The New York Post: DOJ considering probe into Comcast plan to charge extra for Starz

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AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File

This May 21, 2018, file photo shows a sign outside the Comcast Center in Philadelphia.

The Department of Justice is weighing a probe into Comcast’s threats to charge consumers extra for movie channel Starz, which is behind shows like “Power” starring rapper 50 Cent, The Post has learned.

Officials within the DOJ’s antitrust division are looking into Comcast’s CMCSA, +1.12%  announcement last week that it will replace 17 Starz LGF.A, -0.24%   channels in its Xfinity TV package with movie channel Epix amid complaints, including by some US senators, that the move is anti-competitive, sources told The Post.

“Justice wants to know if Comcast is abusing its market power,” a source with knowledge of the watchdog’s thinking said.

“Activity out of the DOJ” is expected “soon” over Comcast’s dealings with Starz, a second source told The Post.

At issue is Comcast’s decision last week to drop the cable channel as an offering on its Xfinity TV package, effective Dec. 10, amid a dispute over pricing. The move means Xfinity customers can no longer see Starz shows like “Power” and “Outlander,” about a British army nurse during World War II, without coughing up an extra $12 a month.

“I don’t understand why @Comcast is working against me,” 50 Cent wrote on his Instagram page over the weekend. The actor, whose real name is Curtis Jackson, directed followers to a website where disgruntled fans could call to “demand a refund!”

Comcast kicked Starz off its Xfinity bundle after the cable channel began selling directly to consumers online through streaming platforms like Amazon AMZN, +1.60%   Prime, Roku ROKU, +2.38%  and the Starz app. That made it a less valuable asset, a Comcast rep told The Post last week. “All we are asking for is the same treatment for our customers.”

Comcast argues that Xfinity consumers can now get Starz a la carte for an additional $12 — just as they would if they bought the channel and streamed it.

But the dispute also foreshadows a broader blackout by the cable company of Starz’s programming across other platforms in order to convince Starz to lower its prices, experts say. Comcast would hold the cards in that fight as its pre-packaged programming makes up one-third of Starz’s 26.5 million subscribers and roughly $250 million in annual revenue.

If the DOJ moves forward with an investigation, it would have to prove that Comcast is using its power to make it difficult for streaming services like Roku to work with content companies like Starz, sources said.

The cable company has not received any subpoenas, indicating that a formal probe has not been launched, a source said.

“Program carriage issues have never provided a basis for plausible antitrust concerns,” a Comcast rep told The Post. “Today, with the current state of the market where programmers have so many options, it is hard to see any viable antitrust claim against a distributor.”

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