Comcast not planning to reinvent NBC

CEO Brian Roberts: 'Each brand has its own culture'

While Comcast is excited about acquiring NBC Universal, the company doesn't plan to reinvent the entertainment giant, Brian Roberts said at the opening of the Cable Show confab.

"We're not going to 'Comcastize' NBC Universal," the Comcast CEO said Tuesday during a newsmaker brunch conversation with producer Peter Chernin at the Los Angeles Convention Center. "We don't have a Comcast way, so to speak."

"There should be a distinct culture at NBC Universal," he continued. "Each brand has its own culture. We respect that."

Roberts said Comcast has long wanted to expand their content business but had not found the opportunity until GE decided to sell NBC Universal because it was not part of their core business going forward. Roberts said cable TV will remain about 80% of their business. The deal is subject to regulatory review.

Roberts said that Comcast intends to invest in NBC Universal as part of its effort to offer more content and more choices to consumers. He said it will all fit in with plans to expand the idea of making content available all the time on as many platforms as possible.

"We have an opportunity to take the technological vision and build value for both sides (cable and broadcast)," Roberts said. "We all need each other and need to stay one step ahead of piracy and in our case, ahead of our competitors."

Roberts opened with an announcement that Comcast was expanding its 8,500 on-demand offerings to consumers to more than 70,000.

"We are trying to present to consumers all choices and use television viewing to show you are in control," he said.

Roberts said the rollout of a new generation of servers that will make the expanded on-demand system they call Xfinity work is the result of a project begun two years ago to make content available when and where and now consumers want it. He called it "a quantum leap for our capacity."

Chernin pressed Roberts on how he would deal with the conflicts that come with a content business, such as when Universal has a movie that angers some segment of the population.
"We are going to take the wild ride that is the media business," Roberts said.

He also told Chernin that when it comes to being on both sides of the table for retransmission discussions with the broadcasters, he understands that they have to find a fair deal for both sides. He said he believes that broadcast will get that added revenue stream from retrans, much like the dual revenue steam that cable channels enjoy from advertising and subscriber fees.

"I don't have all the answers," Roberts said. "It seems clear retransmission fees are going to get paid ... We will play a role in helping establish a model. Not all the best of broadcast is going to get siphoned of onto cable."

Roberts said Comcast has been pleased to see the recent rebound in the advertising market for local TV stations, a jump of about 25% a month.

Roberts said the financing has been going well. He said they have raised $10 billion from public offerings at rates much lower than they expected to pay.