Comcast CEO Grilled Over Company Politics, Employee Wages at Shareholders Meeting

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Brian Roberts

After Brian Roberts boasted about Jimmy Fallon and other ratings bonanzas, he faced angry Chicago workers demanding higher wages and MSNBC viewers complaining about the network's liberal bent.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said at the company's annual shareholders' meeting Wednesday that the purchase of NBCUniversal "may be one of our best stories in the company's history," but, as has become customary in recent years, he was put on the defensive over politics.

"The TV season officially ends this week, and I can proudly report that for the first time in a decade NBC will finish in first place in the coveted 18-49 television demo markets," Roberts said.

He said ratings were up at NBC 13 percent compared to a year earlier, "the biggest increase by any of the big four networks in nine years." NBC is the No. 1 network four of seven nights each week, its best in 12 years.

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He also boasted that, on most nights, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon has 150 percent higher ratings than Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC and 200 percent higher than Late Show With David Letterman on CBS.

On the cable front, Bravo is a top 10 network that had its eighth consecutive best year ever.

"In the film business, we had a wonderful year, and we're off to a great start in 2014," he said. "The movie studio had its biggest year in its 100-year history."

All the happy talk, though, was countered during the Q&A session where some shareholders complained of a liberal bias at MSNBC and Comcast in general, and from several of its own employees in Chicago, where the company and has been negotiating wages with union leaders.

One man complained that Roberts makes about as much in three hours as Comcast pays him in a year. He called for "fair living wages" so that parents don't have to work multiple jobs so that kids have to raise themselves.

After about a half-dozen employees blasted Roberts for paying them too little to work in crime-ridden Chicago, Roberts informed the attendees that he didn't intend on negotiating wages and grievances at a shareholders' meeting and that the opinion of Chicago workers isn't reflective of those of all 130,000 Comcast employees.

As for politics, a woman complained that MSNBC "intimidates" black Republicans, and she noted that she had to show I.D. to get into the meeting, presumably a shot at some news anchors who say voting I.D. laws are racist. 

Another attendee accused MSNBC of "libel" against Charles and David Koch, billionaire brothers who have donated millions to Libertarian and Republican causes and who have received lots of negative coverage on the Comcast-owned network.

The same shareholder said that MSNBC has been "a tremendous gift to President Obama," so much so that he worried that the network might be violating campaign finance laws. Roberts assure the shareholder that that was not the case.

Still another shareholder promoted the idea that Comcast should not use money to influence elections and referendums. He listed some of the Democrats that a Comcast pact has given money to and he noted that Roberts penned a letter of support for Obamacare, which the shareholder called a "wildly unpopular law that has cost millions to lose their health insurance."

He also said: "Chris Matthews told interviewer Larry King that he feels, quote, group pressure to be partisan at work."

Roberts acknowledged that the shareholders are free to express their opinions and he noted that the management and tone of MSNBC hasn't changed much since Comcast purchased NBCUniversal.