Roberts: NBC Has 'Super' Show Picker in Bob Greenblatt

Tells DC Audience He Believes Comcast/NBCU Now Largest Recipient of Advertising
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Comcast chairman Brian Roberts was supportive of the programming team at NBC in a Q&A session at the Economic Club of Washington Thursday.

He suggested success was "all about people." Talking about NBCU CEO Steve Burke, he said it takes time to put a team together, adding: "You never get it just right and you always are making some changes." But he said Burke had a "super person" picking shows at NBC in Bob Greenblatt. "He's going to get grief when it fails and praise when it succeeds. And there is going to be more of that attention than any business going because it's NBC."

Roberts spent some of his time demoing Comcast's new cloud-based program guide on the new Infinity X1 set-top, which is launching in April in the D.C. market. But he said that Comcast will already be showcasing the next generation of the X1 Infinity service at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association convention in Washington in June.

He demonstrated that the new remote does not have to be aimed at the TV, and suggested it was now easy to turn on parental controls. He also demoed a next-generation remote that was voice-activated and showed how the box could bring up suggested program choices based on a consumer's preferences.

Asked to identify key inflection points for the company's success, Roberts identified Microsoft's investment in his company and Comcast's purchase of AT&T Broadband as the two keys to Comcast's growth -- from a small Tupelo, Miss., cable op to a business with a $107 billion market cap.

He pointed out that in 1997 Comcast had announced it was going to build out fiber and the market hated it because it did not see the return. (At about the same time Roberts was speaking, a few blocks away, National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell was suggesting that one reason usage-based broadband pricing was a way to recoup some of the industry's capital investment). Roberts went to Bill Gates, who advised him he would ultimately have a bigger business outside TV than in it. But Gates did more than that. He invested $1 billon in the company without taking any voting stock, joining the board or requiring Comcast to take any Microsoft products. He said Gates more than quadrupled his money. But beyond that: "He wanted to create a little competition between ourselves and the phone companies and anyone else to do this new data business that would become the Internet. "He took the least likely successor, the cable industry, and gave it a shot in the arm to go against the big phone industry."

The other big play was the purchase of AT&T Broadband, which was twice Comcast's size, which gave him the critical mass to invest in innovation and service.

Roberts also said he thinks Comcast/NBCU is now the largest recipient of advertising, and that he sees a "pretty good" economic recovery in progress.