Big Media only gets bigger
With Comcast’s $13.75 billion dollar deal for NBC Universal practically complete, it looks like big media is only going to get bigger – whether we like it or not.
The deal climaxes weeks of speculation, as NBC owner General Electric recently bought out Vivendi’s 20 percent share in NBC Universal, paving the way for Comcast Corp. to acquire 51 percent of the struggling broadcast network and its vast array of media properties ranging from local stations in 10 markets (including WMAQ-TV in Chicago) to cable channels to Universal Studios. GE would keep a 49 percent stake in the studio.
Also included in the deal is NBC Universal’s TV library, which includes current shows like Heroes, Deal or No Deal, The Office, and The Jerry Springer Show and classic television properties Magnum P.I., The A-Team, Quincy, Coach, Gimme A Break!, and Leave it to Beaver.
Universal itself has gone under numerous ownership changes before NBC and GE bought the film studio in 2004: it was once owned by Matsushita Electric Co. and Seagram.
The theory here is Comcast wants to jump on the Hollywood content bandwagon, though the Philadelphia-based cable operator already owns a handful of cable nets including E!, Style, Versus, and G4. With NBC Universal’s purchase, Comcast would also own Bravo, Oxygen, USA, and MSNBC, among others.
Comcast would also own the broadcaster network itself, the ten NBC owned-and-operated stations, NBC Plus, and Universal Sports.
The deal will no doubt raise regulatory flags as the FCC would have to approve the deal, since it involves the transfer of station licenses of the ten O&Os – meaning the process could take up to a year. While some say the Obama administration could frown on the deal, Comcast-NBC would likely pass regulatory muster, despite the FCC having a 3-2 Democratic majority (and if the FCC won’t approve it, there’s a outside chance Congress could.)
Another concern is Comcast’s stance against net neutrality, and NBC’s participation in online video service Hulu, which competes with Comcast’s on-demand pay service. These concerns has raised the ire of many public interest and consumer groups, in which they fear Comcast – which is the nation’s largest cable and ISP provider – would control too much content, especially online. While some Democrats will be sympathetic to the group’s concerns, it is not likely to be enough to stop the merger.
NBC Universal Chairman Jeff Zucker would remain with the newly merged company, despite the problems he’s had with the broadcast side of the network. Though NBC has faltered under his watch the last few years (especially with the move of Jay Leno to prime-time five nights a week), he’s put together a string of successful cablers.
NBC came known to prominence as a pioneering radio broadcaster owned by the one-time largest radio manufacturer, RCA. NBC developed two radio networks – red and blue, with the latter one being divested and became the American Broadcasting Company. RCA later developed an all-electronic television system and developed the first-ever test pattern. Of course, it needed programming to fill the new technology, so it formed the NBC Television Network.
RCA then developed color TV and NBC soon began airing the majority of its programming in color. The peacock network was so successful with the new technology, it was able to lure Walt Disney and his weekly TV series away from ABC in 1961 so be can produce the shows in color (in fact, the title was “Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” until 1969. Disney shows would be on NBC until 1981.)
General Electric bought RCA and NBC in 1986, and wound up with more people who had expertise in light bulbs, microwave ovens, and defense contracts than running a TV network. GE was often the target of jokes by one-time employee David Letterman.
With this deal ready to be offically announced Thursday, some are lamenting the huge changes in the industry. Who would have ever thought a cable company would wind up owning a major broadcast network? Cable – the entity at one time people used to only get a clear picture into their homes and when it was able to add channels, they mostly consisted of old movies and bullfights. Many feel with this change, the prestige of free, over-the-air television no longer exists. It would now play a second fiddle to cable. Oh my, how times have changed.
Updated at 7:37 p.m.