Comcast preempts broadcast concerns

Comcast’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable will not affect deals with broadcasters, Comcast officials said Thursday.

The $45.2 billion deal announced Thursday — which combines the top cable companies in the country and is expected to face an uphill battle with federal antitrust regulators — could draw opposition from broadcasters.

Cable companies regularly negotiate with broadcasters over the fees that the cable companies will pay broadcasters for the rights to air video programming. 

When the negotiations between a cable company and a broadcaster go poorly, that broadcaster’s programming — often including cable channels — is “blacked out” for subscribers. 

Last year, Time Warner Cable subscribers lost access to CBS content when the two companies failed to reach an agreement, prompting calls from lawmakers to restructure the way cable companies and broadcasters negotiate.

Some industry observers say the deal between Time Warner Cable and Comcast — which will add Time Warner Cable’s 8 million subscribers to Comcast, now totalling 30 million subscribers — more leverage when negotiating with broadcasters. The National Association of Broadcasters declined to comment.

Anticipating those arguments, Comcast officials said Thursday that the acquisition will not affect the way the company negotiates with video programming providers, including broadcasters.

“This is not going to have a dramatic impact on our ability to negotiate” with programmers, Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen said during a press call. “It’s not something that the programmers will be upset about.”

According to Cohen, the increase in Comcast’s subscriber base is not significant enough to affect the negotiations, which are “titled pretty decisively [to] the programmers side.”

During a separate press call on Thursday, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and Time Warner Cable CEO Robert Marcus said last year’s problematic negotiations between Time Warner Cable and CBS did not affect the deal announced Thursday.

“If you view the entire history of Time Warner Cable through the lens of the CBS dispute, its really a mischaracterization,” Marcus said. 

Time Warner Cable has “negotiated successfully, quietly, countless agreements” with broadcasters and other programmers, he said.

Roberts said disputes like the one between Time Warner Cable and CBS are an inherent part of the industry. “There’s always some tension and sometimes there are unfortunate implications of that,” he said.