Time Warner Raises OTT Issues in Charter Deal

A meeting between Time Warner and FCC officials had analysts buzzing Friday trying to divine the tea leaves as they pertained to the future of the Charter/Time Warner Cable/Bright House merger.

According to an ex parte filing with the FCC about the meeting, FCC staffers invited former TWC parent Time Warner and its HBO subsidiary to a meeting with top FCC legal officials, including general counsel John Sallet.

According to Time Warner, "the discussion focused on certain statements made by representatives of Charter, both in private interactions and in public forums, including analyst calls and television interviews.  Some of these statements raise concerns because they suggest that a combined Charter/Time Warner Cable would be inclined to take action directed at programmers in response to the development of 'over the top,' or 'OTT,' services with the purpose and/or effect of slowing down the development of OTT options to the detriment of consumers."

The FCC is clearly focused on access to OTT content and the potential for anticompetitive behavior, including seeking input from the parties and Liberty (Liberty chairman John Malone has a 27% stake in Charter) about the issue.

Analysts were not in agreement on what that might mean. One said the fact that the staffers had sought the meeting might be a troubling sign, while another said that they still expected the deal to be approved and that the meeting was more about the staffers doing their due diligence.

Programmers frequently use mergers to try and secure better deals or insure access to content via conditions. Time Warner said it had "urged the FCC to take [its] concerns into consideration in its review of the proposed transaction and in formulating any potential conditions."

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.