Roberts on '09 – And Beyond


Comcast CEO Brian Roberts spoke with contributing writer K.C. Neel last week about the events of 2009, which culminated in the NBC Universal deal. “This is really the beginning of a new era,” Roberts said of the deal in which the MSO agreed to buy 51% of the media giant. “We are still a primarily cable company and our financial motivations must remain the same, yet we must continue to find ways to compete, innovate and meet customer expectations. This transaction helps us do that.”

But Roberts also said the media landscape is changing rapidly and Comcast's senior management team acknowledged long ago that the company had to change with it. By adding more content to the company's mix of programming with the addition of NBCU's cable networks and Universal Studios output and library, the company is well positioned to meet all those expectations. It opens up a slew of new opportunities as well as new responsibilities, Roberts said, including protecting the First Amendment rights of NBC News as well as the stature of NBC after 75 years.

“We believe we can use the new NBCU businesses to accelerate the movement to provide consumers with more video content anytime and anywhere they want,” Roberts said. “We have a lot to do.”

Years ago, Comcast's management identified three areas the company should focus on: cable, broadband and distribution. The company was able to create scale on the distribution side of the business when it acquired AT&T Broadband, but it was lacking when it came to programming. Comcast had a strong stable of niche networks but lacked mass-market punch. The operator tried to bring scale to the content side of the business by buying The Walt Disney Co. in 2004 but was unable to pull off the deal.

Combining NBCU's powerhouse string of networks with Comcast's niche channels creates the kind of magnitude that the AT&T deal did on the distribution side of the house, Roberts said.

Wireless is the third leg of that stool, he said, noting that Clearwire's recent success in securing additional financing will enable the company to build out a 4G nationwide network that Comcast will have access to in perpetuity.

Roberts admitted that the complexity of the company and the speed with which technology is marching ahead is enough to keep him up at night. But good planning and a strong management team have resulted in a stronger capital position than the company has ever had, he said.

Roberts is proud that he has been able to maintain a culture created by his father Ralph, Dan Aaron and Julian Brodsky 46 years ago. The company has been able to attract and keep top-notch talent — and that makes sleeping at night much easier.

“We have a family business that is professionally managed and is focused on our shareholders. Yet we have maintained a entrepreneurial environment,” he said. “If we can keep that culture going forward, I'll feel good.”