Roberts: Comcast Will Get Value for Nets

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Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said at an industry conference Friday that he expects his cable and broadcast networks to be fairly compensated, but hinted that the country's largest cable distribution company may be able to play a unique role in tempering the often heated debate over high programming costs.

As a result of its 51% stake in the NBC Universal joint venture with General Electric, Comcast controls a top broadcast network (NBC) and a stable of cable networks including USA Network, SyFy, Bravo, Oxygen, MSNBC, CNBC and others. Roberts has said in the past that he hoped that Comcast could play a constructive role in the programming cost debate, a position that he maintained Friday.

"There will be a market for retrans," Roberts said at the Sanford Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference in New York. "I think we will make the case for the Super Bowl and Sunday Night Football and the most watched shows on television, the Olympics, all on NBC, that we are entitled to the same as other broadcasters."

Asked by Sanford Bernstein cable and satellite analyst Craig Moffett if that meant that NBC will let the market set retrans pricing, Roberts said that is the goal.

"Ultimately that's where it's going to settle out," he said. "Will we have a point of view? Of course we will. Can we help compromises; can we help come up with win-win outcomes for both sides of the house? We want to do that."
Roberts said that NBCUniversal expects to be fairly compensated for all of its channels. While that may not come immediately, that is more due to contractual agreements with distributors that were struck before Comcast became part of the NBCU joint venture.

"There will be a market and USA [Network] will get paid fairly and we will all get rewarded," Roberts said. "There will be a little bit of a lag, but most of that lag will be because of existing contracts that we inherited. That is part of what brought us here. We think there is real growth in the business. We aren't looking at it quarter to quarter; we're looking out over multiple years."

Roberts said NBCU does not have the appetite to get even bigger on the content front. "We have a built-in answer to that question, which doesn't require acquisitions. We have to buy out GE in the next six years." He added that while that was part of the original joint venture agreement, he does not see Comcast accelerating that process and purchasing GE's 49% of the venture early.