Monday, March 24, 2008

Now onto the FCC

The AP added some more meat to this story about the XM sirius merger.

The antitrust decision shifts the spotlight to the FCC, which must determine whether the XM-Sirius is in the public interest, and whether to enforce its 1997 order barring either satellite radio company from acquiring the other.

A source at the FCC said Chairman Kevin Martin has yet to make a proposal either approving or opposing the XM-Sirius combination, but has asked the agency's staff to draft documents for different possible outcomes.

This source said the FCC could be strongly influenced by the Justice Department decision. "I think it would be hard to go in the complete opposite direction," said the source.

Analysts at Stifel Nicolaus said the FCC could impose conditions, such as requiring the companies to adhere to promises (Sirius Chief Executive Mel Karmazin) made to Congress last year.

Karmazin promised lawmakers that a combined company would offer packages of channels that customers could pick on an "a la carte" basis, and that customers would be able to block adult channels and get a refund for those channels.

In addition, Stifel Nicolaus said, the FCC also may require Sirius and XM to promise that all existing satellite radios will continue to work after the companies are combined.

David Bank, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, was optimistic about FCC approval. "Now it's past DOJ, and we feel pretty optimistic it will get through the FCC," he said.

The Justice Department's decision provoked immediate criticism from a key lawmaker in Congress, Senate antitrust subcommittee chairman Sen. Herb Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat.

Kohl took the department to task for "failing to oppose numerous mergers which reduced competition in key industries, resulting in the Justice Department not bringing a single contested merger case in nearly four years."

"We urge that the FCC find the merger contrary to the public interest and exercise its authority to block it," Kohl said in a statement.

Sirius and XM said in a brief statement that they had received antitrust clearance and that their deal was still subject to FCC approval.

(Additional reporting by Diane Bartz; editing by Tim Dobbyn)

I can't imagine a scenario where these two would merge and make all of their customers buy new receivers- that would be a bad public relations move right off the bat. I like the ala carte programming idea, but I'd still like to have a variety of channels. You never know what you're in the mood for when it comes to music.

Now cable television on the other hand.....

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