Senator critical of NBC online Olympic coverage
WASHINGTON (AP) – A Wisconsin senator criticized NBC Friday for its handling of online access to the Vancouver Olympics, calling it unfair and restrictive.
Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl, chairman of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, wrote NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker to complain about an NBC policy that he said appears to restrict online access to people who subscribe to a pay TV service or who have a provider that is partnered with NBC. Kohl said the policy unfairly prevents everyone else from seeing Olympic events.
Kohl said he doesn’t understand why NBC doesn’t offer viewers the opportunity to pay directly for online access to Olympic coverage.
“I fear that that this practice of locking up certain content only for pay-TV subscribers may be a preview of what is to come with respect to TV programming shown on the Internet, particularly in the context of the proposed Comcast/NBC Universal merger,” said Kohl.
The criticism of NBC comes after congressional Democrats challenged executives from Comcast and NBC Universal at hearings earlier this month to show that the cable TV operator’s plan to take control of the entertainment company won’t hurt consumers. Lawmakers expressed concerns that the merger could lead to higher cable TV rates and fewer video programming choices.
In his letter, Kohl asked if, after the merger is completed, viewers will be required to have a pay TV subscription to access NBC Internet content.
“It is our view that video over the Internet has the potential to become a significant competitive alternative to traditional pay TV subscriptions,” he said, “and it appears policies such as the one described in this letter may have the effect of limiting the prospects of such competition.”
As content becomes more readily available through the Internet and multiple cable channels, those who distribute that content are concerned people will migrate to free online sites to watch events.
In response to Kohl, NBC Universal said it is broadcasting 190 hours of programming, is making available more than 250 hours of material across four of its cable networks and is also making Olympic coverage available online.
The online material is being made available through NBCOlympics.com, which offers an advertising-supported product with video highlights, including videos of nearly every individual performance and all individual medal-winning performances, the company said.
The site also offers longer programs such as hockey games that are available only to people with subscription packages from cable, satellite or telephone companies, NBC said.