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Murdoch Makes Merger Rounds at FCC

News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch visited Federal Communications Commission headquarters Thursday, where regulators have placed his company's merger with Hughes Electronics Corp. on temporary hold while reviewing new market data sought from both companies.

Murdoch, an FCC source said, met with chairman Michael Powell, Media Bureau chief Kenneth Ferree and the agency team that is reviewing News Corp.’s $6.6 billion deal with Hughes, which would give Murdoch operating control of DirecTV Inc., the No. 1 direct-broadcast satellite provider, with more than 11 million subscribers.

On Oct. 16, the FCC stopped the informal 180-day merger-review clock, sending letters to News Corp. and Hughes seeking specific market data. An FCC source said the clock would likely restart in a few weeks -- a move that would likely help Murdoch to achieve his goal of wrapping up the deal by the end of the year.

Murdoch visited the FCC one day after the responses were due.

In its request, the commission appeared to be seeking data that could confirm arguments made by some cable operators that Murdoch will use control of 35 local TV stations and DirecTV to drive up the price of News Corp.'s cable networks, which are carried by cable and DBS companies.

Cable operators fear that News Corp. would withhold the stations, which carry popular National Football League games, until the cable operators paid more for Fox News Channel and other cable properties.

For example, the FCC sought data that might show whether News Corp. could profit from tactics employed by The Walt Disney Co. during a 2000-2001 carriage dispute with Time Warner Cable. Disney put pressure on Time Warner by running DBS promotions in the Houston market while battling over the price for Disney's ABC station and cable networks.