February 15, 2014 at 1:00 am

Comcast may be like '30 Rock's' Kabletown

Real life merger may imitate TV show parody

Jack McBrayer, left, Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski and Tracy Morgan in '30 Rock.' Comcast's moves have parallels in the show. (Art Streiber / NBC)

Where is “30 Rock” when you need it?

During seven seasons, this clever NBC comedy made sport of the real-life acquisition of NBC Universal from General Electric by the cable giant Comcast.

In the pretend world of “30 Rock,” NBC’s new owner was the make-believe Kabletown, a mammoth so-called “family company” based, like Comcast, in Philadelphia.

But now “30 Rock,” which concluded its run last spring, isn’t around to weigh in drolly on the just-announced purchase by Kabletown, er, Comcast of its rival, Time Warner Cable.

The deal, which with regulatory approval could close by year-end, would combine America’s top two cable TV companies for a total of about 30 million subscribers. Subscribers might welcome some comic relief.

Don’t look for many high-fives on Twitter, where, in New York City and Philadelphia, “Comcast” and “Time Warner Cable” were trending Thursday with irate and woeful forecasts for what a combined company might bring. One of the operative hashtags: #Monopoly.

Through the purchase, as Comcast stated in its announcement, “more American consumers will benefit from technological innovations, including a superior video experience, higher broadband speeds, and the fastest in-home Wi-Fi. The transaction also will generate significant cost savings and other efficiencies.”


The deal could indeed result in a company whose even-greater scale makes it better able to serve its customers, as Comcast promises.

The deal could put Comcast in an improved position to launch new technical innovations and new program content.

Or, thanks to its dominant purchasing power in the marketplace, it could halt such advances in their tracks by rejecting them from its infrastructure or program lineup.

As a souped-up gatekeeper, the combined company could give preferential treatment to its own channels (which include USA, Bravo, MSNBC, E! and many more) and shut out channels that may seem to be competitive with its own portfolio.

Or, instead, it might be all the more vigilant in bringing popular channels, whoever owns them, to its customers while granting every channel equal consideration.

Consumer advocates have already passed judgment on which way it will go, and they aren’t holding their fire.

The combined entity “would become the bully in the schoolyard,” warned Public Knowledge senior staff attorney John Bergmayer in a sweeping salvo, “able to dictate terms to content creators, Internet companies, other communications networks that must interconnect with it, and distributors who must access its content.”

The Parents Television Council voiced similar worries.

The deal “would create a behemoth of near-unstoppable market power that will invariably be anti-consumer and anti-family,” said PTC President Tim Winter. “Bigger doesn’t mean better, particularly where consumers and families are concerned.”

But if “30 Rock” and its Comcast doppelganger is now gone, at least the Kabletown website can still be visited. “Why Kabletown with a K?” it asks on its home page. “Because K stands for the Kindness we show our customers, the Keen interest we take in their needs ...”

Real-life cable subscribers, however doubtful, will be hoping the supercharged Komcast, er, Comcast, recognizes all that, too.