Ben Popken On NPR This Morning Re: Comcast NBC Merger

I was on NPR this morning chiming in about the Comcast NBC merger that’s hurtling like a freight train through Washington (spoiler alert: not a fan). Here’s the clip. At the end, the reporter says that when he asked Comcast about their coming first in our Worst Company in America contest, they dismissed the entire affair as a “cheap stunt.” We take offense. A trophy that cost $30 and had to be air-mailed from Japan is not cheap.

FCC Requests Input On Comcast, NBC Universal Deal [NPR]

Here’s the transcript:

Federal regulators are reviewing the proposed merger between Comcast and NBC Universal. The Federal Communications Commission holds a public hearing today in Chicago. Few expect it to block the merger, but some hope regulators will impose restrictions to protect consumers.

Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE: Once the proposed merger was announced, it didn’t take long for the NBC show “30 Rock” to start making fun of it.

Here’s how Alec Baldwin’s character reacts to a rumor that the network is being sold to a Philadelphia company called Cable Town.

(Soundbite of TV show, “30 Rock”)

Mr. ALEC BALDWIN (Actor): (Jack Donaghy) How could a company from Philadelphia buy a company from New York? That would be like Vietnam defeating the United States in a ground war.

ROSE: But while NBC was sinking into last place among the major networks, Comcast was building an empire. The company’s gleaming two-year-old headquarters towers above the Philadelphia skyline. In a conference room on the 45th floor, senior VP Joe Waz says consumers will benefit from the merger.

Mr. JOE WAZ (Senior vice president, Comcast): It’s going to let the combined company bring division of an anytime, anywhere digital future to millions of Americans.

ROSE: Waz is talking about the company’s plan to offer video to its subscribers through cable and the Internet.

Since the merger was announced in December, it’s drawn relatively little opposition. That may have something to do with the $3 million Comcast spent on lobbying in the first quarter of this year alone. The company has also gotten letters of support for the merger from organizations like the Urban League and the Hispanic Federation.

None of this surprises Harry Jessell, editor of the website TV News Check.

Mr. HARRY JESSELL (Editor, TV News Check): Comcast has been a pretty good corporate citizen over the years. They’ve donated money to things. They’ve supported things. When they have a deal like this and they need to call on community groups to say hey, remember we did so-and-so for you, it’s payback time.

ROSE: The received wisdom in Washington is that it’s a question of when, not if the deal gets federal approval. But not everyone thinks it’s good public policy.

Professor SUSAN CRAWFORD (Law, Cardozo School): It’s a giant merger that’s going to change the media landscape. I’m not sure that people are paying enough attention to it at this point.

ROSE: Susan Crawford is a professor at Cardozo School of law in New York who’s writing a book about the merger. She says Comcast built its business on having must-see programming, including sports and news that consumers can’t get anywhere else. Now Crawford says the company wants to extend that model to the Internet by controlling online access to NBC shows like “30 Rock” and popular cable channels like USA and MSNBC.

Prof. CRAWFORD: The only way to get access to the programming you love, that you’re addicted to, is to pay a monthly subscription fee. That may raise prices for everyone.

ROSE: That could also mean the end of free ad-supported video sites like Hulu, because Comcast will insist that you pay for its content.

Federal regulators can avoid that, Crawford and others say, by putting some significant restrictions on the merger. For one, they could require Comcast to show that it’s pricing its programming fairly, and they could extract a promise that Comcast will treat all online traffic equally, a principle known as net neutrality.

But Comcast VP Joe Waz says net neutrality doesn’t need to be a condition of the merger.

Mr. WAZ: We embrace the principles that a consumer should be able to go anywhere they want to go on the Internet, should be able to use any applications that they want. Net neutrality is the way we operate.

Mr. BEN POPKEN (Managing Editor, The Consumerist): This is a company that has spent millions against net neutrality.

ROSE: Ben Popken is managing editor of the Consumerist blog. He’s referring to the battle Comcast fought after it was caught two years ago secretly blocking some of its Internet customers from sharing large files.

Popken says that episode, along with the company’s perceived reputation for poor customer service, motivated his readers to name Comcast the worst company in America earlier this year.

Mr. POPKEN: The history of this company says that the FCC would be foolish to not place some pretty strong contingencies on this arrangement.

ROSE: Comcast representatives dismiss The Consumerist poll as a cheap stunt. The official public comment period for the Comcast-NBC merger is over, but the public will get a chance to vent at the end of today’s FCC workshop.

For NPR News, I’m Joel Rose, in Philadelphia

Comments

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  1. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    I feel so sorry for Ben that Comcast made him sit in that chair during their press conference.

  2. temporaryscars says:

    I heard him! Nice work. It would be awesome if they did an actual segment with you to talk about consumer issues. Comcast was totally talking smack about your WCIA contest. I’m guessing the Consumerist staff is off Comcast’s Christmas card list.

  3. SexCpotatoes says:

    An appropriate response from Ben would have been “I’ll have you know, that Golden Poo award cost TENS of dollars! Cheap is not upgrading your network and having the gall to try to charge extremely profitable customers MORE for using LESS internet!”

  4. RandomHookup says:

    “Cheap Stunt” will be my next user name on Consumerist.

  5. NarcolepticGirl says:

    Was running late today so I all heard was the Star Date crap at the end of M.E.

  6. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Ben, I listen to NPR every week day. Why do I not ever hear you on there? This is the 2nd time and I have not heard you.

  7. c!tizen says:

    That’s great PR right there. The Comcast customers speak out and voice their opinion about the company and they call it a “cheap stunt”. I say next year you send them the first ever “Golden Douche” aware for the biggest douche bag comment of the year. Though I’m sure BP would deserve a few as well.

    • DanRydell says:

      I’d guess that most consumerist readers aren’t actually Comcast customers.

      • Megalomania says:

        It largely depends on geographic location, though I’m sure that wherever there’s a choice, consumerist readers avoid comcast, re the whole WCIA thing

        • Bativac says:

          Yeah, some of us don’t have a choice.

          Well, I mean, besides satellite. But some of us don’t have a choice if we don’t want weather-related outages every other day during the summer.

      • Laura Northrup says:

        As the person who reads the tipline, I can say that you are very, very wrong.

  8. dg says:

    Cheap stunt? Naaa, expensive contest – consumerist had to pay someone to handle it for all those weeks. And ComCrap went up against some of the worst names in the business – still they were found to be the WORST company in america. If anything’s a ‘cheap stunt’ it’s their advertising for Xfinity – as they try to confuse the public into buying their same ole same ole…