Comcast cuts deal with CBS; Boucher backs NBCU merger

These are eventful times for Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) as it moves ahead to buy NBC Universal. First, in what would appear to be an unrelated move, the powerful MSO inked a 10-year television distribution agreement with CBS that includes Showtime, the Smithsonian Channel and expanded distribution of CBS sports programming. Comcast, in return, gets expanded VoD content distribution from CBS and Showtime.

Below the surface, Comcast also removed a potential programming hurdle for a decade and proved that it is willing to deal with networks that compete with NBC. CBS, for its part, got a nice cash infusion and a "template for some of the other deals we're doing," President-CEO Les Moonves said. That template might just add another level of difficulty to the increasingly rancorous discussions between Time Warner Cable and Disney's ABC networks.

At the same time it was answering critics with the CBS deal, Comcast was getting an endorsement from a potential critic, House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher who wrote a letter to the FCC and Justice Department suggesting that they approve the merger with conditions that he said would "mitigate the potential for harm to competition and consumers."

All was not necessarily good news, though. NBC CEO Jeff Zucker got caught saying aloud what everyone already knew but kept at whisper level: NBC could start charging for online streams of its TV shows. Zucker's comments were financially sensible, if not welcome. "We have to figure out how we're going to pay for this quality content ... I do not think that it is a foregone conclusion that content should be free on the Internet."

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