Did Troubled Comcast-TWC Deal Force Quick Resolution for Brian Williams?

By Mark Joyella 

Comcast has a lot on its plate right now. In addition to resolving the question of what to do with Brian Williams, the cable giant is working to close a massive $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable.

Even before Williams sent NBC News into chaos, the cable merger was already facing a litany of problems, from public perception (one person described the deal as a marriage of two of America’s “most despised companies”) to questions about allowing one company to gain too much power over programmers.

Before the Williams story broke, some were already declaring the Comcast-TWC deal dead. Rich Greenfield, an analyst with BTIG, told The Chicago Tribune “the government views the cable operators as a problematic group of monopolists that require regulation.” Greenfield at the time put the probability of the deal gaining approval at just 30 percent.

Comcast, of course, had high hopes for NBC when the company acquired full control in 2013. And NBC News–while a very small part of the overall picture for Comcast–was seen by Comcast executives as bringing power and influence, especially in Washington, where the TWC deal would have to earn support. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, famously described NBC News as the “crown jewel.” But things got unexpectedly messy for each of the news division’s marquee brands, not just at “Nightly News,” but also “Meet the Press” and “Today.”

Howard Kurtz notes the distraction of the Williams scandal has not helped Comcast put its best case forward toward getting the TWC deal done, and that may have played a part in the decision to suspend, rather than fire, him:

Comcast has been trying to win federal approval for a year for a merger with Time Warner Cable that has been stalled on antitrust grounds. Shelving the issue for six months frees Comcast of that taint while the company tries to get the green light from the Federal Communications Commission.

But Bloomberg media writer reporter Gerry Smith tells TVNewser the two questions facing Comcast are simply too different, and quickly moving Brian Williams to the back burner–while stopping the bleeding at NBC–doesn’t necessarily help Comcast in its quest for TWC. “The Comcast/TWC deal is largely a question of whether or not a more dominant Comcast would be anti-competitive or hurt consumer choice, especially in the broadband market. NBC’s decision to suspend Williams was about how to preserve the reputation of the nightly news.”