Diverging On Diversity

Washintgton-- Comcast and
NBC Universal sweetened the
pot on promoting diversity last
week. The early read from critics
of the two parties’ planned joint
venture: Good, but at least for
some, not good enough.

The companies’ new and expanded
pledges (see box, this
page) came in advance of a House
Judiciary Committee field hearing
in Los Angeles last week that
focused on diversity issues.

While NBCU executive vice
president for diversity Paula Madison
outlined the new proposals
in her testimony at the hearing,
there was little immediate reaction
from the committee. For her
part, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.)
— who was a prominent figure
in the hearing and has been
pushing the Federal Communications
Commission to keep diversity
front and center in its review
of the proposed joint venture —
had more to say about the motivation
of the announcement than its
substance, saying she still needed
to review the proposals. According
to an aide, Waters doubted
that the new pledges would have
been made save for the big stick
of a hearing.

“We released an unprecedented
number of commitments on
day one of the deal announcement,
including several dealing
with diversity issues,” said Sena
Fitzmaurice, spokeswoman for
Comcast, which would control
51% of NBCU once the deal to create
the joint venture is approved
(current NBCU parent General
Electric would control 49%).
“We’ve been working with diversity
groups, members of Congress
and other interested parties since
the deal announcement on additional

Motives aside, the effort was
given credit for advancing the
ball by some of the deal’s critics
— just not far enough.

“More is always welcome,” said
Corie Wright, policy counsel with
media-reform advocacy group
Free Press. “But it still doesn’t alleviate
the concerns we would
have about the merger, and there
are still some key issues where
Comcast and NBC could be making
commitments to serve communities
of color better and they
still haven’t.”

One such worry is local news.
“NBC and Comcast agreed to increase
the amount of local news
aired across the owned and operated
NBC stations,” in their initial
FCC public-interest filing, according
to Wright. “They do not make
a parallel promise to [Spanishlanguage
network] Telemundo,
which begs the question of Why
are you willing to invest in local
programming for NBC but not for
the Spanish-language stations?”
Free Press last week signaled it
would file a petition to deny the

In response, Comcast’s Fitmaurice
made note of the “significant
commit tments” the
deal partners made to increase
public-af fairs programming
aimed at Hispanics.

“For example, in our Public Interest
Statement filed in January,
we explained that Comcast would
develop new ways to make the
programming Telemundo is producing
with award-winning journalist
Jose Diaz-Balart available
to millions of potential viewers, at
more times and on more platforms
than would be the case without
the transaction,” she said, noting
that NBCU has committed to expand
Telemundo’s programming
through use of the digital spectrum
of its owned-and-operated
stations and its On Demand and
On Demand Online platforms.

“I think [the proposals] are inadequate
and we have a long way
to go,” said Samuel Kang, managing
attorney for The Greenlining
Institute, who testified at the
hearing in opposition to the deal,
slamming the companies’ business
strategies as “gut, cut and

He called Comcast’s pledge to
add at least three independent
channels with “substantial” minority
ownership over the next
three years “a step in the right direction,”
but said the Philadelphiabased
MSO will need to do much
more “to approach adequate representation
of the diverse demographics
in the country.”

There seems to be a “diversity
divide” over the deal. While legislators
heard plenty of criticism of
the two partners’ diversity efforts,
there seemed as many groups who
saw things quite differently.

Associations represent ing
black mayors and black and Hispanic
state legislators all weighed
in over the past couple of weeks
in favor of the deal, and some witnesses
in Los Angeles stepped up
to vouch for the companies’ past
efforts and praise what they said
would be their combined power
to do more.

Will Griffin, president of African
American-targeted programmer
Hip Hop On Demand,
blamed advertisers for not paying
for the viewers minority-targetted
media were delivering
— and offered thanks to Comcast
for carrying his service. The minority
makeup of the company “is
vastly superior to any other media
company and is eons ahead
of the advertising, telecommunications,
and financial services industries,”
said Griffin.

L.A. hometown hero Magic
Johnson praised the deal in written
testimony, praising NBCU
CEO Jeff Zucker for making diversity
a business imperative and
saying he was one of the few CEOs
who did. Johnson (a National Basketball
Association analyst for
NBC Sports in the 1990s) was the
keynote speaker at NBC Universal’s
first Diversity and Inclusion
Week in March: “Jeff Zucker and
his executives have made it crystal
clear that cultivating diversity
makes good business sense in
today’s demanding economy,”
Johnson wrote.

Groups Ask for Denial
WASHINGTON — Look for Media Access Project to file a petition
to deny approval to the Comcast-NBC Universal joint venture.

That is according to Media Access Project senior vice
president and policy director Andrew Schwartzman. MAP
has been a critic of the deal that would give Comcast, the
nation’s largest cable operator, 51% control of the media
company, but it will make its outright opposition offi cial
on June 21, when those petitions are due at the Federal
Communications Commission.

Schwartzman would not say how many groups MAP is
joining on that petition, but a source says that frequent allies
Free Press, Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation
of America will be joining in the petition.

A spokesman for Public Knowledge, which also has
problems with the merger, said it is still contemplating its
legal strategy.

NBC Universal and Comcast last week committed to a series of new
and expanded diversity initiatives:

Minority Ownership: Comcast commits to add at least three new independently-owned and operated
cable nets with “substantial minority ownership” (it did not specify what percentage).

Advisory Councils: Comcast and NBCU will establish four diversity advisory councils representing African
Americans, Latinos, Asian-Pacific Islanders and other constituencies.

Entertainment/News: NBCU pledged to expand or continue to support five diversity programs targeted
at different aspects of entertainment production, including four pipeline development programs for
programming development and management). The company will also expand six diversity programs
targeting news.

Philanthropy: Comcast will increase its community investment in minority-led and minority-serving
institutions by 10% per year for each of the next three years; NBCU will increase its funding by 10% per
year for each of the next three years for key organizations serving under-served and diverse communities.

Supplier Diversity: Comcast and NBCU will increase the percentage of business conducted with minority-
owned vendors, with the goal of mirroring the percentage of minority-owned businesses in the communities
they serve.
SOURCE: NBC Universal

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.