Comcast, NBCU Commit to Adding Independent Nets with Minority Backers

Looking to get in front of a June 7 House Judiciary
Committee field hearing their proposed joint venture, Comcast Corp. and NBC
Universal announced a series of new and/or expanded diversity commitments
Monday morning.

"Today Comcast and NBCU are announcing commitments that
represent an unprecedented level of dedication to diversity," said Paula
Madison, execurtive VP, diversity, who is testifying at the hearing, which will
be presided over by Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.)

The commitments include:

1) that Comcast will add at least three independent cable
nets with "substantial [minority] ownership interest" over the next
three years;

2) that they will establish four external advisory councils
(together referred to as the Joint Council), one each for repesentatives of the
African American, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander communities, and another for
"other diverse communities," and

3) that they will spend at least $7 million more on
advertising in minority-owned media next year.

The advisory councils will meet at least twice a year with
Comcast execs, one of those meetings to include the chairman and CEO.

In a public interest statement submitted to the FCC, Comcast
had already pledged to add at least two new independent networks per year for
the next three years, but now the pledge is that half of those will be minority-run
or controlled channels.

And there is much more. On the workforce diversity front,
Comcast and NBCU have pledged to increase director-level representation of
minorities' create minority focus groups to identify potential employees,
create a boot-camp program for mid-level VP candidates with at least 80% of
those diverse candidates, use search firms with a track record of identifying
diverse candates.

NBC News will add three paid internships to the six it now
gives to members of minority journalist organizations, and will commit to
increase the diversity of executives in TV and film development, production and

The companies also pledged to increase their spending with
minority-controlled suppliers with a nationwide goal of having a percentage of
those suppliers equal to the percentage of minority-owned busineesses in the communities
the companies serve.

The Peacock will also put its money where its beak is.
Comcast has relationships with a number of minority-owned financial institutions.
NBCU will be a depositor "where practicable."

As NBC has said before, it will also seek out a minority
owner for KWHY Los Angeles, a Spanish-language independent it must either spin
off or seek a wavier for (NBCU already owns two stations in the No. 2 market).

On the programming front, Comcast said it is committed to
improving its track record in bringing diverse programming to its subs, not
that it thinks its current track record is wanting. It has already launched a
Black cinema On Demand VOD channel, plans this fall to lauch an Asian version,
and said Monday that within a year of the deal's closing will launch a Hispanic

NBCU said it will double (to four) the number of networking
events for diverse directors and writers with senior NBCU execs. In addition to
continuing to fund diversity writer positions for the next three years on each
of the scripted series on the NBC network and for its late-night programs, it
will expand that program to a position on each scripted series on a NBCU cable

The companies will also increase their contributions to
diverse communities, pledging to up their philanthropy to minority-led or
supporting institutions by 10% per years for the next three years.

NBC's announcement came only hours before the panelists,
including representatives from both companies, were slated to testify in the
hearing, which was expected to focus on diversity issues.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a member of the committee,
has expressed concerns about the companies' record on diversity issues. Last
week, national groups of Black and Hispanic state legislators praised Comcast's
record in comments at the FCC, which has just re-started its informal 180-day
shot clock on the deal.

The companies also got an assist from Magic Johnson, who sent
a letter to Conyers praising NBCU's focus on diversity and the deal (Johnson
played basketball for Michigan State University in Conyers' home state). Conyershas praised Comcast's initial public interest commitments for the combinedventure, though he has also suggested he would like to see a commitment to
independent programming, access to sports programming, and "ensuring
consumers still have access to their favorite shows online for minimal or no

In the committee's first hearing on the deal back in
February, a marathon affair of some five hours, Zucker and Comcast Chairman
Brian Roberts defended their records on diversity, and in some cases pledged to
do better, reiterated their pledges to keep NBC free and over the air, and
their programming available to competitive distributors.

That hearing alternated between grillings about jobs, access
to online content, and competitive pressures to favor their own content and the
occasional rambling question, which helped push the morning hearing into

Conyers set the tone at the hearing with opening remarks
full of concern about consolidation in general. He said he had been alarmed by
the consolidation in the industry and that he thought the Justice Department's
Antitrust Division had not been effective.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.