Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts kicked off the Cable Show 2010 Tuesday, telling a packed audience assembled for the Hollywood Radio & TV Society Newsmaker Brunch here that they should expect no big cultural changes at NBC Universal, if the planned joint venture is approved as expected in the next six months.
"We are not going to try to ‘Comcastize' NBC Universal," Roberts said. "We don't have a ‘Comcast way ‘so to speak."
Comcast announced in December its plans for a joint venture with General Electric Co., whereby the Philadelphia-based MSO would end up with 51% control of NBCU, which includes the NBC broadcast network, several television stations, and cable channels including USA Network, Bravo and Syfy. The JV is currently going through the regulatory process, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Roberts said that Comcast plans to invest in NBCU and that Comcast will take a different approach to the programmer than its current parent, General Electric.
"[GE chairman and CEO] Jeff Immelt made no secret that the business did not fit into the core to what he is reshaping GE to be," Roberts said. "To any of the NBCU employees in the audience, as great a company as GE is, you are not the core of what they do. You can't say that about Comcast."
Interviewed by former News Corp. chief operating officer Peter Chernin (now head of Chernin Entertainment, a TV and movie producer and an adviser to Comcast on the NBCU deal), Roberts said that the company and the joint venture will strive to strike a balance between providing strong content and maintaining its social responsibility.
Asked how he would handle controversial programming issues - like if a cable news anchor criticized government officials important to Comcast business dealings - Roberts joked "That's what we invented Steve Burke for," referring to his chief operating officer who will head up the JV once it is completed. He added that Comcast has dealt with controversial issues before and has come out on top.
The NBCU venture, valued at about $30 billion, would make Comcast the premier content provider in addition to the largest cable operator in the country. Roberts said that he believes with NBC U, Comcast will continue to play a role in shaping the industry. But he said that people should not expect the JV to break new ground, especially on the retransmission consent or programming cost front.
Many in the industry had hoped that Comcast would offer some moderation to the retransmission-consent debate, which has heated up as broadcasters battle for higher and higher fees. At the same time, many cable operators complain that high programming rates from cable networks make it difficult to maintain reasonable overall charges.
Roberts said he believes programming cost disputes eventually get resolved and that the latest debate will own "water level."
"We didn't build into this deal any expectations to our investors or to the employees that we're going to try to go out and lead the way here, to take it to some place where nobody has ever been."
Separately, Roberts said that Comcast will significantly boost its On Demand movie library, offering customers in Philadelphia and Washington initially access to about 11,000 movie titles. That will increase Comcast's On Demand offerings in those areas from 8,500 hours currently to more than 70,000 hours, Roberts said. He also added that its TV Everywhere initiative, which allows customers to watch programming they subscribe to on the cable service online, will revamp its interface to make it easier to use. An announcement could come as early as this week.