What Will Become of NBC News and MSNBC in a Post-Comcast World?

By Alex Weprin 

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In Variety this weekend, Paul J. Gough looks at what NBC News and MSNBC can expect, now that they are a part o the Comcast family (subscription required).

Spoiler alert: don’t expect too many changes.

The Olbermann affair highlighted the fact that Comcast execs, with no deep experience running a news division and a preference for staying under the radar, may find NBC News and MSNBC much harder to run than E! or the Golf Channel. And the Olbermann headlines have only increased expectations that Comcast will seek to make a major show of support for NBC News while the dust settles on the merger.

“We will be good to our word — and we will be respectful stewards of the strong and iconic assets of NBC Universal, particularly NBC News,” Comcast exec veep David Cohen wrote in a Jan. 18 memo outlining the final details of the company’s agreements with the FCC and Dept. of Justice.

Gough notes that while some senior execs at Comcast may be uncomfortable with MSNBC’s politics, and that Comcast the cable operator needs to be on good business terms with Fox News and CNN, changing the direction of MSNBC right now would be like committing professional seppuku.

“There is a concern that Comcast will want to be very polite to their sister oligopolies like Fox and not be edgy,” she says. “Right now, MSNBC is providing the only response to Fox News. You can’t be a pay TV distributor without Fox News.”

Sources close to Comcast say that the company takes seriously its pledge for NBC News’ editorial independence and points to its many commitments to regulators. Comcast’s Cohen, in a December 2009 letter about the merger, said the company would continue corporate policy that ensures non-media corporate interests of GE and Comcast do not influence NBC News…

T. Barton Carter, a professor of mass communication at Boston U., takes politics out of the equation when considering why Comcast would realign a successful MSNBC.

“If you basically abandon a segment of the market that you previously staked out, and try to (move to) another, that doesn’t necessarily make good business sense,” Carter says.