Comcast, NBCU: Our Deal Won’t Disrupt TV-on-the-Web

Would a Comcast-NBC Universal merger end free TV shows on the web? That’s what Congress wants to know.

Last Updated: March 16, 2010 @ 1:48 PM

Comcast and NBC Universal addressed concerns by members of Congress that their proposed $30 billion merger would jeopardize the availability of TV shows online, or at least make the network’s content available only to its cable subscribers.

CEO Jeff Zucker and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts denied in writing that their deal would somehow lead to the end of online television — but were far less specific on whether any of its content would remain free.

Hulu, for instance, has talked of setting up a paid-content model. In answers to written questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the two said they intended to continue supplying Hulu — partially owned by NBCU — with NBC programming, and denied that the deal would raise cable prices or local advertising rates. 

The deal “does not change NBCU’s participation in Hulu in any way," said Roberts, answering a question from the panel’s chairman, Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis. “We have no intention of changing NBCU’s relationship with Hulu or NBCU’s decision to provide certain content to Hulu,” wrote Roberts.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., repeatedly clashed with Roberts and accused him of lying during a Feb. 18 hearing of the Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, after which a number of the senators submitted questions to each CEO in writing.

In his written responses, Zucker also denied that Hulu’s blockage of Boxee users was an attempt to curb a possible competitor or control internet video.

“Boxee’s attempt to portray itself as a ‘browser’ in the same category as Internet Explorer and Firefox is disingenuous and misleading,” wrote Zucker. “Rather, Boxee has created a specialized software application for viewing video that by deliberate design interferes with the intended operation of Hulu.com.”

Zucker also denied to Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., that that the deal would decrease competition for internet video.

“This marketplace is in its infancy — but competition is healthy and very robust,” wrote Zucker. “When we combine with Comcast, which has a 0.3 percent share of online video, we will have not much more than 1 percent of  online viewing. By way of comparison, Google sites represent over 50 percent of online viewing."