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Alex Nogales

Alex Nogales

Posted: July 9, 2010 01:07 PM

Comcast's Contract With Latinos: A Step in the Right Direction, Not a Solution to Media Consolidation

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When Comcast announced last fall that it planned to merge with NBC Universal, few were more skeptical of the deal than I was.

As I stated in my testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on June 7th, if this deal is approved, it will be the first time in history that a major cable company will control both the dissemination of content and the content of major film, cable, and television networks. Moreover, this merger could cause more consolidation by Comcast's competitors, an unsettling idea for those of us who care about receiving diverse viewpoints from competing media sources.

However, most troubling to me, as the leader of an organization focused on diversifying the media, was Comcast's record with Latinos. In December of 2009, the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility released a report on the diversity performance of thirty four Fortune 100 companies, including Comcast. The rankings were based on the diversity of Comcast's employment, procurement, philanthropy, and governance. Comcast received only 50 out of 100 points. Only three companies scored worse, one of which was General Electric -- NBC Universal's parent company, which scored a pitiful 30 out of 100 points.

For these reasons, I welcomed the invitation to discuss Comcast's diversity efforts with its CEO and other executives. At that meeting I entered into a six member negotiating team of leaders from the Hispanic community, that included top representatives from the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), National Council of La Raza (NCLR), Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR), and the Cuban American National Council (CNC). And over the past few months we set forth in good faith to draft a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to help Comcast improve its diversity efforts.

On June 25th we came to an agreement with Comcast. I believe that this MOU is a positive first step towards diversification at Comcast and I look forward to working with Comcast to execute its many specific and general initiatives. This MOU is similar in some ways to the ones that the National Latino Media Council (NLMC), of which NHMC is secretariat, has with the broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX. Through those MOUs we have seen incremental improvement at the networks, but of course, change does not happen overnight, and after ten years we continue to work with the networks to improve their employment and procurement efforts.

I do not purport that this Comcast MOU is a silver bullet that will repair all of the ills that media consolidation brings to society. That is not the focus of the MOU, though there are several provisions in the agreement that will bring more independent programming and networks to Comcast's cable systems, and will stifle some of the adverse effects of media consolidation.

For instance, Comcast has agreed to add ten new independently-owned and operated programming services to its cable systems over the next eight years following the closing of the transaction. Four of these networks will go to Latinos. At least two of those will be American-Latino-operated, English-language channels and will be on the digital tier (D-1). One of those two will be added within 18 months, and the other within 36 months of the closing of the transaction. Comcast will add two additional networks in which American Latinos have a majority and/or substantial ownership interest within six years of closing of the transaction.

In addition, Comcast has agreed to extend carriage of at least three of its existing programming services from independent entities that are American Latino owned or controlled or that target the Latino community with English or Spanish language programming. Comcast will fulfill this commitment within six months of closing of the joint venture. These services will be carried on the digital tier (D1) or better, and will reach at least 10 million new subscribers.

NHMC insisted and Comcast agreed that it will increase investment for local newscasts and local public affairs programs at Telemundo stations. Comcast explicitly agreed not to cut any local Telemundo newscasts, and agreed to set about expanding those newscasts.

NHMC will tirelessly monitor Comcast from here on out to ensure that it is keeping these, and all of the many other promises it made in the MOU, and not just those that relate to programming, but also those dealing with its employment, procurement, philanthropy and governance. Indeed, the MOU itself contains specific language about the monitoring process. Annually, Comcast will give NHMC its programming details and statistics. In turn, NHMC will issue a public report on Comcast's progress, or lack thereof.

NHMC and our sister organizations have fought hard for these and other provisions in the MOU. Could they have been stronger? Perhaps. Do they solve the problem of media consolidation? No. But it is my hope that this is the first in a great number of steps towards improving diversity at Comcast. And now I can rest easy at night knowing that even if this mega-merger gets approved by the FCC, that we have a mechanism in place to ensure that Comcast serves the Latino community even in the face of its recently-gained market power.