Boucher letter spells trouble in pay-ville

Comcast-NBC Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), chairman of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee tossed a live grenade into the TV industry’s scrum over its online future. In a letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, Boucher urged the commission to approve Comcast’s pending merger with NBC Universal, but only after imposing several conditions. Among those is a demand that none of NBC’s programming currently available for free online or over-the-air be moved to any sort of paid platform.

The FCC isn’t required to follow Boucher’s “advice,” but given his committee’s oversight of the agency’s budget ignoring it would be un-shrewd on Genachowski’s part. But it’s a big ask of Comcast. It’s also not-great news for content creators doing business with NBC or its cable networks.

While Boucher wants Comcast to keep NBC content free, the rest of the industry is busy moving currently free content to paid platforms as quickly as possible. Just yesterday, Comcast announced a new 10-year carriage deal with CBS that includes both per-subscriber payments for retransmitting over-the-air content and a significant (if unspecified) online component. With that deal in their pocket, CBS officials are already looking to migrate more content to paid platforms like Hulu Plus.

A keep-it-free requirement might not be enough to make Comcast walk away from the deal, but it would certainly put NBC out of step with its peers.

Further reading:

Tricky Rick: Boucher Urgers FCC to Approve Comcast-NBC Deal Sans Neutrality Conditions

Broadcast Panel Chief Wants Conditions on Comcast-NBC Deal

CBS Stock Rises on Comcast Deal