DealZone

from MediaFile:

Comcast, NBC Universal pledge support for local news

Comcast has finally unveiled its formal announcement that it plans to take control of NBC Universal from General Electric. Public interest groups and various U.S. government types have been tutting and clucking over whether this media mega-deal would be against the national interest, and few doubt that Congress and the administration will want to review this plan in loving detail.

To that extent, Comcast released a memo on Thursday outlining its public commitments. There are a bunch in here, but this old-school journalist wants to point out above all else that the company said it's committed to preserving and enriching "the output of local news, local public affairs and other public interest programming on NBC O&O ("owned and operated") stations."

That's a mighty strong commitment to make. Let's hope that it doesn't do what many radio and TV stations have done for years to satisfy their government-mandated public interest requirements and stick all that stuff on the air at 5 a.m. Sunday morning. Also, how much more money will they provide?

Here, meanwhile, are some of the commitments, straight from the memo. Print them out and tape them to your refrigerator so you can hold Comcast's feet to the fire later if things don't work out as planned. I marked parts in bold:

    NBC has a proud history in broadcasting with both NBC and Telemundo. Notwithstanding the turbulence in the current media marketplace and the ongoing threats to the business model of a national broadcast network, the combined company remains committed to continuing to provide free over-the-air television through its 0&0 stations and through local broadcast affiliates across the nation. As we negotiate and renew agreements with our broadcast affiliates, we will continue our cooperative dialogue with our affiliates toward a business model to sustain free over-the-air service that can be workable in the evolving economic and technological environment. The NBC owned-and-operated broadcast stations ("0&OS ") have a demonstrated record of quality local programming in major markets around the country. Comcast also has demonstrated its commitment to local programming, including sports and public affairs, and in providing support for public, educational, and government (PEG) access programming. We want to use the combined resources of NBC and Comcast to strengthen localism We intend to preserve and enrich the output of local news, local public affairs, and other public interest programming on NBC 0&0 stations. Since NBCU was acquired by GE in 1986, the owners have abided by a policy (summarized in a filing with the FCC) of ensuring that the content of NBC's news and public affairs programming would not be influenced by the non-media interests of General Electric. The combined company will continue these policies with respect to the news programming organizations of all NBCU networks and stations, and will extend these policies to the potential influence of each of the owners. To ensure such independence, the combined companies will continue in effect the position and authority of the NBC News ombudsman to address any issues that may arise. Comcast and NBCU have strong track records in children's programming and children's issues. The combined company will make an expanded commitment to meeting the viewing needs of children, and the needs of parents to better control their family's viewing. We reaffirm our commitment to provide clear and understandable on-screen TV Ratings information for all covered programming across all networks (broadcast and cable) of the combined company. We intend to expand the availability of over-the-air programming to the Hispanic community utilizing a portion of the digital broadcast spectrum of the Telemundo O&O's (as well as offering it to Telemundo affiliates) to enhance the current programming of Tel em undo and Mun2. As a cable operator, Comcast is committed to dealing fairly with all non-affiliated video programmers with whom we do business, and to promoting program diversity. Nearly six out of every seven channels carried by Comcast Cable systems will still be networks unaffiliated with Comcast upon the completion of this transaction. We plan to honor all of NBCU's collective bargaining agreements. We respect NBCU's
    existing labor-management relationships and expect them to continue following the
    closing of this transaction.

DirecTV adds to media merger excitement

With media titans GE and Vivendi still negotiating a deal to bring cable operator Comcast into a mega-media joint venture, a management move at DirecTV is giving dealwatchers a fresh programming alternative.

Yinka Adegoke and Sinead Carew report the appointment of PepsiCo veteran Michael White (pictured below), who has no experience in pay TV, as DirecTV CEO is being read as a sign the company’s parent, Liberty Media, just wants a baby-sitter until its sells the operation in the next couple of years.

Telecom leaders Verizon and AT&T approached Liberty earlier this year, they report. Both have cross-marketing deals with DirecTV and would leapfrog the rest of the market with the addition of DirecTV’s subscriber base. But fears of insurmountable regulatory resistance put those talks on ice.

Comcast, GE and Kraft await Europe’s pleasure

The defining deals of the week, Kraft’s now officially hostile bid for Cadbury and a deal to sell a majority stake in NBC Universal to Comcast, hinge on decisions of Europe Inc, so they could well drag on many more weeks.

This morning, Kraft formally bid for Cadbury with the same offer mooted two months ago, before today’s put-up-or-shut-up deadline. Cadbury has already said no to these terms, and can be expected to do so again. But the sinking expectations that Kraft might pay more, and the lack of any other buyers coming forward, don’t help to make the case for a successful hold out by Cadbury executives.

Over the weekend we learned that GE and Comcast agreed on a valuation of around $30 billion for a joint venture between NBC Universal and Comcast, ironing out what has been a key obstacle in talks so far. But French media conglomerate Vivendi, which owns 20 percent of NBC Universal, has not yet agreed to a deal, a source said.

Did he say IPO?

Speaking in New Delhi, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt said “Discussions are ongoing whether it is an IPO or another partnership,” in response to a question on whether GE was talking to Comcast to sell a stake in the fourth-placed TV network and movie studio. With Vivendi possibly just a couple weeks away from unloading its 20 percent stake in the NBC venture, and all the talk this week about Comcast gathering coins to add the content trove to its cable mix, it might seem as if Immelt is trying to conjure something like a rabbit from a hat – or a peacock from a beret.

GE and Comcast are discussing a deal under which the largest U.S. cable firm would take control of 51 percent of NBC Universal with GE, which has the right of first refusal to pick up Vivendi’s stake if the French company exercises its annual option to sell, taking the rest. “The capital markets have definitely improved,” Immelt said. There is reason to see stability and some optimism for the future,” he said.

Set aside for a moment that the sickly advertising market that NBC already faces. The market for IPOs is picking up nicely right now, but is still in an early stage of recovery, making do with a ragtag bunch of real estate investment trusts and Chinese new-market plays. What effect do you think a big media play splashing into that pool would have on investor demand for new issues?

He’s over here…

samuel-israel.jpgIn the end, he wasn’t in some sub-Saharan refuge, an Asian island paradise or a secluded European spa … fugitive former hedge fund manager Samuel Israel III (pictured right) was holed up in a mobile home (pictured below). Israel handed himself over to authorities in Massachusetts to start his 20-year prison sentence after having faked his suicide to avoid doing camper1.jpgtime. Israel, who co-founded Connecticut hedge fund Bayou Group, in 2005 pleaded guilty to a scheme to fabricate returns and cheat investors out of $450 million. He was sentenced in April. Police said his mother convinced him to turn himself over to police. If he was hoping for another shot at fleedom, he can forget about it. “There is not the slightest possibility that I or any other judge would release you at this point,” Judge Michael Ponsor told Israel before turning him over to U.S. Marshals.

Landmark Communications could announce the sale of the Weather Channel to a group made up of NBC Universal, Blackstone and Bain Capital in the next day or two, sources briefed on the matter said. The final price on the cable network, which produces national, regional and local weather-related programs, is expected to be between $3 billion and $3.5 billion, and likely at the higher end of that range, the sources said. The parties have been negotiating directly with Landmark since Time Warner withdrew its bid two weeks ago. There is always a small chance things could fall apart or slow down at the last minute, but absent any such unforeseen problems, the deal should be announced in the next couple days, one of the people said.

BHP Billiton said U.S. antitrust authorities have cleared its unsolicited $170 billion bid for rival miner Rio Tinto. The company’s announcement said the clearance satisfied part of U.S. antitrust law requirements. U.S. law gives antitrust authorities the right to re-open their investigation if new information comes to light before the transaction closes, experts say. However in reality, the United States has now given full clearance to the deal, not that U.S. opposition is a major issue for the mega merger. Problems are more likely to be raised in Asia and Europe.