Deeper Dive—In the fight for Sky, Comcast isn't as clear a regulatory winner over Murdoch as you might think

Comcast
The U.K. is becoming more aware of reports about Comcast's spotty reputation with customers, which may sway opinions in the bidding for Sky. (Image: Comcast)

While they’ve struggled to figure out why Comcast is interested in satellite TV at this point, telecom investment analysts have largely agreed that the cable operator’s regulatory hassle will be minimal, should Sky shareholders select its $31 billion bid.

“We believe a Comcast offer for Sky would be approved by [the European Commission] and local media regulators, without much fuss,” wrote New Street Research’s Jonathan Chaplin in a note to investors this week. 

The conventional wisdom is that Comcast is vastly preferable for U.K.-based Sky when compared to rival bidder 21st Century Fox, and not just because it’s offering more money. The question lingered, would the British government let Fox chief Rupert Murdoch and his sons do to Sky News what they’ve done to Fox News in the U.S.?

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“We believe that Comcast ownership of Sky represents a much less controversial outcome for Comcast and the U.K. government,” said Jefferies analyst Jerry Dellis. “Comcast's approach could even encourage the CMA to adopt a harder line in its response to the Sky News remedies submitted recently by Fox. Comcast offers no media plurality concerns, in our view, and stresses its commitment to Sky's London HQ, to content production in the U.K. and to Sky News.”

RELATED: Comcast most likely will not come away with Sky or Fox, analyst says

Maybe … but maybe not. 

Seems the Brits are doing a little research these days and have found out that Comcast has a little bit of a reputation issue stateside. 

“Sky bidder Comcast labelled 'worst company in America’” blared a recent Guardian headline

The paper summed up Comcast’s $300 million customer service improvement campaign, by saying it’s all been “to little avail so far.” It also quoted a 14-month-old post from a lightly regarded investment site which ranked Comcast as “America’s most hated company,” just ahead of Bank of America.

RELATED: Comcast NBCU deal conditions will probably be extended if AT&T loses its Time Warner case, former DOJ staffer predicts

“On top of Comcast’s poor reputation with consumers, it is the company’s corporate transgressions that are most concerning to legal experts examining the merits of its potential takeover bid for Sky,” Guardian added. 

To back its point, the paper quoted Gene Kimmelman, known as the DOJ’s “secret weapon” on antitrust when he worked for the agency during the Obama Administration, who now serves as president and CEO of consumer group Public Knowledge. 

“Based on our experience in the U.S., it is likely that U.K. competition officials would have significant concerns about whether Comcast may harm competition and drive up consumer prices through an acquisition of all or the majority of Sky assets,” Kimmelman said.

Also quoted by The Wall Street Journal earlier this week, Kimmelman suggested that, should the DOJ establish new precedent on vertical mergers by successfully blocking AT&T’s $85 billion takeover bid of Time Warner Inc., it might circle back around and stop the sunsetting later this year of the deal conditions imposed on Comcast as part of its 2011 NBCUniversal purchase. 

Certainly, Comcast's behavior since acquiring NBCU is getting a renewed focus these days. 

RELATED: Comcast hit by FCC carriage complaint from beIN Sports

Earlier this week, FierceCable reported that global soccer channel beIN Sports complained to the FCC that Comcast has unfairly given more favorable carriage to its own NBCU-branded sports networks.

Comcast, which often lets news aggregation on sites like ours just roll on by, made sure we received their response. They seem to know what's at stake.

“Comcast was one of the first distributors to launch both beIN Sports channels in 2012 and continues to be a good partner to the network,” Comcast spokeswoman Jenni Moyer said in a statement emailed to FierceCable. 

“In fact, we have maintained our market-based distribution of beIN Sports, consistent with how it is carried by most other cable and satellite providers,” Comcast added. “Unfortunately, rather than continue to engage in good-faith commercial negotiations for a renewal of its current agreement, which does not even expire for several months, beIN Sports has disappointingly filed this complaint, which is completely without merit. Comcast has not discriminated against beIN Sports. Instead, beIN has demanded substantial increases in fees and carriage that make no business sense for our company and our customers.”

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