Comcast Tries Virtual Annual Meeting

2016 shareholders scrum will be done entirely online
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Comcast shareholders won’t have to worry about catching planes, trains or automobiles to make to next month’s 2016 Annual Meeting of Shareholders. This time the annual confab will be held entirely within the electronic confines of the Internet.

In filing its annual proxy statement Friday, Comcast said that the 2016 Annual Meeting of Shareholders, scheduled for May 16 at 9:45 a.m., will be conducted entirely online. And barring any technical disasters, it’s the way the company wants to handle the annual ritual from now on.

The practice of virtual annual meetings is not new – the first company to hold one was consulting group Inforte in 2001 – and according to TheCorprateCounsel.net, 93 public companies held online shareholder meetings in 2014. For the most part, virtual meetings were the bailiwick of smaller, more obscure companies until Martha Stewart Living OmniMedia conducted one in 2012 and Hewlett-Packard took the plunge in 2015. Intel, which began offering shareholders the option of attending in person or online in 2008, is holding its 2016 annual meeting exclusively electronically on May 19.

According to Comcast, shareholders will be given an 16-digit control code on their share proxies to log in to the virtual meeting and can ask questions via their computers. Shareholders will be able to vote their shares electronically during the meeting, except with respect to shares held in the Comcast Corporation Retirement-Investment Plan or the Comcast Spectacor 401(k) Plan, which must be voted prior to the meeting. Non-shareholders can access the audio feeds and view presentation slides online through a “guest-only” option, but won’t be allowed to vote or ask questions.

According to Comcast, shareholder turnout for its annual meetings is usually low – 35 showed up for the 2015 annual meeting at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia. With the new technology, more shareholders will be able to access the meeting.

“We are excited to embrace cutting edge, virtual meeting technology that we believe will provide expanded shareholder access and participation, improved communications and, over time, cost savings for our shareholders and company,” Comcast said in its proxy statement.

Annual meetings have long been an opportunity for shareholders to rub elbows with the people who run the companies they own, and in some cases, grab a few perks. The Walt Disney Co. annual meeting has long been a spectacle for shareholders, who regularly pose for photos with statues of Disney characters at the event.

Shareholder get-togethers have also been opportunities for protesters to gain some high-profile publicity and for activists and shareholders’ rights groups to ask their questions – also formally submitted and contained in the proxy statement – directly to the chairman, CEO and board of directors.

They also presented an opportunity for reporters to occasionally pigeonhole executives making the rounds at the meetings, but that practice has been severely curtailed in the past several years.  

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