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Federal Judge to Monitor Comcast Merger’s Impact on Online Video Distributors

Comcast and the U.S. Justice Department must report how often online video distributors begin arbitration proceedings over access to NBC content

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. on Thursday ordered the Department of Justice and Comcast to report how often online video distribution companies like Hulu and Netflix file complaints about access to NBC content.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon approved Comcast's $30 billion takeover of NBC Universal, but worried that online video distribution companies wouldn't be able to access NBC programming.

Such companies are allowed to enter into arbitration proceedings if they think they've been improperly denied the content.

But the judge worried about that procedure.

"It is undisputed that neither the FCC nor the Department of Justice has any experience yet in administering either course of arbitration in the online-video-distribution context," he wrote in the eight-page order. "I am not completely certain that these safeguards, alone, will sufficiently protect the public interest in the years ahead."

He wrote that "since neither the Court nor the parties has a crystal ball to forecast" how the arbitrations will work, he ordered that for at least two years, the Justice Department and Comcast must create a report detailing how many online video distribution companies start arbitration and how many times — and to whom — they appeal the arbitration orders.

He also ordered that the Justice Department prepare the report and bring it to an annual hearing "to explain and discuss the report and any other non-arbitration-related issues that may have arisen during the previous year."

Comcast's takeover of NBC went through in January, but the Court retained jurisdiction over online video.

Comcast issued a brief statement Thursday: "We are pleased the court approved the consent decree," the company said.