Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Want to Cut Your Cord? The NBC U-Comcast Deal Won't Make It Easier

If you were hoping that the government restrictions on the NBC U-Comcast deal would make it easier for you to stop paying for cable, you’re out of luck.

At a very first glance, some of the new rules imposed by the feds might seem like they require the new company to offer up programming to any online player that wants to pay up.

And technically, they do. But the new rules have plenty of conditions and limits. So the bottom line is you’re not much more likely to get access to “30 Rock” via YouTube, or CNBC via iTunes, then you were before.

The new FCC and DOJ rules do give, say, Google the ability to buy access to some of NBC U shows or channels. But it would require Comcast’s competitors to do the same thing, first.

That is: Unless the people who are reluctant to put their stuff online because they don’t want to upset Comcast go ahead and put their stuff online, Comcast doesn’t have to, either. So it’s theoretically possible, but not probable.

And if it happens, it will happen haltingly. If Viacom sells someone online access to its MTV lineup of reality shows, that might require Comcast to offer up its reality show lineup on Bravo. But it wouldn’t entitle an online outlet to the police procedurals on USA.

The government also gives the option to, say, Netflix, to set up shop as another cable operator, and buy access to all of NBC Universal’s programming. But it would have to buy all of it–just like Time Warner Cable and Cablevision do when they make a carriage deal for NBC U’s shows.

And again, Comcast wouldn’t have to do that unless its peers did. Which means that if Netflix really wanted to set up shop as a direct competitor of the cable guys, it can do so. But it would have to operate exactly like the cable guys, just like the satellite guys did when they entered the market a couple of decades ago.

So if Netflix, or Apple or whoever really wants to offer a full suite of cable programming, at cable prices, it could. But that would be very, very expensive: Analyst Rich Greenfield estimates that the bill for NBC U’s programming alone would run a new entrant $1 billion a year.

Just as, or even more, important, is that those kind of bundled, take-it-or-leave-it deals are exactly the kind of thing that the cord-cutting crowd complains about.

They don’t want to have to pay for USA and Bravo and Syfy and MSNBC–they want to pick and choose channels, or shows. And pay a lot less.

“I don’t think cord-cutting was a major focus” of negotiations, Comcast EVP David Cohen said during a press conference this afternoon. And that may be true!

But the net result reads very much as if Comcast wanted to make sure the government didn’t force it to break its business model. And if that was the case, it got what it wanted.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work