LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Looks like Comcast won't be getting NBC Universal for Christmas, but it did get a consolation gift: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski voicing his approval for the deal.
On Wednesday, the companies put a damper on prospects for an approval this year of the pact for Comcast Corp. to acquire a 51% stake (or $13.75 billion investment) in NBC Universal from General Electric, but Mr. Genachowski's proposal, circulated Thursday, indicated that approval should be smooth in the New Year since the conditions he favors are more boilerplate than onerous.
The next open FCC commissioners meeting is scheduled for Jan. 25, though the deal could close before then.
Among the conditions he recommended are asking that similar news and sports channels be clustered together on cable systems that converted to digital programming, so nets such as CNBC and Bloomberg News will be grouped in the same way as ESPN, Fox Sports and Comcast networks like Vs. and Golf Channel.
The proposal also contained terms on net neutrality, the name given to the controversial concept of a company prioritizing its own internet traffic over its competitors.' Among Comcast's biggest noncompetitors of late is Netflix, the movie-rental service whose recent strides in over-the-top apps for internet-enabled TVs has posed a threat to the cable giant's video-on-demand and pay-per-view offerings. Comcast recently threw more of its own skin in that game by doubling the number of titles of its same-day DVD and VOD releases to 200 from 100 in 2010.
Mr. Genachowski's blessing is only one of five votes necessary for the merger to close, but it's nonetheless good news at the end of a long process for Comcast.
In a post on the company corporate blog, Comcast Voices, David Cohen, exec VP-public policy, said Comcast was "gratified" in the FCC and Justice Department's progress in moving toward approval of its transaction with NBC Universal. "After nearly a year, with one of the longest public comment periods in transaction review history, the filing of thousands of substantive comments, and the production of over 500,000 pages of documents by Comcast, we look forward to an expeditious vote in January by the full Commission approving the transaction," he wrote.
The merger will also be scrutinized heavily for privacy concerns as Comcast looks to take a leadership role in advanced advertising formats like addressable advertising (or contextual advertising delivered at a zip code or even household level) and interactive ads. Comcast has the country's largest base of pay-TV subscribers, and with NBCU will soon have the largest suite of broadcast and cable networks to experiment with advanced ad formats that can hyper-target consumers based on purchasing data synced with customer-loyalty cards and other set-top box data.
As Ad Age reported, the executive suite for the new Comcast-NBC Universal was recently put in place by Steve Burke, Comcast's chief operating officer and soon-to-be chief of the new venture.
Mr. Cohen added in his note, "We believe the draft FCC order as circulated ensures these benefits will be realized and will enable us to operate the NBC Universal and legacy Comcast businesses in an appropriate way. We will continue to work with the Commissioners so that the FCC Order will not undermine our business combination and will ensure that consumers will benefit and that competitors are treated fairly."