Analysts: Comcast-NBCU approval will come late, with lots of attached strings

First off, Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA), despite its rosiest of hopes, probably won't get its hands on NBC Universal before the ball drops off the Empire State Building. Second, when it does get control, it will be because it's buckled under to a variety of conditions, industry analysts say.

Among the conditions expected to be attached to the deal  are "arbitration and no-blackout provisions on programming disputes," Sanford Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett predicted in a Hollywood Reporter story. The recent, ugly retrans disputes between broadcasters and service providers have made this an open wound that regulators would like to seal before it gets worse so Comcast, as an operator and programmer, would be subject to tighter controls.

Also on the table: Comcast would be required to "offer third party distributors the same kind of distributions rights" its cable business has, said Bryan Kraft, an analyst with Evercore Partners.

Finally, online access to content is the biggest hot button of the moment but it might not be a condition because the online video market "is too nascent and NBC Uni's share of the entertainment business is too small for the government to impose conditions related to online content distribution," Kraft said.

All the analysts agree that the deal will be approved--with conditions--sometime in the first quarter of 2011 which means those NBC execs Comcast has already shown the door will probably get their year-end bonuses.

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