ABC Affiliates Wary of Comcast ‘Partner’

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Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts wants to enter the broadcasting business. But do broadcasters really want Comcast in their business?

In bidding for The Walt Disney Co., the crafty and opportunistic Roberts is proposing to seize control of the ABC network and 10 local ABC stations, some of them in big markets where Comcast is the dominant cable company.

The deal would, if approved, be historic. It would represent the largest incursion into the broadcast industry ever by a cable operator, a move unthinkable just two years ago when federal rules effectively barred common ownership of a TV station and a cable system in the same local market.

For many independent ABC affiliates, the idea of Comcast becoming at once their programming lifeline and their opposite number at the retransmission-consent bargaining table is just plain terrifying.

The National Association of Broadcasters, which represents about 200 ABC affiliates, did not issue a statement regarding Disney's potential takeover by Comcast. But at least two analysts -- Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.'s Tom Wolzien and Craig Moffett -- predicted stiff opposition from all NAB members, not just ABC affiliates.

"We believe that every local broadcaster in America would be lined up to prevent this deal," Wolzien and Moffett said in a report.

Many ABC affiliates, which already have stormy relationships with Disney, see nothing but trouble ahead if Comcast runs ABC.

According to one ABC affiliate in a top-10 market, the problems are many. Here are just a few:

• Is Comcast -- a company with limited programming knowledge -- even capable of running ABC in manner consistent with the best interests of ABC affiliates?

• Would Comcast-ABC pressure an ABC affiliate by threatening to transfer affiliation when cable carriage talks disintegrate?

• Would Comcast-ABC punish a difficult ABC affiliate by running ABC network programming exclusively on cable and satellite until the affiliate bent to Comcast's will?

• Would Comcast-ABC use its muscle to drain advertising from other local TV stations, especially in markets where Comcast owns a TV station and a cable system?