Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) sent a sharply-worded letter to NBC President Jeff Zucker today complaining about the network's policy of only allowing pay TV subscribers to view full coverage of the Olympics on the Internet.
The policy, wrote Kohl, who chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees antitrust, is particularly troubling given NBC’s pending merger with cable giant Comcast Corp.
“I fear that that this practice of locking up certain content only for pay-TV subscribers may be a preview of what is to come with respect to TV programming shown on the Internet, particularly in the context of the proposed Comcast/NBC Universal merger,” he wrote.
In order to access live coverage and full-event replays on NBC’s website NBCOlympics.com, users must register with the web site and then provide information about their cable, satellite or IPTV provider.
“A consumer who has no such subscription will be unable to register, and therefore is unable to access the abundance of Olympic video content available on NBCOlympics.com,” Kohl wrote. “This requirement of being of pay TV subscriber leaves Olympic fans who do not have pay TV service, or who have service with provider that has not partnered with NBC, in the dark with no way to view the sporting events that they look forward to every four years at the Winter Olympics.”
Kohl directed NBC to answer four questions:
1) Does this policy of requiring a pay TV subscription apply to content that is aired for free over-the-air on the broadcast network, and, if so, why?
2) Why has NBC not sought to charge consumers directly for accessing Olympic content on its Internet web site, rather than requiring a pay TV subscription?
3) Has NBC received any payments from pay TV companies to support NBCOlympics.com and, if so, has that influenced NBC’s requirement that consumers subscribe to a pay TV service?
4) Are customers of all cable, satellite TV, and other pay TV subscription services eligible to register for access to NBCOlympics.com, and, if not, how did NBC decide which pay TV services’ customers are eligible to register?
NBC antitrust counsel William Baer, a partner at Arnold & Porter, could not be immediately reached for comment.
The $30 billion merger between Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, and NBC Universal was announced in December and is currently being reviewed by the Justice Department.
NBC’s Zucker and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts appeared before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday to discuss the merger.
In joint written testimony, they said the combination of the two companies Internet properties “poses no threat to competition.…. Even if one restricts the analysis to “professional” online video content, the combined entity will still have a small share and face many competitors.”
They added that the post-merger company “will succeed by competing vigorously and fairly.”