Roberts Pitches Merits of On-Demand Ads

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New York— Extolling on-demand service results — like logging 1.4 billion orders in 2005 — Comcast Corp. chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said advertisers eyeing targeted audiences should take a closer look.

Roberts, speaking at the Business Week Media Summit last Wednesday, compared the power to advertisers of on-demand programming to Internet search giant Google Inc.

“Why is Google so valuable? Because it gives you, after a very targeted search, access to those of us who did the search,” Roberts said. “It’s an advertiser’s dream. If we can morph the television model into that targeted just-what-people-want world and then deliver that to advertisers — hello, cable is in the best position to do that.”

And because Comcast, the top U.S. cable operator, is in 22 of the top 25 cities in the country, it should be the first choice for advertisers looking to break into on-demand, Roberts said. “That’s why Google and others have called us and said, 'We want to work together.’ ”

Last Wednesday, Comcast and Nielsen Entertainment said they agreed to pursue a trial of Nielsen’s new on-demand measurement service, perhaps a precursor to attracting more advertisers to on-demand services.

Earlier, Roberts had some words for telephone companies entering the video business.

“I think it does not show any economic promise to be the fourth video provider in the home,” Roberts said, adding that cable has seen this before with efforts by RCN Corp. and Ameritech New Media. “Ameritech lost hundreds of millions of dollars, was purchased by SBC [Communications Corp., now AT&T Inc.], and the first thing they did was shutter it and sell it for 10 cents on the dollar. In the last 10 years, it did not get cheaper to string fiber optics to the home.”

Roberts also discounted claims by telephone companies like Verizon Communications that building a fiber-to-the-home network will allow it to get rid of its costly existing copper wire plant, saving billions.

The next day [Feb. 9] at the same conference, Verizon chairman and CEO Ivan Seidenberg had a tongue-in-cheek reply. “I know Brian well and I know his dad [Comcast founder and vice chairman Ralph Roberts],” he said. “They’re a great family. I should have sent him a note yesterday. Our stock was up $1.09 yesterday.”

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