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FCC May Require Comcast-NBC Deal to Offer Content to Apple


The Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required) that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is taking a close look at the proposed deal between cable giant Comcast and film and television company NBC Universal, reportedly looking to impose restrictions on what would be a Comcast-controlled NBC company that would prevent it from favoring Comcast's online video distribution services over those of third parties such as Apple's iTunes Store and Netflix.

Few observers expect either the Justice Department or the Federal Communications Commission to block outright the roughly $13.75 billion deal to purchase 51% of NBC Universal from General Electric Co. One reason: Because the two companies aren't direct competitors, it's harder to mount an antitrust challenge.

Both agencies, however, are likely to impose significant conditions to prevent Comcast from withholding, or threatening to withhold, NBC Universal's programming from competitors, including companies that distribute TV shows and movies over the Internet, such as Apple Inc. and Netflix Inc., according to people familiar with the matter.

NBC and Apple have had a rocky relationship in the past, with the two companies facing off in a pricing dispute that saw the iTunes Store stop offering downloads of new NBC shows in the fall 2007 season and not resume offering new content until a year later.

More recently, NBC declined to join Apple's pilot program to allow TV show rentals for 99 cents, with NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker claiming that such a move would "devalue" the network's content.