After nearly nine months of negotiations, Comcast, the United States’ largest cable operator, announced an agreement on December 3, 2009 to acquire NBCUniversal from General Electric. The deal valued NBCUniversal at around $30 billion. This agreement creates a joint agreement, with Comcast owning 51 percent and General Electric owning 49 percent. Comcast will contribute its stable of cable channels, which includes Versus, the Golf Channel and E Entertainment, worth about $7.25 billion, and will pay General Electric about $6.5 billion in cash, for a total of $13.75 billion. Most of NBCUniversal valued channels consist of USA, Bravo, SyFy, CNBC and MSNBC, and with the Comcast contributions will account for 82 percent of the company’s cash flow.
There are many groups that are against the merger. One of the biggest is the Union representatives. Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, which represents some Comcast employees, said the deal would likely mean “the loss of good jobs, the erosion of employee rights, and undermine living standards in the communications and media industries.” Cohen said that as of day one there will be $8 billion in new debt that NBC will be taking on and there is going to be a drastic drive to cut costs.
Comcast Chairman Brian Roberts said at earlier Hill hearings that there were no plans for widespread layoffs, pointing out that there is not much overlap in the primarily vertical transaction. In their joint testimony prepared for Thursday’s hearing, Roberts and NBCUniversal President Jeff Zucker said the deal would increase investment, since Comcast is focused “exclusively on communications and entertainment” (unlike GE), and that the deal will “preserve and create sustainable media and technology jobs in the U.S.”
Jean Prewitt, the president of the Independent Film & Television Alliance, said what was good for Comcast and NBCUniversal in the merger, which she identified as cost-savings and synergies, “is not good for the American public.” And she suggested that Comcast’s promise of more independent programming might, instead of a field where all flowers bloom, prove to be “a walled and sparsely tended garden.” “This is just one more step to vertical integration in the media industry that is going to crush the opportunities for independent programming to reach the public.”
There are also great benefits that come from the proposition of this merger. Comcast said it wants to speed up the availability of on demand movies, bringing them closer to the DVD release date. This would be possible by using shortcuts with NBC‘s content. Also, Comcast wants to prove that it won’t make a mess of programming that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) deems necessary, such as local news, children’s shows and Spanish-language content. The cable company promises thousands more hours of programming in all of these categories, to be available through cable, over the air, on-demand and online.
On January 18, 2011, the FCC and the United States Department of Justice approved the merger. Four months later, Meredith Attwell Baker, the FCC commissioner who approved the deal, was hired as a lobbyist by Comcast.