Policy

Allbritton Cites Comcast Harm

9/07/2010 5:08 AM Eastern

Washington — Allbritton Communications continues
to press its case at the Federal Communications
Commission for conditions on Comcast’s proposed
NBC Universal joint venture, a move Comcast labeled
a “misuse” of the process to extract concessions in advance
of carriage negotiations.

According to an FCC filing, Allbritton president Fred
Ryan and Jerry Fritz, the company’s senior vice president
for legal and strategic affairs, met with a top adviser
to Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn last Monday
to argue that the deal should not be approved without
protection for Allbritton’s TBD TV, a local cable-news
channel formerly known as NewsChannel 8, and other
similar channels that compete with NBCU-owned stations.
(Allbritton also owns WJLA-TV, the Washington,
D.C., ABC affiliate.)

Allbritton said that while Comcast has agreed to negotiate
for renewed carriage of TBD TV in Washington, its
insistence on tying that to retransmission consent for its
broadcast-TV stations in other markets devalues the news
channel — which Allbritton argues is Comcast’s intent.
Allbritton said in comments it opposed the merger
without those conditions and argued for either forced divestitures
of stations or cable systems in key markets or
unbundling carriage negotiations for local/regional cable
channels — like TBD TV — from retransmission negotiations.

Ryan and Allbritton chairman Robert Allbritton also met
with various staffers and commissioners, including FCC
chairman Julius Genachowski, to argue for conditions.

Comcast said Allbritton is refusing to engage in reasonable
negotiations and has “concocted” a theory of harm. It
also noted Allbritton did not raise the issue in initial comments,
as the FCC required all parties to do.

Comcast also said Allbritton’s claim that Comcast wants
to devalue TBD TV is “speculative, unsubstantiated and
wrong.” It said Allbritton wants to decouple retransmission
negotiations from TBD TV so it can boost the price for
those TV-station signals in the future.

Comcast said it is willing to renew current agreements
with Allbritton “for as long as Allbritton wishes”
and will negotiate for TBD TV by itself, but at a price
that is “appropriate.”

Comcast said it won’t pay a premium for TBD TV that
includes the value of retransmission for the broadcast
stations, then pay again separately for those stations in
decoupled negotiations.

October