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Kohl Slams NBC on Access to Olympics Video Online
Posted By Aruna Viswanatha On February 26, 2010 @ 1:09 pm In Antitrust, News | Comments Disabled
Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., sent a letter  to NBC chief executive Jeff Zucker Friday asking why the network required viewers to prove they subscribed to a paid television service in order to access some Olympics coverage online.
Requiring proof appears to limit competition and leaves some fans “in the dark with no way to view the sporting events that they look forward to every four years at the Winter Olympics,” Kohl wrote.
Why didn’t NBC charge online viewers directly? asked Kohl, who chairs the Senate’s antitrust subcommittee.
NBC spokesman John McKay said in an email to Main Justice that 1,100 videos, including all medal-winning performances, were available to watch for free on the network’s website. Other long-form programming was part of a subscription package, he said, in order to support the nearly $1 billion investment NBC made in the games.
The Associated Press reported earlier this month that cable and satellite companies asked for the registration in exchange for helping NBC defray some of the costs of broadcasting the Olympics.
Kohl asked for details about the policy, including whether the subscriber wall included content that had been part of a free NBC broadcast. He also asked if cable or satellite companies had paid NBC to support the NBC Olympics Web site and whether that influenced which subscription services were eligible to grant access to the site.
Consumer groups have accused the cable industry of trying to divide the market for online television by tying Web video access to existing cable subscriptions. Lawmakers in both chambers expressed concerns that the Comcast-NBC deal might limit access to television over the internet and extracted promises from Comcast chief Brian Roberts to continue to provide content to rival online video distributors.
In his letter, Kohl asked whether the Olympics policy might foreshadow future limits on watching television online. “We wonder if this policy is a harbinger of things to come should this merger be consummated, and whether requiring a pay TV subscription to access NBC internet content will [be] a standard policy in the future after this merger is completed.” Kohl said.
“It is our view that video over the internet has the potential to become a significant competitive alternative to traditional pay TV subscriptions,” Kohl wrote, “and it appears policies such as the one described in this letter may have the effect of limiting the prospect of such competition.”
Updated at 5:15 p.m. to include comment from NBC.
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