Comcast, GE announce joint venture

Comcast and GE this morning announced a joint venture that will combine the cable programming business of Comcast and the broadcasting and online content business of NBC Universal.

As part of the venture, the companies detailed a number of "public interest commitments" intended to ease any potential concerns of consumer advocate groups and regulators.

For example, NBC will continue offering its over-the-air TV on both NBC and Telemundo networks.

And Comcast will make at least 75 percent of its On Demand programming available at no extra charge. Comcast also said it will add new independently owned and operated channels to its digital line-up once it goes all-digital.

But the pledges didn't do much to immediately satisfy public interest groups that have been speaking out against the merger.

Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, said, "We have serious doubts whether this merger is in the public interest. It raises substantial and complex competition issues across multiple types of media."

"The pundits who are predicting this merger will be a cakewalk haven’t done a careful analysis of the damage it will do to the competitive fabric of the video marketplace," said Mark Cooper, research director for the Consumer Federation of America. "This merger’s potential to foreclose competition and stifle innovation is significant and real."

But Randolph May of the Free State Foundation said the consumer groups' worries are overblown.

He says the merger should get close scrutiny. Still, he said, "the so-called consumer groups willfully refuse to acknowledge how competitive the media landscape has become in the last decade or so."

"In such a competitive environment, it is simply too risky as a business proposition for Comcast, or any other media platform, to favor its own content over content supplied by unaffiliated providers. Consumers have too many alternatives to which they can turn."