New York Times online debate about Comcast-NBC deal

by on December 9, 2009 · 7 comments

Today, Jim Harper and I took on Andy Schwartzman of Media Access Projects and Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge in this New York Times online debate about, “Should Consumers Fear the Comcast Deal?”  Like other media critics, Schwartzman and Sohn adopt the gloom and doom tone that many worrywarts use when discussing the deal. Andy Schwartzman says “Comcast’s proposed acquisition of NBC Universal poses a genuine threat to free expression and diversity of speech in our democratic society.” And Gigi Sohn predicts that “With all that programming under its control, Comcast will have every incentive to take its shows off of the Internet and force consumers to buy a cable subscription to get online access to that programming.”

But as Jim Harper and I point out, we’ve heard such Chicken Little horror stories before. Whether it was AOL-Time Warner, News Corp-DirecTV, Sirius-XM, or whatever else, the story is always that a veritable media apocalypse awaits if the deals aren’t blocked.  But it just ain’t so. As I note in my response:

Back in the real world, the sky never fell — except on the merging companies! Just two years after the deal was announced, AOL-Time Warner had lost over $100 billion and Time Warner has now spun off AOL entirely. The News Corp.-DirecTV marriage ended in divorce after just three years. And Sirius-XM flirted with bankruptcy earlier this year as listeners continue to flock to other audio options. The moral of the story: markets worked. Shareholders abandoned bad deals, new niche markets developed, and innovative digital technologies continue to revolutionize media.

And as Harper notes in response to silly claims about restricting access to content or communications, “Comcast-NBC can no more impinge on communications among Internet users than AOL-Time Warner did.” Which is to say, not at all. They would be doomed if they tried to play such games. You can’t make money or retain viewers or customers by cutting off access to content or conduit. Finally, “the genuine threat to free expression and diversity of speech” is not Comcast-NBC, as Schwartman suggests, but a government big enough to crush media companies and control media platforms as if they were their playthings.

For more details about the actual historical record, check out my recent PFF white paper: “A Brief History of Media Merger Hysteria: From AOL-Time Warner to Comcast-NBC.”

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  • http://michaelslevinson.com/ Michael S. levinson

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    But not the same pleading in each place. Visit http://michaelslevinson.com for more information. My first case was in 1980 Michael Steohen Levinson 87FCC 2d 433 1980. There are two versions. The one they mailed to me and the stations I complained against, and the version they printed, with a key change behind everyone's back.

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  • http://michaelslevinson.com/ Michael S. levinson

    Typo above: Michael Stephen Levinson not “Steohen.” I hit the “o” key instead of the “p.”

  • http://michaelslevinson.com/ Michael S. levinson

    Dear Adam,
    I found the document I was looking for. I am an independent candidate for president. I have applied to all of these networks for access, to give a speech on behalf of my candidacy. I am moving against all of them in the FCC and in the Federal District Court.

    But not the same pleading in each place. Visit http://michaelslevinson.com for more information. My first case was in 1980 Michael Steohen Levinson 87FCC 2d 433 1980. There are two versions. The one they mailed to me and the stations I complained against, and the version they printed, with a key change behind everyone's back.

    I have spent years simply trying to give a speech. Every step of the way i was legally entitled. Every step of the way my First Amendment rights were abridged. Now i believe we are going to see a little justice.

    Visit my site http://michaelslevinson.com

  • http://michaelslevinson.com/ Michael S. levinson

    Typo above: Michael Stephen Levinson not “Steohen.” I hit the “o” key instead of the “p.”

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