FCC blocked in Comcast/TWC, AT&T/DirecTV mega-merger reviews
| 25 November 2014
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has blocked the FCC from making TV programme agreements available to third parties as they review the Comcast/Time Warner Cable and AT&T/DirecTV merger deals.
The court granted a stay of the FCC's decision to make those documents available to hundreds of outside parties. Given the public interest in correctly evaluating the antitrust and competitive ramifications of both mega-mergers, the FCC has said that its existing protections of the data were sufficient to prevent leakage of competitive secrets. Broadcasters have filed a lawsuit against the agency in the matter.
The court disagreed with the FCC, and now a federal court must review the underlying arguments in exposing the agreements concerning the petitioners (CBS, Scripps, Disney, Time Warner, Twenty-First Century Fox, Univision, and Viacom, plus the National Association of Broadcasters). It's a process that will take months. In the meantime though, the FCC could review them itself and move forward with approvals, the court noted.
The FCC's decision to press on with the programming agreement disclosures was, unsurprisingly, backed by AT&T, Comcast, Charter, DirecTV, DISH and Time Warner Cable, which all stand to benefit from a quick decision on the tie-ups.
Not everyone on the commission stood with the service providers. "We are pleased that the DC Circuit has stayed the commission's sharply-divided decision to disclose programming agreements to outside parties in the merger proceedings," said FCC commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly, in a statement. "As the Court noted, the commission can continue reviewing the relevant documents. As such, there is no reason why this ruling should delay the commission's review of these transactions. In the meantime, we hope that the commission and programmers will come to the negotiating table and reach a compromise."
Of course, without third-parties vetting the impact of the mergers on programming leverage, the FCC's ability to gain a 360-degree view of the situation is diminished.