House Bill Trouble for Comcast-Disney?

3/31/2004 7:30 AM Eastern

Attention, Brian Roberts and Steve Burke: A member of Congress is messing with your plan to buy The Walt Disney Co.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey's (D-N.Y.) bill, introduced Tuesday, would reinstate the ban on the common ownership of a TV station and a cable system in the same local market.

In theory, Hinchey's bill would be a problem because Comcast's $66 billion bid for Disney included the purchase of 10 ABC stations. In Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco, Comcast would potentially own the local ABC affiliate while serving, respectively, 84%, 79% and 96% of the markets' cable subscribers.

The Comcast-Disney merger, if it were approved unchanged, would create TV-cable cross-ownerships in five other markets, including Fresno, Calif., where Comcast serves 87% of area cable customers, according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. research.

Comcast spokesman Michael Weiss declined to comment on Hinchey's legislation.

Hinchey's bill also contained other surprises for cable.

In one provision, a cable network that is owned by a "large cable operator" and reaches fewer than 16 million cable households would have to set aside 35% of its primetime hours, measured monthly, for independently produced programming. All other eligible cable networks would have to allocate 25%.

The bill's definition of primetime programming exempted "newscasts, sports programs or telecasts of feature films."

A large cable operator was defined as one with 3 million or more subscribers -- a level that roughly excludes every cable company except Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications Inc., Cox Communications Inc. and Adelphia Communications Corp.

Want to read more stories like this?
Get our Free Newsletter Here!