Comcast CEO Touts NBCUniversal, Cable Customer Service Initiatives

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Brian Roberts addressed the cable giant's annual shareholder meeting in Philadelphia on Thursday.

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts on Thursday touted the performance of entertainment arm NBCUniversal and efforts to improve customer service at the pay TV giant's cable systems during the company's annual shareholder meeting in Philadelphia.

Comcast recently dropped its plans to acquire Time Warner Cable amid opposition from regulators, but the topic during the business portion of the event only came up once when Roberts highlighted Comcast's ongoing focus on shareholder returns. In that context, he mentioned that the company after abandoning the TW Cable deal plans announced further stock buybacks and an 11 percent increase in its dividend.

In prepared comments, Roberts said 2014 was "a year of great success for the company," highlighting its “strong financial performance” and record shareholder returns.

About NBCUniversal, he said: "We are thrilled with many, many things happening at NBCUniversal." Roberts emphasized that not only were the unit's 2014 financials up, but operating cash flow has grown about 80 percent since 2009, when Comcast first bought a majority stake in NBCU.

Roberts touted improved profits at the broadcast division, the most profitable year in Universal’s history in the film unit and the "amazing year" for the firm's theme parks. Overall, Roberts said NBCU and its CEO, Steve Burke, who was among company executives in attendance, were “doing a fantastic job.”

And he told shareholders: “We invite you all to come and enjoy, whether it’s on television or in person at Universal Theme Parks, the amazing turnaround that is happening."

Roberts also touted the strategic benefits of owning content and distribution assets, saying the Comcast cable business and NBCU are working together well. He cited last year's Sochi Olympics as one key example and partnerships with movie studios on electronic sell-through of titles as another. On the latter topic, he said: "Just in a year, we are now the number two digital retailer of all new releases, for all new movies for all studios."

At the Comcast cable systems, Roberts touted reduced video subscriber losses in 2014, leading to the firm's best performance in seven years despite "intensified" competition. 

The Comcast boss also highlighted a focus on improved customer service at the cable systems, saying better service was needed as many subscribers had good service experiences, but "some have a disastrous experience." Overall, he said "we want to transform the customer experience."

Among other initiatives, the company has launched an on-time guarantee for service appointments, crediting customers $20 automatically if personnel shows up late.

Roberts ended his prepared remarks by saying: "If you invested with my dad Ralph in 1972 and bought 1,000 shares of the stock at $7, you have now $8.6 million.” He said the stock's compound rate of return for all those years was nearly double the S&P 500's.

The meeting took place in Philadelphia, where the cable giant has its headquarters. The prepared remarks and official business of the meeting were webcast, but a general Q&A session of the meeting wasn't.

Shareholders confirmed the election of all 12 company board members and defeated three shareholder proposals, including one that called for all shares in the company to carry one vote. The Roberts family controls 33 percent of the shareholder vote. Its economic stake is smaller, but its shares carry 15 votes each.

Twitter: @georgszalai

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