* Companies say will keep free broadcast television
* Comcast, NBC say they will keep news
* Critics unsatisfied with filing
(Adds reaction, context)
WASHINGTON, Jan 28 Cable giant Comcast
(CMCSA.O) and NBC Universal said on Thursday they would
continue reporting news, keep broadcast television free and
offer more children's programming if the U.S. government
approves Comcast's plan to take control of the TV and movie
But the filings, which were submitted to the Federal
Communications Commission, did little to immediately allay
critics of the deal, who were concerned about Comcast's control
of NBC's television shows and movies in cable, television and
on the Internet.
They dismissed pledges by Comcast, which plans to buy a
majority stake in NBC Universal from General Electric (GE.N),
to offer an additional hour of children's programming each week
using multicast channels of NBC owned-and-operated affiliates,
and lengthen the amount of time that ratings information
appears at commercial breaks.
The top U.S. cable provider also urged the FCC not to
condition the deal to take into account online video
"It would be inappropriate for the Commission to impose any
conditions on the transaction based on the possibility that
online video distributors might one day emerge as direct
competitors to Comcast's terrestrial cable business," the
Comcast/NBC Universal filing said.
Comcast is the No.1 U.S. residential Internet service
provider and NBC owns a third of Hulu.com, the most popular
U.S. website for viewing TV shows.
The public interest group Public Knowledge disagreed
vehemently with Comcast's argument.
"We are incredulous that Comcast and NBCU would downplay
Internet distribution of video at a time when the FCC has
repeatedly identified online video as one of the primary
drivers to broadband adoption," said Harold Feld, legal
director of Public Knowledge in an email statement.
"The commission must make certain competitors will have
access to Comcast and NBC programming as the online market
evolves," said Feld.
On Capital Hill, Rep. John Conyers, chair of the House
Judiciary Committee, said he was looking for more.
"Such additions might include commitments to independent
programming in addition to its already stated commitment to
diverse programming, maintaining access to sports programming,
and ensuring that consumers still have access to their favorite
shows online for minimal or no cost," said Conyers in a
TRICKY APPROVAL FROM FCC?
Craig Moffett, analyst at Bernstein Research, said the key
issue was Comcast-NBC's power in both distribution and
"The regulators will focus on Comcast's ability to raise
prices for consumers and programming fees to other distributors
like satellite TV providers," he said.
The FCC's review could be trickier for Comcast and NBC than
the Justice Department's review because the commissioners could
force Comcast to provide content to competitors even if they
disagree on the fees associated with those deals.
The companies described their deal as a vertical
transaction, which means that they are not rivals but different
steps in the same supply chain. U.S. antitrust regulators tend
to shy away from challenging such deals on antitrust grounds.
Under the terms of the deal, Comcast would get 51 percent
of a new joint venture that includes NBC Universal, valued at
$30 billion, and Comcast's own cable networks, valued at $7.25
billion. GE would own the remaining 49 percent.
As payment for its stake, Comcast will contribute $6.5
billion in cash and its cable networks.
The filing, and subsequent reaction, presaged a long public
battle, said Jeffrey Silva, a telecommunications expert with
Medley Global Advisors, LLC.
"You can expect that public interest groups are going to
ask a lot more concessions," he said. "This is just the
(Reporting by Diane Bartz and Yinka Adegoke; Editing by
Maureen Bavdek and Robert MacMillan)