@The Cable Show: Reflecting on a path to media dominance

**As published in RCR Wireless News** LOS ANGELES – To hear Comcast Corp.’s chairman and CEO Brian Roberts tell it, the cable industry is on a collision course with destiny. The seemingly neatly divided world of entertainment that Roberts first jumped into as the son of Comcast’s founder Ralph Roberts is no more. If all goes his way, the family-run business will pass all regulatory hurdles and close its $30-billion dollar deal to snatch up the controlling interest in General Electric’s NBC Universal by the end of the year. Surely few, if any in the audience here for Roberts’ keynote could have dreamed two decades ago of a cable operator becoming so powerful and flush enough with cash that it could take control of a content juggernaut like NBC.

Indeed, that’s just what appears set to happen. Moreover, there’s little reason to think this collision of industries and interests will end without more major deals of the like. It seems only fitting that, with Roberts taking the main stage today, the cable industry as a whole made its first return to the entertainment capital of the world since 1996. With so much success already cemented along the way, former News Corp. president Peter Chernin opted to begin his conversation with Roberts by asking about the mistakes he’s made in his long career at Comcast. With that, he honed right in on content. Perhaps he’s still feeling sticker shock from Comcast’s cash and property contribution to the proposed joint venture with GE valued at $13.75 billion. Later, he reflected on Chernin’s advice to not make the deal with NBC unless he absolutely loved the company and his comments point to that being the case. “We didn’t pick up on content early enough,” he said. “Comcast would be a very different company today had we done that 20 years ago.” Roberts really hit his stride when the conversation steered toward what the cable industry has created as an industry. “I think that cable has been under-appreciated for its contribution to society,” he said. “We’re the industry people always love to hate,” and yet there’s no mass exodus of cable customers going purely online or anything of the sort, he added. Too often, one bad event or issue will carry the bulk of news coverage on cable operators and that drives uncontrollable negative feelings on an oversized scale, Roberts continued. “I hope in my career that we’re going to be able to look back and say we created some great content and developed technologies that improved people’s lives,” he said. “I’m really a deal person at some level, but at our core I hope we have integrity.” Roberts said he makes a special point to not “go Hollywood” with the company and lose its way or what it’s always been as an organization. On the technology front, Comcast can improve the service experience by embracing new devices and supporting access points outside of the current “clunky box” and “clunky remote,” he admitted. For example, while hinting at more mobile-related news to come from Comcast later this week, he said “the iPad looks to us to be a fabulous bridge between TV and content.” In a parting comment of sorts on whether to make a play for Apple Inc.’s iPhone or Google Inc.’s Android on mobile, Roberts said “our company should be trying to serve both and not making a bet on one or the other.”