In Depth

Comcast’s Roberts: Web Video Comes in Peace

Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, says that Web video can be a friend of the cable industry.

Taking part in the opening session at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association’s Cable Show in Washington, D.C. Wednesday, Mr. Roberts said that consumer demand for video over the Web could benefit both cable operators and content providers.

“It’s powering our broadband business,” which he said was the fastest growing segment at Comcast and most other cable operators. Consumers are seeking higher speeds and switching from phone company DSL services, he said.

At the same time, Web video offers content companies another opportunity “to monetize in this horrific advertising environment.”

(Read the full text of the keynote address at the Cable Show ’09 by NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow.)

There are concerns that as the amount of video on the Web increases, consumers will bypass cable and use their broadband connection to get the programming they want without paying subscription fees.

Mr. Roberts drew a distinction between broadcast network content, which has historically been free to the consumer, and cable network content, which has been available by subscription.

He said that talks and tests are underway to find ways to give consumers what they want—the ability to see what they want, when they want on whatever device they want—“in a way that adds value, not destroys value.”

Mr. Roberts was also upbeat about how cable is standing up to the crisis in the economy.

He recalled working in 1982 in Flint, Mich., when the unemployment rate was 24%.

“We added customers that year,” he said.

“It’s going to be hard but we’re in an industry that can afford to widen the moat by continuing to invest,” Mr. Robert said.

Comcast will offer economy tier products and change the way it interfaces with customers that can’t pay their bills. But, he said, “at times like this, a company like ours should invest.”

Mr. Roberts said he asked his father, Comcast founder Ralph Roberts, who lived through the Great Depression, what he thought about the current situation.

Mr. Roberts said his dad said it will probably take longer and be worse than we’d like, but America can come roaring out of the recession. Mr. Roberts senior added that at age 89, he plans to be there when we come out of the recession.

Pat Esser, CEO of Cox Communications, said that he’s encouraging his top executives to spread optimism.

He says many measures of corporate success continue to climb.

“We’re an industry that’s still growing customers,” he said.

Consumers see their broadband connection and cable TV connection as two of their most valuable assets.

“You’ve got to keep reinforcing that,” he said

(Editor: Baumann)