The new millennium saw Comcast transform from a cable company with some programming assets and a bent toward new technologies into one of the world’s biggest media conglomerates.
Comcast continued its system buying spree, including swallowing up Lenfest Communications in 2000, Adelphia Communications (with Time Warner Cable) in 2005 and Patriot Media in 2007. But they all were dwarfed by Comcast’s 2002 deal to merge with AT&T Broadband in a deal valued at $72 billion. The transaction made Comcast the biggest U.S. cable operator, with 22 million customers in 41 states including 17 of the top 20 TV markets in the U.S.
“That deal was a miracle,” Brodsky said. “It was the fish swallowing the whale, and we did it our way. Brian stood his ground and we got what we wanted.”
In sticking with Burke’s strategy of rolling out new products, Comcast was now in a position to really control what was developed and deployed. High-speed data, telephony, high-definition TV, video-on-demand and other new technologies were methodically launched throughout the company’s footprint in the ensuing years. At the same time, Comcast was making up for lost time in the programming arena by acquiring Outdoor Life Network, upping its stake in Golf Channel and E! and launching more regional sports networks.
Having digested AT&T Broadband, newly named Comcast chairman Brian Roberts and his team was ready to swallow another whale. The company made an unsolicited bid for The Walt Disney Co. in 2004.
Comcast’s board had come to the conclusion that they could keep programming costs under better control if they owned content. But things didn’t work out well for the boys from Philadelphia. Disney’s board soundly rebuffed Comcast’s offer. Brodsky characterized the botched effort “the most embarrassing moment in Comcast’s history.”
The Disney deal may have been a debacle, but it did not dissuade Brian Roberts from going after a bigger kettle of fish — and Comcast’s most daring and expansive deal ever — five years later when it and General Electric agreed to a joint partnership to own NBCUniversal. The deal called for Comcast to own 51% of the venture, with GE holding the remaining 49%. Comcast had seven years to buy the rest of GE’s stake in NBCU but earlier this year, the company bought GE’s 49% stake outright for about $16.7 billion. (Comcast subsequently added NBC’s iconic peacock to its corporate logo.)
In 2010, Burke became NBCU’s CEO and has been hard at work revamping and reorganizing the company’s broadcast and cable networks, making the media firm more efficient and profitable.
Brodsky credits the vision and verve of Brian Roberts with turning Comcast into the powerhouse it is today. Unlike his dad, who got into the cable business knowing nothing about it, the younger Roberts learned the industry from the ground up. He was mentored by some of the smartest minds in the cable business. And he’s used that knowledge to take Comcast to new levels with the help of a cadre of well-respected and veteran executives.
“Brian has taken us places we couldn’t have taken it,” Brodsky said. “He has a tremendous management style and has assembled the best team imaginable. The sky is the limit.”