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Comcast to take over NBC Universal at midnight

Associated Press Modified: January 28, 2011 at 6:36 pm •  Published: January 28, 2011
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The nation's largest cable TV company, Comcast Corp., was set to take control of NBC Universal on Friday after the government shackled its behavior in the coming years to protect online video services such as Netflix and Hulu.

The deal's closing was to occur shortly before midnight EST Friday, Comcast spokesman John Demming said.

The takeover gives the cable-hookup company 51 percent control of NBC Universal, which owns the nation's fourth-ranked broadcaster, NBC; the Universal Pictures movie studio and related theme parks; and a bevy of cable channels including Bravo, E! and USA.

The combination had raised fears that Comcast might abuse its control of NBC Universal to favor its most valuable customers: the 23 million who rely on it for cable TV service and the 17 million who pay for Internet connections.

But the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission imposed conditions that prevent Comcast from keeping to itself NBC Universal's popular shows such as "The Office" and movies including "Despicable Me" for the next several years.

NBC's "30 Rock" on Thursday night spoofed Comcast's impending takeover from General Electric Co. As a clock bell sounded, a neon "GE" atop an office building fizzled out and was replaced by a "K" inside a swoosh resembling Comcast's logo.

"Wow, out with GE, in with Kabletown," said Tina Fey's character, Liz Lemon. "Seems like one of us should sing 'The Circle Game' right now."

Conditions imposed on Comcast were serious, though.

Regulators forced Comcast to make the full suite of NBC Universal content available as a single package to online competitors on terms comparable to those reached with more established rivals such as Dish Network Corp. and DirecTV.

NBC Universal is also expected to match new deals for smaller chunks of programming between other media firms and online video providers if it has comparable programming on hand. As an example, NBC Universal might have to make the Bravo channel's "The Real Housewives of New York City" available to Netflix Inc. if Viacom Inc. cuts a similar deal for "Jersey Shore."

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