with a new car. Such a crazy situation when you’re talking about what used to be such a powerful broadcast net.

      • Jonathan Gray on December 3, 2009 at 11:41 AM

        I love the freebie air freshener analogy (though I dunno how fresh the air is around the stink of Leno’s show).

        But the Donaghy comment is intriguing me actually. It’s what most people I’ve seen have reached for straight away. I wonder if that tells us something about 30 Rock’s fan following, about humor, about the abstraction of the merger process, about all of the above, or about nothing. Anyone?

        • Erin Copple Smith on December 3, 2009 at 9:11 PM

          I think the 30 Rock-related reactions are evidence of the show’s consistently amusing take on NBC corporate culture. Beyond the fact that TGS is a show-within-a-show on “NBC”…the show itself faces a lot of these topics in an entertaining and incisive way. So I think audiences expect Jack and Liz to address the Comcast buyout somehow.

  3. Germaine Halegoua on December 3, 2009 at 3:40 PM

    On a slightly different note, I can’t help thinking about the Network Neutrality debate and how this deal can be used to propel both sides of the debate, and possibly provide a further potential cause for action on the part of US policy makers, or at least some really good fodder for press releases and calls to action.

    Just thinking about the combination of Comcast’s now notorious efforts to “reasonably manage” aka slow BitTorrent traffic a few years ago, and their recent acquisition of NBCU’s Hulu as well as several other internet sites, and tons of media content, really doesn’t sit well with me.

    The FCC under Genachowski has already been pushing for Net Neutrality, but I think it’s safe to assume that with this Comcast-NBCU deal, Net Neutrality will only be pushed further into the limelight. Which could be a very positive thing.