Bloomberg, Comcast clash over NBC merger terms

Bloomberg TV (Ray Kurzweil)

News service Bloomberg has filed a formal complaint with the Federal Communication Commission alleging that cable giant Comcast is violating the terms of its controversial merger with NBC Universal by exiling its Bloomberg TV news channel to the remote hinterlands of cable channel selections—along with the likes of C-SPAN 2 and C-SPAN 3—rather than grouping it with other major news outlets like CNBC, MSNBC, and Fox. Bloomberg’s complaint alleges that Comcast’s behavior violates specific terms of the merger: if Comcast groups business and news channels into an adjacent “neighborhood,” then it’s obligated to carry all independent news and business channels in that same neighborhood.

For its part, Comcast contends that Bloomberg’s complaint is merely sour grapes and an attempt to mislead the FCC. And, furthermore, Comcast argues the “neighborhood” requirement for news and business channels does not apply: Comcast says Bloomberg is defining a “neighborhood” as a grouping of as few as four channels, and the channel placements that Bloomberg is complaining about actually pre-date the NBCU merger. Comcast claims the FCC’s stipulations on the NBC merger were not intended to require Comcast to re-order channels in existing markets; the company also noted it has continued to add Bloomberg TV to its channel lineups after the merger with NBCU was approved.

Nonetheless, in major markets many news programing channels will be grouped in channel numbers 30-40, where Bloomberg TV—if present in a Comcast lineup at all—will typically be over channel 100—a move that also often makes it in accessible to basic cable subscribers.

The “neighborhood” requirement in the Comcast/NBCU merger was intended to prevent Comcast from using its position in the television and content distribution markets to favor its own content (from NBC) over that from other providers. Bloomberg is particularly sensitive to the situation since Comcast now controls CNBC—Bloomberg TV’s larger and more-widely-viewed rival.

[Image: Raw Kurzweil on Bloomberg TV, February 2011]

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