Comcast: All your media are belong to us. Your internets and your politics, too.

by Karoli on November 18, 2009 · 2,335 comments

Watch out, folks. While heads are turned with non-issues like Sarah “no lie is too small” Palin, there’s a huge media consolidation taking place under your nose, and it won’t be pretty if it’s allowed to happen.

Comcast is moving to buy NBC/Universal from General Electric on one side, and on the other, injecting themselves into the LiveNation/Ticketmaster merger in order to block anti-trust objections.

What Comcast Gets

  • NBC Universal
    • 13 Cable Channels – Weather Channel, Sundance Channel, NBC, A&E Television, Telemundo, Universal Pictures, Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC, Sci-Fi Channel.
    • Internet properties – MSNBC.com, CNBC.com, NBC.com, iVillage.com, and a stake in Hulu.com. (Hulu.com’s other owners are ABC, Inc. and Fox Entertainment).
    • Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Florida, and 2 other Florida Resorts.
    • Rights to all music, film, and television properties currently owned by Universal (too vast to list here).
    • Local station affiliates in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Dallas-Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York City, Washington, DC, Miami, Las Vegas, Tucson, Denver, Phoenix, Boston, and several other large markets
    • Resorts in Florida, Japan and CaliforniaHere’s a small map of NBC holdings. See the larger map on Muckety for details on those.

  • TicketMaster/LiveNation
    • LiveNation’s ticketing operation for sports and entertainment events, including events held at Comcast-owned properties around the country.

What Consumers Get

Consumers get another huge media conglomerate double-dipping into their pocket. Here’s an example. If a band is booked for a concert at Universal Amphitheatre, Comcast will own the ticket sales, collect revenues for any performance royalties they might own, have exclusive cable broadcast rights for recorded performances, and own the pipeline for broadcasting those performances on cable TV at a later date.

It certainly won’t cause the already-insane price for concert tickets to decrease, nor will it give us access to web content without a hefty price which will be non-competitive because there will be no competition. If they own everything, creation, pipeline, distribution channels, there is no competition, and consumers end up paying for each dip into the well, whether it be the DVD, the CD, the download, or attendance at the event itself.

It isn’t really too much of a leap for me to imagine a return to deeper and harsher digital rights management or more expensive gateways for consumers, either.

Consider Rupert Murdoch’s threat to block Google from indexing his sites in anticipation of converting them all to paid content sites. Murdoch thinks he can do this because consumers expect the content he delivers and he believes they’ll pay for it. (This consumer won’t, and it remains to be seen whether he’s right) The flaw in Murdoch’s plan is that he doesn’t own the entire pipeline, so there will be costs or negotiations along the way that will limit his profits.

In Comcast’s case, they will own every available delivery and distribution network in addition to content ownership. There will be nothing to prevent them from charging whatever they want for access to that content, giving them potential for windfall profits. Assume for a minute that they adopt the Murdoch model and lock everything away behind a paywall, particularly their Internet properties. That MSNBC ad with video on the right-hand side of the page? Gone, replaced with a once-in-a-lifetime offer to pay the low, low price of $10.95/month for the privilege of viewing it online. That recipe you really, really liked over at iVillage? Gone, too, unless you pay the gatekeeper’s fee.

This all assumes that they even make that content available to people who are not Comcast Internet subscribers.

What Artists Get

Really? Not much. A one-way invitation to jump into the land of self-produced media, which isn’t such a bad thing, but isn’t necessarily the way to fame and riches, either. Our user-generated content channels are still in baby stages. Yes, bands are doing real-time concerts on YouTube and Facebook. Some are building a pretty decent following in Second Life with live streams, like my Twitter friend Matthew. All of those things are great. We can even get decent real time tech news via shows like the Gillmor Gang. Still, these are nascent efforts, not backed by mega-corporations and thousands of shareholders, and they will take time to perfect.

What We Lose

Two things: Lost jobs and a different perspective on the news and broadcast circuits. MSNBC has been the one place where progressive political ideas are broadcast on cable, and even then, it’s been balanced with conservative shows like Morning Joe. Rachel Maddow is probably the best and freshest voice political reporting has right now. Her reports are passionate, present the progressive perspective while giving room for other points of view to be heard. Most importantly, she reports facts as facts, whether they support her point of view or not. Keith Olbermann adds the right mix of humor and biting commentary to the menu, giving progressive ideas one small corner of airspace to give traction to something other than the conservative line, which most often sings money, money, money. The echo chamber of mainstream media will be a closed circle where no ideas other than conservative ideas bounce out and back again.

Inevitably, consolidations, acquisitions and mergers cost jobs. The NBC Universal acquisition will be no different. Jobs will be lost, and lost permanently. Instead of expanding the workforce, it will shrink further and many jobs be gone forever. Shareholders will enjoy the benefit of those lost jobs on the bottom line. Workers will be scrambling for the few jobs available to them, probably for less pay. And so, wealth will again be redistributed to the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and working poor.

Isn’t the bottom line all that matters?

I don’t think so. The DOJ is already looking at the Ticketmaster/LiveNation deal to see if antitrust laws would be violated. One article I read says that Comcast is also being scrutinized with respect to the NBC acquisition. Yet, there are no mainstream news reports which focus on the antitrust provisions, despite the fact that Comcast is already fighting an antitrust class action lawsuit in Philadelphia.

This is BIG. Really big, with deep, long-lasting implications for consumers, artists, workers, and citizens. And yet…

  • CNN.com buried it in their CNNMoney section.
  • Fox News has nothing at all, and Fox Business has a one-paragraph stock news blurb about the Ticketmaster/LiveNation involvement. Nothing whatsoever about NBC.
  • ABC News has nothing at all. Not one mention.
  • CNBC has a NewsCorp press release with warnings from Comcast rivals about antitrust (similar to CNN.com)
  • MSNBC.com and NBC.com have nothing. Not one thing.
  • In newspaperland, the LA Times Entertainment blog has a mild mention in the context of Ticketmaster/LiveNation. The New York Times article last week is a bit better, but still doesn’t expose the depth of the issue at hand.
  • Time and Newsweek magazines have no mention.

That list is your echo chamber working to uninform you, the consumer, about what’s likely to affect your job, the United States economy, and many, many citizens’ bottom line, for better or worse.

If it weren’t for an article shared by Shoq and another article shared on Friendfeed, I wouldn’t have had a clue. The only reason there is anything to be found is because Rupert Murdoch cut a press release to protect his own business interests. If that doesn’t make the case for why these consolidations should not be allowed, I don’t know what would.

Bonus Links

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