Comcast's Brian Roberts Mum on AT&T-Time Warner, Says "We Have a Fabulous Company"

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Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts

"The Comcast element has lent a great, great stimulus to NBCUniversal," says the latter's boss, Steve Burke.

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts on Wednesday declined to comment on AT&T's $85.4 billion deal to acquire Time Warner or go into detail on what it means for Comcast and NBCUniversal.

Asked about the deal on the cable and entertainment giant's third-quarter earnings conference call and whether he felt Comcast's asset portfolio was complete, he said: “We are not going to discuss the other transaction, the proposed transaction.... We don’t typically comment on other deals.”

Without directly commenting on his appetite for further acquisitions after NBCUniversal's recent purchase of DreamWorks Animation, he went on to say: “We have a fabulous company. What we are pleased to report today I think demonstrates that. The assets are great, they are working well together.” Concluded Roberts: “I couldn’t be happier with this quarter and the momentum of this year.”

He later also called Comcast NBCUniversal "a very special company." And he touted the spirit of innovation across the company and the "symphony" efforts that have seen different parts of the company work together on key initiatives and priorities.

NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke added that the entertainment company has had "a wonderful experience" under Comcast's ownership and touted its financial growth over the past five-plus years. "The Comcast element has lent a great, great stimulus to NBCUniversal, and I think the results speak for themselves," he said.

Given that AT&T and Time Warner have been touting their planned deal's benefits for the addressable advertising business, Comcast Cable boss Neil Smit said the company has been rolling out dynamic ad insertion in VOD.
"We think we are making great progress," he said.

Burke added that his team has several advanced ad products in the market with about 100 advertisers having used them. People have been talking about advanced advertising for a long time, but “it’s not easy," he added. Calling it a "pretty important part" of the agenda for him and Smit, he said he felt the company was “ahead of the pack” on the issue.

Wall Street has been wondering if the AT&T-Time Warner deal would kick off a new round of merger mania in the media, entertainment and technology sectors.

And they have been wondering if the deal would get approved in Washington, D.C. AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson said Tuesday he was "quite confident" that regulators would pore over every aspect of the proposed Time Warner transaction, but also that they would approve it because "the data and the law will dictate." Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes similarly argued that such data suggests the deal would lead to "more competition and lower prices."

In announcing the deal this weekend, Stephenson had said: "What this is, is a vertical merger in its purest sense. Time Warner is a supplier to AT&T and we are combining with a supplier. It is a classic vertical merger. And I think you are hard-pressed to find many instances in the United States where the only remedy for the government if they had concerns was to block them. They are typically always dealt with by remedies — concessions, if you will — and conditions imposed on a combination. That’s what we anticipate happening here."

Markets are putting only a 29 percent chance on the deal getting approved by government regulators, according to The Wall Street Journal. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have both urged regulators to reject it.

Comcast itself faced opposition to its own planned acquisition of fellow cable giant Time Warner Cable, which led it to abandon that deal. Charter Communications instead ended up buying Time Warner Cable.

Comcast's purchase of NBCUniversal set off a major debate in Washington, D.C. The conditions put on that deal are seen as providing a blueprint for what AT&T can expect in terms of minimum conditions for the Time Warner deal. For example, Comcast promised not to discriminate against channels competing with its own content, accepted prohibitions on excluding its own services from internet data caps and also pledged to bolster independent minority-owned channels.

Since then, each of these topics has triggered complaints that Comcast hasn't lived up to its promises. Wells Fargo analyst Marci Ryvicker wrote in a report Monday that "D.C. has had many regrets over Comcast/NBCUniversal" and "concessions [on AT&T-Time Warner are] likely to be worse than both Comcast-NBCUniversal and Charter-Time Warner Cable.”

Oct. 26, 12:05 p.m. Updated the section on the conditions that were set for Comcast's NBCUniversal acquisition.

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