Allbritton To FCC: Delay Comcast/NBCU Decision

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Allbritton Communications, owner of both ABC affiliate WJLA-TV and NewsChannel 8 in Washington, has asked the FCC to impose conditions on the Comcast/NBCU merger to protect its regional cable news channel and similar ones and to delay its decision on the deal until it can fully vet the implications of Comcast's distribution power in markets where it will have NBC O&O's as well as cable systems.

That came in an Aug. 9  meeting between Allbritton president Fred Ryan and senior vice president Jerald Fritz and FCC commissioner Michael Copps, according to an FCC filing.

Allbritton argued that Comcast's effort to package its negotiations for renewal of the news channel with retransmission-consent rights to Allbritton's TV stations "in far-off markets" devalues the channel and "exposes Comcast's true intention to devalue the news channel, rendering it financially non-viable."

Allbritton averred that devaluing the cable news channel would directly benefit WRC-TV Washington, the NBC-owned station that would become a Comcast-owned station post-merger.

"With the extensive array of NBC's programming content combined with unprecedented control over distribution facilities, Comcast will have the ability and incentive to eliminate NewsChannel 8 as a competitive threat." said Albritton.

Allbritton wants the commission to either make Comcast sell off the NBC-owned stations in markets where it has "greater than 25% control of distribution," or require it to negotiate nondiscriminatory carriage at market rates.

The non-NBC affiliate associations have essentially signed off on the deal after coming to an agreement with Comcast on conditions relating to sports programming, retrans and not bypassing the stations for cable delivery of network programming that Comcast has said will be legally binding.

But Allbritton clearly still sees room for the merged company to throw its weight around to the disadvantage of local-market competitors, saying there were "potentially grave implications" to the deal absent those conditions and saying the result would be the loss of a "separate, locally-owned voice in the market."

The Los Angeles Times reported the ex parte filing on the Allbritton concerns, pointing out that Allbritton has been running ads critical of the deal on its co-owned Politico.com, as well as WJLA and NewsChannel 8, which this week was renamed TBD TV as part of a multiplatform approach to its Washington news coverage.

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