Comcast is Back in the News Business

By Chris Ariens 

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With NBCU, Comcast returns to the news business as it gains controlling interest in the NBC broadcast network, including NBC News, cable networks CNBC and MSNBC, the news operations at NBC’s 10 local stations in cities from New York to San Diego and from San Francisco to Miami and Telemundo, which provides network and local news for a Spanish-speaking audience on 16 owned and operated stations nationwide.

For Comcast, it’s a return to the news business, which they exited earlier this year.

In January Comcast, the nation’s largest cable systems operator, shut down its CN8 news network which was seen in markets from Maine to Virgina. Based in Philadelphia, the network morphed into “Comcast Networks” and began focusing on the Philadelphia/Harrisburg/Pittsburgh and Washington/Baltimore regions. A majority of the 300 employees lost their jobs.

CN8 was founded in 1996 and once aired 90 hours of original news and community programming each week from studios in Philadelphia, Washington and Brookline, Mass.

Low ratings and high production costs led to the closure.

In June, Comcast assumed full ownership of regional news channel New England Cable News (NECN). Comcast became a co-owner, with Hearst, of NECN when it acquired the Media One cable system in 1998.

This morning, Comcast released a memo that outlines a list of public commitments the company is making with regard to NBCU. This includes continuing “a policy of ensuring that the content of NBC’s news and public affairs programming would not be influenced by the non-media interests” of Comcast. Essentially extending a commitment made by General Electric when it bought NBC in 1986. And this: “We intend to preserve and enrich the output of local news, local public affairs, and other public interest programming on NBC 0&0 stations.”

• After the jump, the entire list of public commitments. (via Reuters)

• NBC has a proud history in broadcasting with both NBC and Telemundo. Notwithstanding the turbulence in the current media marketplace and the ongoing threats to the business model of a national broadcast network, the combined company remains committed to continuing to provide free over-the-air television through its 0&0 stations and through local broadcast affiliates across the nation. As we negotiate and renew agreements with our broadcast affiliates, we will continue our cooperative dialogue with our affiliates toward a business model to sustain free over-the-air service that can be workable in the evolving economic and technological environment.

• The NBC owned-and-operated broadcast stations (“0&OS”) have a demonstrated record of quality local programming in major markets around the country. Comcast also has demonstrated its commitment to local programming, including sports and public affairs, and in providing support for public, educational, and government (PEG) access programming. We want to use the combined resources of NBC and Comcast to strengthen localism

• We intend to preserve and enrich the output of local news, local public affairs, and other public interest programming on NBC 0&0 stations.

• Since NBCU was acquired by GE in 1986, the owners have abided
by a policy (summarized in a filing with the FCC) of ensuring that the content of NBC’s news and public affairs programming would not be influenced by the non-media interests of General Electric. The combined company will continue these policies with respect to the news programming organizations of all NBCU networks and stations, and will extend these policies to the potential influence of each of the owners. To ensure such independence, the combined companies will continue in effect the position and authority of the NBC News ombudsman to address any issues that may arise.

• Comcast and NBCU have strong track records in children’s programming and children’s issues. The combined company will make an expanded commitment to meeting the viewing needs of children, and the needs of parents to better control their family’s viewing.

• We reaffirm our commitment to provide clear and understandable on-screen TV Ratings information for all covered programming across all networks (broadcast and cable) of the combined company.

• We intend to expand the availability of over-the-air programming to the Hispanic community utilizing a portion of the digital broadcast spectrum of the Telemundo O&O’s (as well as offering it to Telemundo affiliates) to enhance the current programming of Tel em undo and Mun2.

• As a cable operator, Comcast is committed to dealing fairly with all non-affiliated video programmers with whom we do business, and to promoting program diversity. Nearly six out of every seven channels carried by Comcast Cable systems will still be networks unaffiliated with Comcast upon the completion of this transaction.

• We plan to honor all of NBCU’s collective bargaining agreements. We respect NBCU’s existing labor-management relationships and expect them to continue following the closing of this transaction.