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A light at the End of the Comcast/NBCU Merger?

It was refreshing to attend the MMTC 8th Annual Access to Capital Conference last week. Among other things, I appreciated learning about the various opportunities for African American, Hispanic American, Asian American and Native American entrepreneurs that are interested in media and communications properties ownership.

During one session at the conference, I got an opportunity to ask three FCC Commissioners about the agency’s commitment to enforcing any conditions that may be imposed  on merging entities – especially those that promise to increase their investment in, support of and incubation of minority entrepreneurs.  I was concerned about the fact that Sirius/XM has yet to program the 4% of its channel capacity for diverse content as promised when they merged two years ago.  I have clients who wanted to be involved but ran out of time, money and patience waiting for the condition to be met.

The behavior of Sirius/XM is important because it can help give the agency context about the important issue of diversity and inclusion as it currently reviews the proposed merger of Comcast and NBC Universal. I had seen reports about promises but remained concerned as to whether or not there was room for underrepresented businesses and persons of minority descent to take advantage of the various conditions. I am anxious.

At a luncheon later that afternoon, my fears were allayed by Leo Hindery, the managing partner of InterMedia Partners, a New York-based media industry private equity fund. Hindery is a trusted friend of minority media –and not just because, for all of his years in the industry, he has done much to save minority properties (the failing Soul Train & Vibe magazine) and invest in  others, Si TV, the English language network targeted to younger Latino audiences.

During his speech, Hinderey talked about the various initiatives that he was able to broker for inclusion after the company he used to head Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI) merged into AT&T in 1999.  He stated that there are similar opportunities that can be explored with the merger of Comcast and NBC Universal. I will be taking some time to look at those conditions and see where there are synergies or duplication opportunities, and if it is not too late chime in.

One thing that has been echoed over and over again in many of these conferences I attend is that there are lower barriers to entry and tremendous opportunities for minorities to create, own and have their content and applications widely distributed and disseminating in this new broadband economy. However, unfortunately, given historical deficiencies and realities, we still  remain powerless, because as a group, we have less capital,  and are not in positions of power and influence within private industry (and public industry even) to maximize all of the prospectives.

The only way we will be able to make any headway is for there to be a conscious commitment from those in positions of power to recruit, train, employ and mentor more diverse persons within their ranks, and similarly procure, partner and incubate small minority disadvantaged  enterprises and entrepreneurs.

If anything, the feeling I came away with after the luncheon was that if leveraged properly, the Comcast/NBCU merger can be a good thing for minorities.  I am encouraged that, if done properly, and if we stay on top of it, there are many positive outcomes. The challenge is being organized and strategic to make that possibility become a reality.

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