It’s the end of the road for thriller, suspense and horror-themed FEARnet. Comcast has bought out its partners in the joint venture — Sony Pictures Entertainment and Lionsgate Entertainment — to take 100% ownership. Following the transaction, which closed this morning, FEARnet will no longer be a stand-alone brand but will be folded into Comcast’s NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment division. “NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment has acquired all remaining interests in FEARnet from its productive venture with Lionsgate and Sony,” the company said in a statement to Deadline through a spokesman. “FEARnet, along with its popular content, will be integrated into NBCU Cable Entertainment. This process will take place over a yet to be determined period of time.”
FEARnet is expected to be folded mainly into Comcast/NBCU Cable Entertainment’s similarly thriller, suspense and horror-focused Chiller, though some content could also migrate to Syfy. I’ve learned that 10 of FEARnet’s 25 employees will stay on through the transition. The other 15 are being let go today. NBCU would try to find job opportunities for some of them across the company. FEARnet president Peter Block will stay at least through the transition. Read More »
UPDATED: The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing into Comcast’s $45.2B acquisition of Time Warner Cable wrapped after three hours today. And Comcast EVP David Cohen upheld his reputation as a lobbying Jedi Master, although critics of the deal scored by pointing out how it could lead to higher prices and problems for independent programmers. Cohen started off strong in his opening statement: He cast his company as the embodiment of the American Dream — and announced that it has more than 1M WiFi hot spots with plans to boost their transmission speeds. “This is the 13th time we’ve increased Internet speeds in 12 years,” he says. Public Knowledge’s Gene Kimmelman — a former Justice Department antitrust lawyer — hit back. He charged that it would be “anathema to Comcast” if programmers want to offer content directly to consumers via the Internet for a low cost. The cable giant is committed to “charging top dollar” and, as owner of NBCUniversal, would be like an octopus with tentacles “each capable of squeezing innovation.”
In regard to pricing, Cohen said, in response to a question from committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), that “there is nothing in this transaction that will make anyone’s bills go up….Consumers today are in the driver’s seat.” He added later that programming costs have appreciated 98% over the last decade. Later he told Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) — who wanted to know whether shareholders would demand higher prices — that “we have made it a point of significant discussion about our need to continue to invest to compete better with national and global competitors.” Kimmelman responded that Comcast is in the driver’s seat in the highly concentrated video and broadband markets. “The squeeze will come from Comcast,” he says. “It’s logical. They want to save money….and it could lead to significant price increases for others.”
Franken had Cohen against the ropes in a discussion about Comcast’s efforts to push customers to buy multiple or upgraded products. “When you train [sales]people to upsell, you’re not training them to sell the stand-alone product.” Cohen said that “we are allowed to train people to upsell,” but sales reps also “have to be aware of the stand-alone product” and provide it on request. Read More »
It’s not WrestleMania, but Time Warner Cable shareholders can expect more excitement than usual at their annual meeting this year: The company’s preliminary proxy, out this morning, includes proposals from Charter Communications and other investors that could create problems … Read More »
UPDATE, 10:06 AM: Comcast EVP David Cohen just fleshed out in a press call some of his company’s arguments for the Time Warner Cable deal. To those who say the combined company would be too big he says that “in this particular case we think big is good” — it would be better able to offer new and improved services. And if Comcast is wrong “it doesn’t make any difference really because, as a customer, you’ll have the exact number of choices as you had before the transaction.” The only change: With Comcast instead of TWC as a broadband or video provider consumers’ “choice will be better.” He adds that Comcast is focused “like a laser” on improving the customer experience. (Sound familiar?)
PREVIOUS, 8:09 AM: This is the kind of thing you’d expect the cable giant to assert in a regulatory filing — and that will be roundly contested, including tomorrow at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the $45.2B deal. Content companies that might oppose the deal “have strong relationships” with the committee, which oversees copyright matters, Guggenheim Securities’ Paul Gallant says. What’s more, the committee includes two strong critics of media consolidation: Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
Comcast detailed its public interest arguments in a 175-page document delivered to the FCC this morning. It “lays out in considerable detail how Comcast and TWC are better together for millions of customers and businesses, describing the exciting enhanced services and other concrete consumer benefits that will be available because of the transaction,” Comcast EVP David Cohen says in a blog post. In addition to cable and Internet services, Comcast owns NBCUniversal.
The company indirectly takes issue with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ claim that Comcast imposed an “indirect tax” on the streaming video company in a recent deal: Netflix agreed to pay Comcast directly to access its broadband lines in a way that will deliver the best possible transmissions to its customers. Comcast says it has “no economic incentive” to hit up so-called edge providers because its customers “place a high premium on being able to access any Internet content they want.” Comcast would have about 30M broadband customers after acquiring TWC. Read More »
Returned today from the CinemaCon confab, so I’m just now getting a chance to catch up with Charter Communications‘ astonishing SEC filing that urges Time Warner Cable shareholders to support its $37B cash-and-stock bid over Comcast’s $45.2B all-stock offer. I don’t know if there’s enough in the proxy to derail the Comcast-TWC deal. But it’s sure to create some turbulence — if nothing else by giving ammo to class action lawyers who want to argue that the TWC board failed to faithfully represent shareholders’ interests when it stiff-armed Charter and embraced Comcast.
Apple and Comcast are looking to team up on a deal for high quality streaming TV, “people familiar with the matter” tell WSJ. News of the early talks between the companies comes a month after Bloomberg reported … Read More »
That’s one of the nuggets that connoisseurs of corporate deals will find interesting in the proxy that Comcast and Time Warner Cable filed with the SEC this morning. Among other things, the document gives the public a first look — albeit a bloodless one — at the behind-the-scenes dramas that led to the $45.2B agreement. The proxy says that Charter Communications and its largest shareholder, Liberty Media, began to talk to TWC about their interest in acquiring the No. 2 cable operator on May 22, 2013. TWC execs considered it too risky and began to talk to Comcast about an alternative arrangement in “mid-2013″ with legal reps meeting on June 27. On October 15 Comcast CEO Brian Roberts “indicated that Comcast might be interested in exploring a merger of Comcast and TWC” but also said that he had discussed the possibility of helping Charter. Conversations went back and forth until a series of secret meetings on January 7 at International CES in Las Vegas: Charter CEO Tom Rutledge told Marcus that he was about to go public with his offer. Shortly afterward Marcus met with Roberts to bring him up to date. Later in the week Roberts said his conversations with Charter had “intensified.” Comcast management told its board, on January 12, that it preferred a collaboration with Charter. But Charter and Comcast couldn’t agree on terms, and broke off their talks on February 4. Read More »
Time Warner Cable shareholders will have an opportunity to register their opinions about the golden parachute terms outlined this morning in the preliminary proxy for the proposed $45.2B merger sale to Comcast. … Read More »
UPDATE, 11:54 AM:Time Warner Cable has responded to the suit: “As a major job creator, tax contributor and service provider in the City of Los Angeles, Time Warner Cable is an active and responsible corporate citizen in the … Read More »
UPDATE, 2:40 PM: Comcast’s Sena Fitzmaurice just responded to the Tennis Channel’s petition, urging the FCC to reject it as “baseless litigation” that “simply reiterates arguments that the court of appeals and the Supreme Court have already rejected.” In 2005 the companies “negotiated and signed an arm’s length contract” that Comcast has fulfilled “in exactly the way the contract requires.” The DC Court of Appeals agreed that Tennis Channel’s plea to be carried as a basic service would have “immense costs and no benefits for Comcast and that, therefore, Comcast’s carriage decision was appropriate and non-discriminatory. When given the opportunity to pursue the case at the Supreme Court, the government’s own lawyers chose not to do so.”
PREVIOUS, 12:55 PM:Tennis Channel has lost a game and a set in its discrimination cases against Comcast, but it still believes that it can win the match if the FCC agrees with a new petition asking it to review the matter again. The filing follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision last month not to review an appeals court decision that vacated a 2012 FCC order. The regulators agreed that Comcast had discriminated against Tennis Channel by putting it on an extra-fee sports tier while putting similar channels that it owns — Golf Channel and NBC Sports Network — on the expanded basic tier. The appeals court concluded that the FCC offered no evidence to refute Comcast’s position that it made a simple financial judgment that few subscribers wanted to watch tennis. Tennis Channel says that the FCC now can return to the case because “there is considerable evidence in the record that satisfies the new tests” the appeals court used to vacate the FCC’s order. If regulators look again, they “will once again conclude that Tennis Channel is correct in its view that Comcast has illegally discriminated against it.” Read More »
The most camera-ready opponent of Comcast’s merger plans with Time Warner Cable — who, ironically, owes his big break to Comcast-owned NBC — went on CBS This Morning to again blast the proposed merger, saying “consumers will end up paying more, there will be less competition, there will be less innovation and, worse, even worse service.” Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) this morning said he sent out an email to his constituents to get their “feelings about what kind of service they get from Comcast” and whether they think the proposed deal “will be good.” “I got 60,000 responses, and believe me, people don’t like their service from Comcast, and they don’t think this deal is going to help them,” said Franken — who, before entering politics in a big way was a writer and performer on the now Comcast-owned NBC’s Saturday Night Live from its launch in the mid 1970s until 1980, returning in 1985 for another decade. Watch his appearance here: