Comcast markets retrans rights

Roberts looks to make deal involving more than cash

Cable giant Comcast Corp. wants more than straight cash deals with broadcasters for the right to retransmit their TV signals, chairman and CEO Brian Roberts told an investor conference Tuesday.

Speaking at the annual Bear Stearns Media Conference in Palm Beach, Fla., Roberts said he is looking for "win-win" arrangements, under which partners "help each other market" one another's offerings.

"With pure independent broadcasters, we think we can get a (retransmission) deal that (also) involves something other than cash — something that won't force us to increase costs to consumers or charge for free TV," he said.

Roberts also hinted at a possible breakthrough in retransmission deal talks with TV station owner Sinclair Broadcast Group, saying Comcast expects to announce a deal shortly. The companies recently agreed to extend their agreement through Saturday.

When it comes to its four largest retransmission deals, the earliest will expire only in five years, according to Roberts, who signaled no interest in early discussions. "This is not a conversation we are having any time soon," he said. CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves recently said he might look for early talks with big cable operators.

In what observers took as a reference to Moonves, Roberts on Tuesday also said he "chuckles" when hearing certain comments focused on easy, cash-focused retrans deals.

In his conference appearance, Roberts again signaled that Comcast doesn't need to acquire a major content company after it failed to buy the Walt Disney Co. years ago. "We don't feel the need to do anything," he said.

He also joked that "Disney had this horrible investment banker who wouldn't talk to us."

Asked about day-and-date film releases via cable, Roberts said Comcast doesn't mainly see it as a major new revenue stream but as a way to increase the stickiness of its cable services and a way to drive interest in high-definition TV and other services.

The Comcast CEO also expressed confidence that his company is in a strong competitive position vis-a-vis Verizon's FiOS TV video service.

Roberts also said it is only a "distant possibility" that AT&T Corp. will end up buying a satellite TV firm, a favorite object of deal talk on Wall Street.

Meanwhile, AT&T said Tuesday that it is now offering its so-called Homezone customers the ability to control their DVRs through Internet-enabled cell phones. That way, users can remotely schedule or delete DVR recordings.