An article in today's WSJ, "Comcast Gets Static on Net TV" describes how the Justice Department is scrutinizing the online video implications of Comcast's deal to acquire control of NBCU. According to the article, the Justice Department is digging in to try to understand what, if any, implications the deal could have on online-delivered TV shows and movies from NBCU.
The article points out that nothing is likely to come out of the investigation that could derail the deal. However, the results could provide the foundation for the Justice Department to impose restrictions on Comcast's flexibility to decide where and how NBCU's premium programming could be distributed online. The purpose would be to head off Comcast somehow gaining preferred and/or exclusive access.
The investigation is merited given the size of the deal and yet the yellow caution flags should be up regarding the government making too many assumptions about how the online video market will unfold. As I've written a number of times, we are continuing to see surprising deals, technologies and products which challenge popular assertions that online video and incumbent pay-TV models are on a collision course with one another, with one winning at the other's expense. Just in the last few weeks, the Netflix-Epix deal, the Cox-TiVo partnership, and possibly this week 99-cent broadcast TV rentals from Apple all show that the market is incredibly dynamic, with a blending of online and traditional distribution becoming more common.
That said, Comcast already has huge market power, and control of NBCU's top-notch assets mustn't deprive others of access from which consumers gain. Finding the delicate balance between just enough safeguards, but without limiting innovation, is the key.
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