Roberts: Adelphia Auction Will Be Long

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In his first public appearance since the announcement that Comcast Corp. was considering making a joint bid for Adelphia Communications Corp. with Time Warner Inc., Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said he expects the auction process to be a long one.

Roberts, speaking at the Merrill Lynch Media & Entertainment conference in Pasadena, Calif., confirmed that Comcast and Time Warner would try to pursue a joint bid for Adelphia.

“It’s going to be a long, open process,” Roberts said. “In the beginning, a number of their folks had said to us that they were looking for certainty of close, something expeditious and something where there is certainly going to be plenty of interest in the variety of systems. We’re hopeful to just have a look.”

Adelphia said last week that more than 20 parties have signed confidentiality agreements necessary to participate in the auction. As of Wednesday morning, that number had doubled to more than 40 parties, according to Adelphia spokesman Paul Jacobson.

At the conference, Roberts wanted to concentrate more on a separate deal Comcast struck with Time Warner -- its agreement to surrender 4% of its 21% interest in Time Warner Cable in exchange for $750 million in cash and 90,000 cable subscribers.

Comcast received the 21% stake as part of Time Warner’s unwinding of the Time Warner Entertainment partnership. Comcast had agreed to divest the stake within five years.

Last year, Comcast asked for registration rights for the interest, which it suspended as part of the new agreement.

“That transaction would begin the process to dispose of a multibillion-dollar stake that we didn’t want to wake up at the end of five years and say, ‘We have to have a fire sale,’” Roberts said. “We’re working well with Time Warner. We have an orderly process, but we gave ourselves some time to see where Adelphia played itself out, and we’re going to try to work together on that.”

Roberts also praised Comcast’s recent participation in Sony Corp.’s $4.9 billion purchase of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. Comcast agreed to invest $300 million for a 20% stake in the combined Sony/MGM, and it has a separate video-on-demand deal and a joint venture to develop new cable channels using content from the studios.

Roberts said that initially, Comcast will have access to 400 movies and 300 television series from the combined Sony/MGM, all of which it can use on its free-VOD platform, except for more recent movie releases. The combined Sony/MGM library consists of 7,000 movies and 10,000 television series.

“It’s a fabulous, fabulous programming opportunity,” he added.

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