RFD-TV Praises AT&T In Merger Comments

Suggests Comcast/TWC Should be Conditioned on Rural Carriage

What a difference a deal makes.

Flush with victory after AT&T agreed to carry the rural TV channel, RFD-TV had some encouraging words for the DirecTV deal in comments at the FCC.

It stopped short of endorsing the merger, using the comments more as a platform to push the FCC to put rural carriage conditions on the Comcast/TWC deal if it approves it.

"RFD-TV believes the Commission may need to intervene directly to impose merger conditions requiring the parties to expand their carriage of independent rural programming, as RFD-TV has urged for the Comcast-TWC merger applications, it told the commission in initial comments on the deal (due Sept. 16 but just posted on the FCC site Thursday (Sept. 18).

"In other cases, the parties to a particular transaction may not exhibit the same history of antipathy or bias towards independent rural programming," it said, "which seems to be true in the case of the transaction between AT&T and DirecTV."

True, because AT&T on Sept. 8 launched RFD-TV on its U-verse video service.

RFD-TV appears too gun-shy of the overall marketplace to put its stamp of approval on the AT&T/DirecTV deal because of that carriage agreement.

"Although RFD-TV continues to hold concerns about the broader state of consolidation in the MVPD marketplace and the impacts of that consolidation on access to independent rural programming," it said. "RFD-TV also takes this opportunity to commend AT&T and DIRECTV for their support of independent rural programming."

AT&T signaled in June that RFD-TV could get U-Verse carriage if the telecom's proposed combination with satellite operator DirecTV deal is approved by regulators, suggesting the merger would make rural programming more appealing, not less. But it sweetened the pot early with the RFD-TV rollout earlier this month.

The rural-themed RFD channel had gotten some high-profile attention in Hill hearings on the AT&T/DirecTV and Comcast/Time Warner Cable deals from legislators concerned about large media companies' carriage of rural-themed programming. Comcast has dropped the channel on a couple of its mostly urban and suburban systems.