Comcast went on the offensive today in a dramatic turn in its battle to gain approval for its pending $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable. Variety reports that the owner of NBCUniversal lashed out at critics of the deal, saving some of its harshest words for Discovery Communications and Netflix.
The company accused opponents of the merger of “extortion” tactics, Variety reports, saying the companies are attempting to extract favorable business conditions from Comcast in exchange for withholding criticism of the TWC acquisition.
“The largest content company to express criticism of the deal is Discovery Communications, which has said it has ‘critical issues’ with the size of a combined Comcast-TW Cable distribution pipeline,” Variety notes.
Comcast reportedly said in a filing with the FCC that Discovery, “like many other programmers, is improperly using this proceeding to promote its own financial interests.”
The report further quotes the Comcast filing saying: “In fact, Discovery demanded unwarranted business concessions from Comcast as a condition of Discovery’s non-opposition to this transaction. Such extortionate demands are patently improper. As the self-proclaimed ‘#1 Pay-TV Programmer in the World,’ Discovery does not need additional regulatory help to succeed in the marketplace. Its claims are baseless and should be rejected.”
Variety adds: “Comcast also names other critics or opponents of the merger, including Netflix, Cogent Communications, Dish Network and advertising representation firm Viamedia.”
The report notes that Discovery Chief Communications Officer David Leavy responded with a statement that accuses Comcast of trying to divert attention from the real issue. Leavy’s statement says, in part: “Comcast chooses to not talk about the substantial program discounts they currently get, or what they would do post-merger to demand extreme discounts from cable programmers or block the launch of new networks and brands. … We stand by our concerns that Comcast could use its enhanced leverage from the proposed merger to impose onerous terms that jeopardize the ability of independent programmers like Discovery to continue investing in a diverse portfolio of content and brands. Comcast’s silence on the details of key issues like program discounts, and instead, its continued strategy of intimidating voices that are not fully supportive of its position, is troubling.”
Variety reports separately that Netflix also fired back at the accusations in the Comcast filing. The report cites a statement from Netflix saying: “It is not extortion to demand that Comcast provide its own customers the broadband speeds they’ve paid for so they can enjoy Netflix. It is extortion when Comcast fails to provide its own customers the broadband speed they’ve paid for unless Netflix also pays a ransom.”