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December 4, 2009 1:00 PM

Turf Battle Ahead Over Who Gets to Review Comcast-NBCU Deal

Posted by Julie Triedman

Washington lawyers are on the lookout for an interagency tussle over who gets to handle the antitrust review of the proposed Comcast deal for control over NBC Universal, according to The Blog of Legal Times, our sister publication.

“It should be a colossal clearance fight” between regulators over the high-profile matter, one lawyer told the BLT.

The NBCU joint venture, valued at $30 billion, was announced Thursday morning. Comcast said then that antitrust review may last as much as a year given the size and high-profile nature of the media consolidation.

But first you have to get to the starting line. BLT reporter Jenna Greene reports that regulatory turf battles between the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission over who gets "dibs" on a deal have lasted as long as a year in the past.

That's because the case is high-profile and recent history leaves it unclear which agency should get it. Both can make a good case for conducting the investigation, known as a clearance process.

The DOJ, for example, reviewed Viacom’s purchase of CBS in 1999, Walt Disney’s acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC in 1995, and the 2008 merger of DirecTV and Liberty Entertainment.  But the FTC reviewed NBC’s acquisition of Vivendi Universal assets and Comcast’s joint acquisition with Time Warner of Adelphia Communications.

Either way, it's likely to require a small army of lawyers and hordes of document reviewers. Arthur Burke and Ronan Harty of Davis Polk & Wardwell are leading Comcast’s antitrust team, as we reported Thursday. GE and NBC Universal have tapped Arnold & Porter’s William Baer and Deborah Feinstein.

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