Comcast and the Justice Department (DOJ) may be forced to revisit their consent decree that governs Comcast’s recent acquisition of a 51% stake in NBC Universal (NBCU), as a federal judge reviewing the settlement has objected to arbitration terms contained in that agreement. At a fairness hearing last week, Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia took issue with consent decree provisions that pertain to online video distributors (OVDs) seeking to license broadcast, film, cable and other content owned or controlled by Comcast-NBCU. Under the terms of the decree, OVDs that are unable to reach an agreement with Comcast- NBCU would seek redress through the DOJ, which, in turn, would launch a “baseball-style” arbitration process through which the arbitrator would evaluate the offers made by each side and select the best offer. Citing a provision that forbids appeals of the arbitrator’s decision, Leon advised the parties: “I’m giving you fair notice I’m not sure I’m going to sign this.” Although an attorney for the DOJ explained that the clause forbidding appeals is intended to encourage parties to reach agreement among themselves and thus to speed the arbitration process, Leon maintained, “my concerns are . . . it’s not in the public interest.” Describing Leon’s rebuke as extremely rare, experts indicate that they had to look all the way back to 1994 to find the last high-profile case in which a federal judge refused approval of a DOJ consent decree. (In that year, Judge Stanley Sporkin of the U.S. District Court in Washington rejected an antitrust settlement between the DOJ and Microsoft.) Although officials at Comcast and the DOJ have confirmed that they are reviewing Leon’s comments and are deciding how to proceed, sources say the parties are likely to amend the consent decree to alleviate Leon’s concerns.