Senator Questions NBC’s Olympics Web Strategy

NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver may be pulling in the ratings, but its policy for live viewing on isn’t winning a lot of fans in Congress. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, is concerned that NBC’s practice of limiting live video access to pay-TV subscribers could foreshadow things to come when Comcast acquires 51 percent of NBC.

“It is our view that video over the Internet has the potential to become a significant competitive alternative to traditional pay TV subscriptions, and it appears policies such as the one described in this letter may have the effect of limiting the prospects of such competition,” wrote Kohl in a Feb. 26 letter to Jeff Zucker, president and CEO of NBC Universal.

Several Congressional Committees have held hearings on the Comcast-NBC Universal deal, which would bring together the nation’s largest cable company and the fourth-largest media company in an unprecedented combination of distribution and content. Legislators have asked a number of questions about the combination and whether or not it would restrict content to consumers and limit competition.

Kohl asked NBCU several questions about the policy: “Does this policy of requiring a pay TV subscription apply to content that is aired for free over-the-air on the broadcast network, and if so, why?; why has NBC not sought to charge consumers directly for accessing Olympic content on its Internet Web site, rather than requiring a pay TV subscription?; has NBC received any payments from pay TV companies to support and, if so, has that influenced NBC’s requirement that consumers subscribe to a pay TV service?; and are customers of all cable, satellite TV, and other pay TV subscription services eligible to register for access to, and if not, how did NBC decide which pay TV services’ customers are eligible to register?”

In a prepared statement, NBC outlined its approach to cover the Games, which includes 190 hours of over-the-air programming, 250 hours across its four cable networks and its online output.

“[The online coverage] encompasses more than 1,100 video highlights such as the most popular ‘water cooler moments,’….[and] the second element of the hybrid site presents an enhanced offering that consists largely of long-form programming that is part of the cable, satellite and telco subscription package, accessible to subscribers of those services through the authentication process.”

Both the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission must approve the deal.

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