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Activist Shareholders Target MSNBC During Comcast's Annual Meeting (Audio)

Brian Roberts
Angela Weiss/Getty Images
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts

CEO Brian Roberts is asked: "Why would a conservative person in any state want their money to go pay for Al Sharpton’s salary?"

Those who own Comcast stock and took the time to vote shot down a couple of shareholder proposals on Wednesday at the media conglomerate's annual meeting in Philadelphia. Others who attended were simply there to complain about the politics of MSNBC.

One proposal sought to undo Comcast’s dual-class voting structure, a system that affords CEO Brian Roberts one-third voting rights though he owns only 3 percent of outstanding shares, according to those who supported the measure.

STORY: Comcast CEO Brian Roberts Earned $29.1 Million in 2012 

Also not passing was a proposal prohibiting the accelerated vesting of equity compensation awards to executives upon a change of control of the company, an exercise supporters said could lead to some executives receiving monetary windfalls regardless of performance.

The company did not support either measure.

Also at the meeting, shareholders reelected the entire slate of board nominees.

Roberts boasted that Comcast stock climbed 60.7 percent in 2012 compared with a 16 percent advance for the S&P 500. He also said that if an investor had purchased 1,000 shares of Comcast at $7 apiece when his father founded the company in 1972, their investment would be worth $6.3 million today.

The CEO said its NBCUniversal asset performed extraordinarily well in 2012 in no small part due to the London Olympic games, which were watched by a record 219 million Americans across all platforms.

Ted, The Lorax and Les Miserables led Universal’s studio operations, he said.

Tea Party members and other conservatives had been planning a show of force to protest the liberal slant of MSNBC, and at the top of the meeting a Comcast executive laid down the law: No repetitious or lengthy questions and no disruptions would be tolerated.

About a couple of dozen protesters showed up outside the meeting in Philadelphia, some with signs ridiculing MSNBC and liberal media.

Inside the venue, the first question came from Tom Borelli, an activist shareholder who helped spread the word to conservatives that MSNBC would be targeted at the meeting. Borelli tried to make the case that conservatives were ditching Comcast’s cable service “because of the overwhelmingly biased and misleading coverage by MSNBC.”

“If you sit back and think about it,” said Borelli, “why would a conservative person in any state want their money to go pay for Al Sharpton’s salary? Have you contemplated the damage that MSNBC and its biased coverage is doing to the overall Comcast business?”

Roberts didn’t buy the premise, given all of the distributors – Time Warner Cable, Dish Network, DirecTV, Verizon, AT&T – that carry MSNBC.

“Ultimately, I think, giving diversity of voices has been what cable has stood for all these years, whether it’s one side or another, so I don’t think in the long run it will change the trajectory of Comcast cable," Roberts said.

Borelli countered that internal polls at FreedomWorks, a Tea Party organization he’s affiliated with, suggests 50 percent of conservatives would consider dropping Comcast services due to its ownership of MSNBC.

Roberts, though, noted that churn at Comcast is better than it is at competing cable and satellite TV services.

“Conservatives may abandon your business. That doesn’t make sense to you to test that possibility?” Borelli asked over an objection from a different Comcast executive that his question was turning into a debate.

“We appreciate the comment. All the management’s here. We heard your point. Thank you very much,” Roberts said.

Most of the rest of the questions and answers during the meeting were not webcast.

Audio tapes from inside the auditorium, though, indicate there were at least two more politically charged questions about MSNBC, including one from Borelli's wife Deneen, who continued the attack on Sharpton.

"So despite the fact that he's dividing the country and incites racial tension and that he has this platform with your network, you stand behind him 100 percent?" she asked.

"We don't get involved with that decision as per our agreement with the FCC," Roberts said. Since purchasing NBCU, Comcast has largely taken a hands-off approach to programming, leaving that to the NBCU executives.

Q&A: MSNBC President Phil Griffin on Whom He'd Poach From Fox News and Why Obama Avoids the Network

Another shareholder accused MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and Mika Brzezinski of exploiting a kindergarten shooting in Connecticut to advance an anti-gun agenda. He also complained some Comcast TV networks refused to take ads from groups that support the Second Amendment, while at the same time "gratuitous violence" can be "witnessed at all hours of the day on Comcast cable." 

"That's your point of view," Roberts said. "We simply aligned our policy with different parts of the company, with different positions, and what ads they'll accept," Roberts said.

"If you're naive enough to think that Americans who respect gun rights aren't gonna vote with their wallets and leave Comcast, you're as naive as you are hypocritical," the shareholder said.

Listen to the audio below. 

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com