Web Only / Views » December 10, 2009
Just Say No to Mega-Media Marriages
The Comcast-NBC merger is the first major test of whether Obama and his appointees will protect the public's interest and stop America's media from becoming even more consolidated.
It’s a bad marriage–the kind that makes you want to run down the aisle yelling, “Stop the wedding!” The planned union between Comcast and NBC Universal (NBCU) spells disaster: it paves the way for a new era of mega-media consolidation that reaches across content creation and distribution, wielding enormous power over TV and Internet content.
Last week, Comcast announced it has struck a deal with the General Electric Company, which had owned NBCU, to take a controlling stake in the company. (GE will retain a 49-percent ownership stake, and the joint venture will be managed by the newly created “Comcast Entertainment Group.”)
The business pages of every major newspaper are having a field day debating the merits of Comcast’s acquisition of NBCU, but there is little discussion about how the deal would alter the media marketplace for consumers, rather than investors and corporate executives.
With NBCU in its pocket, Comcast Corporation would control a major television network, film studio, and the nation’s largest cable company and residential Internet service provider. Comcast is already a $34-billion business with 24 million subscribers, reaching nearly one out of every four homes in the country. NBCU owns NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, Universal Studios, 17 local television stations and a host of other properties.
In short, this media marriage means Comcast will be able to determine what we watch and how we watch it. Here is exactly what we can expect (PDF link):
• Higher Prices: Comcast will control a staggering amount of TV, movie and Internet content, from MSNBC, to Bravo, Hulu and Universal Pictures. This virtual monopoly means the company will be able to raise prices, prices that will eventually be passed on to consumers.
• Fewer Choices: Because Comcast would have a near-monopoly in some communities, it could prioritize its own shows ahead of other local and independent voices and programs. Finding alternative programming will become even more difficult.
• Less Innovation: This media goliath could force us to pay for cable to watch NBC shows online. Comcast could starve other online video sources from having access to popular content, thereby stifling online video innovation.
This merger could also set off a tidal wave of other mega-media marriages, as giants like AT&T and Disney try to make their own power grabs. We’ve already seen how decades of media consolidation have led to less diversity, localism and investigative reporting, and more cookie-cutter content and celebrity gossip. If you’re frustrated with the media now, it’s only going to get worse.
Washington and Wall Street are already saying this mega merger is a done deal–that’s what they want you to believe. But it will take months to finalize and receive federal approval, which gives the public a window to mount a citizens’ uprising to stop it.
The Obama administration has made a strong commitment to re-invigorating the nation’s antitrust laws. This merger is the first major test of whether Obama and his appointees will protect the public’s interest and stop America’s media landscape from becoming even more consolidated. The right response to this marriage proposal is clear: Just say no.
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Megan Tady is a blogger and video producer for Free Press, the national nonprofit media reform organization. She writes a monthly InTheseTimes.com column on media issues. Follow her on Twitter: @MegTady.