Disney and chums halt Comcast-TWC, AT&T-DirecTV weddings

FCC reaches to pull back curtain, TV networks run screaming from sunlight


US watchdog the FCC has hit the brakes while scrutinizing the proposed mergers of Comcast-Time Warner, and AT&T-DirecTV.

On Wednesday, the comms industry monitor said [PDF] that its comment and review processes for the pair of mergers would be put on hold following pressure to publish the cable companies' contracts with TV networks.

At issue are the agreements the telcos have signed with the networks for the rights to carry programming. All four of the companies involved in the two mergers had signed such deals with the networks in order to offer channels to their subscribers.

Researchers, consultants and other folks who have been looking into the mergers have asked to view these carrier agreements – something the TV networks themselves are less than enthusiastic about. Disney, CBS, Twenty First Century Fox, Viacom, and others of the same ilk, have objected to the requests, and asked the FCC to lock away the contracts on the grounds that they are confidential financial details.

The watchdog has yet to decide one way or the other on allowing the documents to be posted online for view by parties other than the networks, the applicant companies and their paid lawyers and consultants. In the meantime, however, the commission said it will pause the clock on the deadline for comments and delaying the non-binding 180-day limit it sets to review proposed mergers.

The carrier agreements have been a key component of the telco mergers as the TV networks have been among the most vocal opponents of the proposed unions, arguing that if the telcos are allowed to merge and gain monopoly-like power over TV services (cable in the case of Comcast-TWC and satellite for AT&T-DirecTV) they will negotiate unfair carrier deals with telly networks.

The FCC has already pushed back the calendar on its review for the Comcast-TWC merger once when Comcast submitted a lengthy dossier that the commission felt deserved more time for the public to read. ®

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