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While the conglomerate is often the topic of M&A speculation, NBCUniversal owner Comcast is “an incredibly unique, different and special company,” chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said on Wednesday, adding that “I wouldn’t want to trade places with too many people, if anyone.”
Speaking during the virtual Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference, Roberts said the past couple of years prove that “we are in good businesses (and) scale matters,” noting that during the COVID-19 pandemic some businesses, such as TV advertising, took a temporary hit, while others were “surging,” such as broadband.
In terms of content size, the Comcast chief noted a $20 billion content spend between NBCUniversal and Sky. He said the company wants to “remain one of the premier” entertainment and sports content creators, saying it reaches about 700 million people worldwide with “all of our media properties and brands.” Concluded Roberts: “I think that is scale.”
With Comcast often seen as a potential buyer of big media assets, the conglomerate’s CFO Michael Cavanagh had also told an investor conference last week that right now “the bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size.” He added: “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”
Much Wall Street chatter this year has focused on whether entertainment companies will look to boost their scale via deals after the Discovery-WarnerMedia merger announcement, including chatter about a potential NBCUniversal-ViacomCBS merger. Instead, Comcast recently struck an agreement to form the SkyShowtime joint venture with ViacomCBS in more than 20 European markets to roll out a joint streaming service.
ViacomCBS “came to us” and suggested working together, Roberts said, calling the resulting expanded streaming offer in more than 20 European countries “compelling.” He even shared: “We are looking at other partnerships like that around the world.”
Roberts also showed off a similar take on strategic priorities as ViacomCBS, calling NBCU a “house of brands,” a description his partner for Europe has also used. And he echoed ViacomCBS executives’ stance when saying NBCU would continue to monetize NBCU content in different ways depending on what makes the most sense, from putting it on Peacock to licensing it to third parties.
At European pay TV giant Sky, the company is also continuing to boost its content production budget. In that context, Roberts also mentioned he would travel to the U.K. next week to visit the planned Sky Studios Elstree there, the state-of-the-art film and TV studios set to house 13 sound stages and set to open next year.
The Comcast CEO addressed Peacock, the streaming service of Comcast’s entertainment unit NBCUniversal, after the conglomerate reported this summer that Peacock it had ended the second quarter with 54 million signups in the U.S. Roberts said it was off to a great start and shared that his team had decided a few years ago that streaming was “more friend than foe.” He concluded: “We are powering streaming, regardless whether it is our own” or not.
In that context, the topic of movie windows came up. Roberts said Peacock gives the company “the flexibility to toggle as the world evolves,” citing Boss Baby 2 as the example of a film that did well with a day-and-date release. He also gave “the team at Universal tremendous credit for reinventing” the pay 1 window when it recently unveiled the decision to divide the 18-month window into three parts.
Roberts also said the cable giant would continue to innovate as broadband usage continues to grow, mentioning the ability to pause their WiFi services when they are focused on other activities. In a sign of how that resonates with consumers, he said that Comcast subscribers paused their WiFi 60 million times this year.
Roberts also lauded the Olympics as a property despite challenges for the Tokyo Summer Olympics, saying: “We love our association with the Olympics.” But he described decision on sports rights as “really hard calls,” saying his firm was focused on the “sustainability of sports.” For example, at Sky, “we pick and choose our sports,” he emphasized.
Universal Studios Beijing, the theme park in China that officially opened on Monday, also came up, with Roberts touting its size and modern setup. He also predicted a “great resurgence” in the theme parks business following the coronavirus pandemic, because consumers “want to have fun.”
The CEO on Wednesday also summarized the state of the conglomerate this way: “The company is doing extremely well,” with a “tailwind” helping various businesses.
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