THE BLOG
04/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hands Deeper In Your Pockets: NBC Universal and Comcast Merger

This will be another whining lament concerning the incipient Comcast NBC/Universal merger.

Mel Brooks wrote, produced, directed, and starred in the 1976 motion picture Silent Movie. In the film, his production was to be his studio's salvation to prevent its takeover by Engulf & Devour Corporation. The most typically Hollywood line in the movie was when Sid Caesar says to the head of the studio "Do you know who I used to be?"

That was a comedy, yet the gigantic media conglomerates in our country, once again, want to create their own "Engulf and Devour" companies.

My somewhat sophomoric and simplistic attitude about all of the electronic and print delivery systems in our country is that they should be owned by as many different people as possible. How about that for a basic operating premise? The "really big guys" would have you believe that if you let them get bigger that they can do it all better in order to serve the public.

No matter how many versions of the truth we are presented by the media, we need more of them. Americans need as many opinions from as many sources as possible. The FCC will once again be trying to tell us that we have as much information as we need, so why not narrow the sources? The FCC will be happy to give News Corp, Disney, NBC/Universal, and Viacom/CBS more voices than they already have. Each of these companies are now joined by Comcast who would like to create additional "Engulf and Devour" opportunities.

The FCC is almost the "spectrum" equivalent of the Antitrust Division. They should enhance and/or strengthen the notion of competition, diversity, and localism and not do as they have done in the past which is to act on behalf of the major media companies and reduce competition, diversity and localism.

In 2003 the FCC did as everyone expected them to do and changed the station ownership caps and their cross-ownership restrictions. The "... Report and Order adopted in 2003 was based on a thorough assessment of the impact of ownership rules on promoting competition, diversity, and localism." The FCC does what it wishes to do and labels it as "... promoting competition, diversity, and localism". Is the FCC once again capable of making another misleading statement in this regard? I think so.

The FCC, when they increased the television coverage ownership restrictions, had the temerity to state "... its new limits on broadcast ownership are carefully balanced to protect diversity, localism, and competition in the American media system." The FCC concluded "... that these new broadcast ownership limits will foster a vibrant marketplace of ideas, promote vigorous competition, and ensure that broadcasters continue to serve the needs and interests of their local communities." At the same time they announced that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy really do exist.

Professor Irwin Corey (if you remember him) would be proud of these paragraphs.

And now, the rest of the story: Those itsy bitsy media companies, Comcast and NBC/Universal, would like to get married so that they may better serve the public (sure they do).

They have the chutzpah to say that the new venture will boost quantity, quality, diversity and "local focus." I would think that "surely they jest" but, indeed, they are serious. They have filed with both the Justice Department, as well as the FCC. The $30 billion deal will also be examined on Capitol Hill in hearings beginning next week.

Their filing lays out the public interest benefits of localism, diversity, competition, innovation, and, of course, world peace, the end of global warming, as well as the end of starvation on the planet (those last three items, not really).

Having over fifty years in the media business encourages me to say that the venture applicants are serving their shareholders, and will thus only speak about how great it will be when the merger is allowed for the public. I have not believed this nonsense in the past, and I do not believe it now.

Do you think that, one day, the management of Comcast was sitting around with nothing better to do and ruminated, "Hey guys, what can we do in the public interest today?" Another jumped up and said: "Why don't we merge with NBC/Universal?" They all jumped up and down in celebration and they then granted themselves some additional stock options.

Now on to more serious stuff.

"I've Heard That Song Before," written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn

"It seems to me I've heard that song before
It's from an old familiar score
I know it well, that melody

It's funny how a theme
Recalls a favorite dream
A dream that brought you so close to me

I know each word, because I've heard that song before
The lyrics said: "for evermore"
For evermore's a memory

Please have them play it again
And (Then) I'll remember just when
I heard that lovely song before"

I would respect the participants in the venture more if they said that the deal is good for the two companies, in that it will give them greater leverage and profitability, which could not be attained when the two companies were separate. But no, no, no, they wouldn't do that. They will, however, spend many million to promote the notion that "All of this will be good for America."

For me there is a basic truth to the notion that the Feds invariably do what the gigantic media companies want. They will perform a "public interest ritual dance," and then do whatever has been asked of them.

I have spent many years either abusing my corporate power whenever I could, and at the same time succumbing to the abuses of the media conglomerates exercising their own power. Welcome to America.

Always remember the governing words for deals such as this: What's the use of having power if you don't abuse it?" Have you examined your cable or satellite bill lately? Rest assured that the Feds are looking out for you.

And rest assured that, after the deal is approved, the new company will be able to somehow put their hands deeper into your pockets in order to remove as much of your money as they possibly can.

"I've Heard That Song Before"