NBC Concerned Over AOL-Time Warner

Tuesday, July 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — NBC is joining ABC's parent company Walt Disney Co. in expressing concerns to federal regulators that the merger of America Online and media giant Time Warner could result in an unfair concentration of power.

NBC, which is owned by General Electric Co., filed a document with the Federal Communications Commission asking them to impose a ``meaningful, enforceable commitment by AOL Time Warner to provide nondiscriminatory access'' to Time Warner's cable networks by other providers of programming.

``The merged entity will have both the economic incentive and the ability to secure substantial competitive advantage by discriminating against unaffiliated content providers in ... both interactive television and the Internet,'' NBC's top lawyer, Richard Cotton, wrote in the letter sent Monday.

Time Warner spokesman Ed Adler said the companies had already addressed the issues raised by NBC in its filings and discussions with regulators. He also repeated the companies' promise to maintain open access to its cable network by other content providers.

``Our commitment to content diversity is crystal clear and couldn't be stronger,'' Adler said. ``We are committed to consumers a broad array of the best content available, regardless of who produces it.''

Disney has also expressed concerns about the merger, but proposed more radical measures. Earlier this month Disney officials asked the FCC to require that Time Warner separate its ownership of media distribution and production properties, a proposal Time Warner chairman Gerald Levin dismissed as ``silly.''

The companies fear that as cable systems are used more for interactive TV and Internet access that Time Warner could favor movies, TV shows, music and other content made by its own subsidiaries such as Warner Brothers, CNN and HBO. Time Warner is the nation's second-largest cable company behind AT&T Corp.

NBC's filing comes just ahead of a public hearing the FCC is holding Thursday in Washington on the proposed merger. Consumer advocacy groups have also sent up warning flags about the merger, saying it would constrict competition among media outlets.

Disney has made tremendous political hay out of a bitter dispute between Disney and Time Warner that resulted in Time Warner temporarily pulling the ABC network from the cable systems in millions of homes in early May.

Disney called the move an example of brutal monopolistic behavior that could be repeated under the combined AOL Time Warner. Time Warner has since apologized over the incident and promised it wouldn't take similar actions again.