Newspaper article International New York Times

Shifting TV Landscape May Aid Comcast ; Antitrust Concerns Eased as More People Watch Via Internet Connections

Newspaper article International New York Times

Shifting TV Landscape May Aid Comcast ; Antitrust Concerns Eased as More People Watch Via Internet Connections

Article excerpt

Comcast's proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable comes at a moment when consumers increasingly are cutting their cable cords.

On the face of it, the merger of the two largest cable companies in the United States would seem like a nonstarter, given its steep regulatory hurdles and skepticism from consumer watchdogs.

But Comcast's proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable comes at a moment of seismic change in the television industry, with consumers increasingly cutting their cable cords and instead streaming their favorite shows via the Internet through services like Netflix, YouTube, Amazon and Hulu.

This shifting landscape may aid Comcast as it seeks to persuade government officials -- and deploy its prodigious army of lobbyists - - to win approval for its $45 billion takeover.

"I believe television will change more in the next five years than in the last 50," Brian L. Roberts, Comcast's chief executive, has said.

Still, the combination of the two companies, creating a cable and broadband behemoth serving about 30 million customers across 42 states, is expected to come under intense scrutiny from the Obama administration, which has toughened its enforcement of federal antitrust laws.

The effect on cable TV and Internet service prompted many consumer advocacy organizations to immediately express hostility toward the deal.

"This industry is notoriously unpopular with consumers due to poor customer service, not to mention ever-increasing bills, and a deal this size doesn't exactly convince us that things will get better," said Delara Derakhshani, the policy counsel for Consumers Union.

Washington lawmakers also said they would give it close scrutiny. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota and chairwoman of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, said that because the proposed merger "could have a significant impact on the cable industry and affect consumers across the country," she planned to convene a hearing to examine the deal.

The transaction also has raised concerns among some of the cable networks, whose channels reach consumers through providers like Comcast. Randel A. Falco, the chief executive of Univision Communications, said the company would monitor the government review. "When the No.1 and the No.2 cable operators merge it is a cause of concern that requires significant scrutiny," he said.

But Comcast executives dismissed much of the criticism as "hysteria" and noted that the new company's market share of cable subscribers would be no higher than it was after completing a similar transaction with Adelphia in 2006.

In addition, Comcast said that it and Time Warner Cable did not compete in a single postal code region anywhere in the United States. Nor is the deal likely to have an effect on other providers of television programming, including Verizon, AT&T, DirecTV and Dish, which in recent years have performed better than the cable companies.

"Previous antitrust concerns are truly antiquated in light of today's marketplace realities," David L. Cohen, a Comcast executive and its chief lobbyist, said on Thursday.

There are also "cord cutters" who have jettisoned their cable providers and watch television on the Internet via fast-growing services like Netflix and YouTube. …

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