Comcast Says: We Support Broadcast

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A week after announcing its deal to acquire a 51% interest in NBC Universal, Comcast pulled out all of the stops to throw its support to the broadcast side of the business, taking a good part of its presentation at an industry conference to show the possible ways it could complement and work with cable content.

At the UBS Securities Global Media and Communications conference last Monday, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts tried to put any speculation to rest that the cable giant would sell or jettison NBC's broadcast business once the deal is approved, expected in nine to 12 months.

“We believe NBC should have an affiliate station group we don't own in addition to the owned-and-operated businesses, and we should have a free broadcast signal in the air. We are not looking to change that part of the equation,” Roberts said. Comcast chief operating officer Steve Burke said that the idea that Comcast could turn the NBC broadcast network into a cable channel is “simplistic.”

“It's hard to see how you could do that, even if you wanted to,” Burke said at the conference, adding that the broadcast model works well (he said the stations are profitable, although not as profitable as they once were) and Comcast hopes to make it work better.

Aside from profitability, Burke said the stations provide a connection to each local community.

NBCU CEO Jeff Zucker, who is slated to hold the same role in the new joint venture, said that the priority will be to restore the NBC broadcast network to its former glory. But no matter its ratings status, Zucker said in a separate presentation that the broadcast model needs help, and that could come in the form of retransmission consent.

“There is an issue with the broadcasting model that exists whether you are in first place or fourth place,” Zucker said. “The fact is the cable model is a superior model to the broadcast model; we have to find another revenue stream to go along with the ad-supported model.”