Comcast Corp. executives held a day-long, on-the-record briefing for reporters at its headquarters here last Wednesday, to help provide “context” for future stories involving the company, officials said.
“This is really a first for Comcast, doing a day like today,” CEO Brian Roberts said, leading off an afternoon question-and-answer session at the gathering, which really began the night before with a tour of Comcast’s HDTV production facility at the Wachovia Center.
Roberts said there wouldn’t be much “new news,” but some items did emerge.
Cable president Steve Burke said cable operations would get to 40% operating cash-flow margins (as a percentage of revenue) in the third or fourth quarter of the year, 18 months ahead of the three-year plan after Comcast bought AT&T Broadband.
Co-chief financial officer John Alchin said second-quarter results would show Comcast was a “very active” buyer of its own stock, after it abandoned efforts to buy The Walt Disney Co.
Executives showed off a new video e-mail service for Comcast Online high-speed Internet customers, and said forthcoming voice-over-Internet protocol phone services (now being tested in 650 homes, mostly near here and in Indianapolis) could be introduced to half of the company’s potential customer homes next year if Comcast decides to move that fast.
Amy Banse, executive vice president of the programming investments division, said HDTV and ITV programming will increase at Comcast’s national programming services. “OLN is perfect for high-def,” she said, specifically Outdoor Life Network coverage of such events as cycling’s Tour de France. The recently combined G4TechTV service is “something that’s crying out to be more interactive.”
Banse also said Comcast had hired Matt Strauss, the former head of Rainbow Media Holdings’s Mag Rack service, which offers on-demand programming on various topics, to develop a similar but less-broad service for Comcast’s on-demand platform.
And Steve Silva, the executive vice president for new business development, demonstrated a new interactive programming guide coming in the next 90 days from the GuideWorks venture Comcast formed with Gemstar TV Guide International Inc.
Among other improvements: the guide will work faster than current versions of TV Guide Interactive, and advertisements are gone, leaving more room for program information and “poster art.”
In general, Comcast highlighted services that exploit its “98%” rebuilt plant and “blur the lines” among computer, video and phone services.
Roberts was asked about interest in buying Adelphia Communications Corp., the No. 5 U.S. MSO, which said it would consider offers to sell rather than emerge from Chapter 11 reorganization intact.
He called Adelphia a unique acquisition opportunity because Comcast has said it would like to somehow convert its 21% stake in Time Warner Cable into more cable systems.
“We like the cable business,” Roberts said. “Actions speak louder than words. Hopefully we’ll find a way to participate in some level and grow the company.”
But he also said Comcast didn’t necessarily have to get bigger in cable if deals with Adelphia or other sellers couldn’t be done on the right terms.