How Comcast Silenced One Objection to NBCU Deal

The government and various public interest groups weren’t the only ones pressuring Comcast for conditions and commitments as the cable giant worked to smooth the way for its joint venture with NBC Universal. Right before the Christmas holiday, Adweek has learned, Comcast and Allbritton Communications, owner of several local outlets in the nation’s capital, agreed to a long-term carriage deal for NewsChannel 8/TBD, its local all-news cable channel in the region.

The agreement represented a rather dramatic shift in relations between the two companies. Allbritton, which also owns Politico and ABC affiliate WJLA-TV, opposed the Comcast/NBCU transaction from the start, filing with the Federal Communications Commission and running an aggressive advertising campaign in the local print media.

In the end, sitting down with Comcast to negotiate a better retransmission pact turned out to be more fruitful than lobbying the FCC. The same day that Comcast received regulatory approval for its new venture, it finalized its retransmission deal with Allbritton. Terms were not disclosed.

“We initially had concerns, but we were able to work out arrangements that will serve NewsChannel 8 very well,” said Fred Ryan, president and chief operating officer of Allbritton, which ceased its ad campaign after Christmas. “We thought this was a way to serve all interests.”

Allbritton’s objection to the transaction centered on Comcast’s increased footprint in local markets, particularly in Allbritton’s Washington, D.C., backyard. Allbritton feared that Comcast, responsible for about 60 percent of NewsChannel 8’s distribution, could drive NewsChannel 8—a Washington-area news staple—off the air by charging too much to carry the channel and favoring its own content, such as the new Nonstop channel, which is NBC owned and operated.