Competition Hurts, but Sometimes Can Help Make a Case at the FCC

Comcast is looking to turn the lemons of municipal broadband into the lemonade of pro-Time Warner Cable merger arguments.

Comcast executive vice president David Cohen is on the record saying he does not think municipal broadband is the best way to boost broadband deployment, and the company has made those feelings known to state and local legislators.

But that doesn’t mean Comcast won’t try to use municipal broadband to its advantage — in this case, to help get the Federal Communications Commission to approve its merger with Time Warner Cable.

In a massive filing at the FCC filled with arguments for the deal and information on virtually every nook and cranny of its business, Comcast made the point that Internet service provision is full of competitors, not only from telco and wireless providers but also such overbuilders as Google Fiber, satellite broadband and municipal-owned systems.

If cable operators are going to face subsidized competition, with the FCC even threatening to preempt state laws that limit it, Comcast said it may as well try to make up a pitcher of that lemonade and take a swig.

“For example,” Comcast said, “Santa Cruz County [Calif.] recently announced a plan to build out Internet infrastructure to extend broadband service. Indeed, as of May 2013, there were approximately 135 municipal fiber-optic networks in the United States.”

Of course, with more of those networks come the more subsidized service operators that cable incumbents have to try and match with unsubsidized business models.

But, arguably, the more there are, the less reason to argue that a combined Comcast/TWC does not face the market discipline of competitors — in this case, ones with a potential FCC thumb on the scale.

Elsewhere at the Comcast “lemonade” stand, Time Warner Cable’s ongoing carriage impasse with Los Angeles-area pay TV providers over SportsNet LA, the regional sports network it manages there on behalf of baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers, has an upside.

The stalled launch spares Comcast one more set of equations to have to submit to the FCC regarding the proposed merger.

In its request for data, the FCC asked for foreclosure models for the combined companies’ ability to deny competing distributors access to regional sports networks.

Those models run to complicated formulas with enough parentheses and coefficients and summations and integrals to set back STEM public-relations efforts for years.

But the models all rely on there being an impact on other multichannel video providers in the market. And no MVPD is carrying SportsNet LA other than TWC affiliate Bright House Networks. The others have complained about the price.

For Comcast, that is an opportunity … to save a page full of calculations.

Comcast conceded that as part of the deal, it will take over distribution and operation of SportsNet LA. “However, because the RSN is currently not carried by any of the major rival MVPDs, there is no transaction-specific foreclosure issue,” Comcast said. “Therefore, we do not apply the commission’s foreclosure model to SportsNet LA.”

This Time, Emeril’s Helping Everyday Cooks Get Placed ‘On the Menu’ at Eateries

NEW YORK — With his sixth cable series, Emeril Lagasse is adding a little spice to the cooking show format.

TNT competition show On the Menu will let viewers try the winning dishes made by everyday cooks, whose culinary creations will ultimately grace the menus at such restaurant chains as Chili’s, The Cheesecake Factory and Lagasse’s own Emeril’s.

Premiering Friday, Oct. 3, at 8 p.m., On the Menu features Lagasse as a cooking mentor and home makeover star Ty Pennington crossing genres as host. Each of the 10 episodes will focus on creating a distinctive new menu item for one of the restaurant chains with Lagasse’s guided expertise. The restaurant challenges range from barbecue to modern fusion and more.

Along with getting their dish on the menu of the select restaurant, the winners will also receive a $25,000 prize.

“It’s really great to see these amateur cooks from all walks of life, just trying to really reach deep and make their dishes a little bit more special, whether it’s a dish of their grandmother’s, mom’s or aunt’s,” Lagasse told The Wire at the show’s launch party at Soho House here on Sept. 23.

Pennington, famous for ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and TLC’s Trading Spaces, doesn’t plan on making a permanent switch to kitchen-based reality shows. At the On the Menu premiere event, he expressed a love for food and what the show represents.

“This show is rooting for the underdog, and that’s who these guys are; they’re not like the fancy chefs you see on TV,” Pennington said. “It’s great to see people put their hearts and souls into something where they don’t just get a ribbon, they get put on the menus where millions of people go to eat.”

Each episode will feature four contestants, who start off knowing which eatery they’ll be cooking for, competing in a set of elimination rounds. In round two, the three chosen cooks will create their original dish and serve it to the audience. A viewers’ vote then decides who will go onto the final round.

The two remaining cooks then serve their dishes to Pennington, Lagasse and the restaurant’s representatives, who pick the winning creation.

The restaurant chains involved will keep the winning dish on the menu for 90 days in all locations, before deciding whether it warrants longer placement.

— Jaclyn Tuman

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.