Comcast/NBC Merger Raises Media Dominance Concerns

Comcast Corporation, the largest home internet service provider and cable operator in the United States, has completed its merger with American television network NBC, in a deal that has raised concerns regarding the level of control the now $30 billion media giant will have over information delivered to the public. Comcast now holds a 51 percent stake in NBC Universal, with General Electric holding a 49 percent stake, putting Comcast in the position of controlling more telecommunications lines and Internet connections than any other service provider in the country. Included in the assets of Comcast will be the NBC broadcast network, a number of cable channels, more than twenty local NBC and Telemundo stations, online video portals, movie studios and the network that delivers media content to millions of Americans through cable and internet connections. In order to overcome the possible threat to “the development of innovative online video distribution services”, as noted by the FCC, a range of stipulations and conditions are included in the deal, many of which are only for a set period of time.

From an investment point of view Comcast has a history of delivering positive results, and has pursued a course of acquisitions and joint ventures practically throughout its history. In 1986, Comcast bought 25 percent of Group W Cable, thereby doubling its size, going on two years later to purchase a 50 percent share in Storer Communications. That same year Comcast acquired American Cellular Network Corporation, and in 1990 merged with Metrophone. Following the purchase of the American division of Maclean-Hunter in 1994, Comcast was counted as the third largest cable operator in the US. In 1997, Microsoft invested $1 billion in Comcast and in 2001 Comcast announced that it would acquire the assets of AT&T Broadband, thus becoming the largest cable television company in the US, with subscriber numbers exceeding 22 million.

In February 2004, Comcast hinted at its ambition to dominate the media sector by making an unsolicited bid for The Walt Disney Company, which was turned down. It was speculated at the time that Comcast’s main interest was in the Disney-owned entity ESPN. In May 2004 Comcast’s gaming-oriented television network G4 acquired Tech TV, and in April 2005 a partnership headed up by Comcast together with Sony Pictures, completed a deal for MGM and United Artists. In October 2005, Comcast announced that it had acquired cable television and broadband services provider Susquehanna Communications.

In 2006, Comcast bought software company thePlatform, thereby entering into a new line of business, that of selling software relating to Internet media publishing. In May 2008 Comcast acquired online address book and social networking service Plaxo. With its history of top-level wheeling and dealing, this latest deal, that of acquiring 51 percent of NBC, is not likely to be the last that Comcast makes, despite the complaints, concerns and controversies raised by those who believe that the media conglomerate is threatening freedom of the press and public’s right to unbiased and full disclosure on world events.