How Will The Comcast/NBC Merger Really Affect You?

By Paul Michael on 21 January 2011 (Updated 6 June 2013) 4 comments

It’s a deal that has been in the works for over a year, and it’s finally going ahead. The FCC has approved the merger of NBC Universal with Comcast, meaning that the cable giant will now own 51% of NBC, and have stakes in CNBC, MSNBC, Bravo, Telemundo, and Hulu.

When anyone sees news like this, they immediately starting thinking of a monopoly. “This business is too big, and that’s a bad thing” is what I’m hearing from many people around me. And as I work in the cable industry, I hear it a lot.

But is this really something to lose sleep over? It’s time to take a quick look at the questions people have, the facts, and the speculation, to see what this merger actually means to the general public. After all, AOL and Time Warner merged in 2000 and the world kept turning. But since then the Internet has become something of a necessity and this deal does impact that to some extent.

1. Will Prices Go Up?

That’s the most common concern I hear, and it seems that it’s the most common one floating around on the Internet. With a merger comes a giant company controlling costs and sticking it to all of us. And Comcast has not exactly had the best feedback when it comes to prices and raising rates. But the bottom line is that the FCC is ensuring that Comcast does not withhold any of its networks from other providers, such as Dish Network or DirecTV. It must also offer these networks at a reasonable cost.

Plus, Comcast has stated that six out of every seven networks on its cable systems will have absolutely no affiliation with Comcast. What that means is that, for the time being, Comcast is not going to start pushing prices up on you because it could risk losing you to one of those other providers. That goes for the Internet, too. I see rates going up by the usual annual amount, but I do not see your bills doubling overnight. The fear of “cord cutting” and “cord shaving” (which means cutting complete or partial cable services) will keep everyone's prices in line. Well, for now at least.

2. Will Internet Access Be Affected?

I don’t see it happening just yet, although Senator Al Franken and many others predict this is the end of net neutrality. Basically, the FCC has not given Comcast/NBC the kind of power to take control of the Internet, although who knows what could happen in the future. Yes, Comcast now owns Hulu, but that was already becoming a pay-service with the advent of Hulu Plus, which is home to many of the shows you want to watch anyway. I went to watch V online recently, but I missed the first episode of the new series, and it wasn’t available on ABC’s site. Comcast had nothing to do with that decision; it’s just something that the networks themselves decide. In short, the FCC has stipulated that this merger must not result in unfair market prices. Even better, the merger means that Comcast must now offer affordable, stand-alone Internet access so that we, the viewers, can access videos without having to purchase cable TV. And that is a good thing.

3. Will Sports Channels Be Cheaper?

I don’t care that much for sports channels, but I know millions of Americans do. And now the Comcast/NBC corporation can go up against Disney’s ESPN, which has a monopoly on most sports, and bring prices down. It’s very possible that you could see the cost of your sports packages taking a nose dive over the next year.

4. Will Only Comcast Subscribers Get NBC Shows?

You really shouldn’t worry about missing The Office, 30 Rock, SNL, Biggest Loser, or any of your other favorite NBC shows. Once again, the FCC has made it quite clear that Comcast must provide reasonable access to its shows for distribution by other providers. You will not see NBC disappear from your local channel lineup if you have Dish Network or DirecTV.

5. Will Comcast Subscribers Have a Hard Time Finding Non-NBC Shows?

This one’s even more bizarre. Some people think that Comcast will favor its NBC shows and programming over shows not owned by Comcast. Well, imagine how many people would cancel Comcast if that happened? If you suddenly have a hard time finding your favorite shows because Comcast has buried them or made them tough to access, you’ll leave. But just to make sure, rules have been put in place to ensure Comcast does not discriminate against video programming that it does not own. For the time being, your lineup should not be affected.

Of course, I am not privy to the dealing going on inside the boardrooms of these huge companies, but I think it's a little too early to panic just yet.

How do you feel about the merger? Worried? Are you cutting the cable anyway? Let us know.

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El Marko

This is all well and good, for folks who live in areas where Comcast has some viable competition. Many of, particularly in rural and even suburban areas of the U.S., Comcast has no true competition for either television or broadband internet. Where I live, far enough away from major metropolitan areas for broadcast television reception to be poor, dish service is only competitive if I were a rabid sports or movie fan. There's no dish competition to basic cable. There's also no DSL, so Comcast has a lock on wired broadband services. And, am I going to pay the rates offered by cell phone companies, to get high speed Internet into my home? Are you crazy? Comcast has a lock on both television and broadband Internet. FCC protections? Again, I ask you, are you crazy? This merger spells "trouble," plain and simple. If not immediately, then pretty soon.

Andrea Karim's picture

Although we have DSL in my area, it doesn't spell "viable competition" at all. Comcast is the only cable provider that we have, and Qwest, which offers DSL, is notorious for being awful to their customers... as bad as Comcast, but with slower internet connectivity.

The thing that really grates on my nerves about Comcast is that we are starting to get much slower service on video streaming in the evenings. I don't watch THAT much online, but after 5PM, even trying to view a 2-minute commercial is nearly impossible. In addition, while I have no trouble streaming videos from the Comcast web site, Netflix and Amazon.com sites freeze up all the time - I doubt very much that either of those companies is responsible for the slowed bandwidth.

I understand that traffic increases in the evening, with people at home, streaming video to their TVs. But I shouldn't end up with dial-up quality bandwidth as a result. Comcast has built an empire out of government-funded infrastructure; they COULD afford to provide seamless service to most of their urban customers, especially where they hold a monopoly on cable. But they choose not to, and it's only a matter of time before tiered service is a reality.

Guest's picture
Guest

One day after Comcast took over, Keith Olbermann was gone from MSNBC. When media companies combine, fewer voices are heard. That may not affect the prices you pay, but it still has an effect. http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/21/olbermann-hosts-last-co...

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Rachelle

I don't subscribe to any cable services. When they made TV digital, I purchased the converter box with digital antenna. Cable is too expensive and the only time I watch any TV is during Football season as I'm a big NFL fan. I receive Internet service through Cricket modem.