In today’s conference call with the press about Comcast’s announced deal to acquire 51% of NBC Universal, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts was asked by TVWeek about Liberty Media chief [and DirecTV owner] John Malone’s recent comments that the broadcast model of doing business does not work anymore.
TVWeek: Brian, on CNBC, as it so happened recently, John Malone was on and he said the broadcast [business] model was broken. Basically his argument was that there isn’t enough ad support to continue with the number of broadcast stations that we have in each market. Since you’ve just bought a broadcast network, do you agree with John’s assessment?
Brian Roberts: The business has gone through lots of transitions in the last 20 years. I think we’re coming in during a moment when a lot of those things that John may have been referring to have already been baked into where the business is today and what its prospects are. I think one of the things we’re both committed to–GE and Comcast–is trying to restore it to a number one position. Trying to grow it, at the same time to continue to use it so beautifully, as NBC Universal has, to leverage it into the cable programming business–it’s really part of that synergy in the NBC family of companies that has made their cable portfolio some 75% of the company that we’re buying today in cash flow. So I think there is more upside than downside. I think it’s a business that does have to transition, and we’ll learn about it as we go. But we’re pretty excited by the whole portfolio.
Later Roberts was asked by our colleague at Ad Age, Andrew Hampp, about fees broadcast can get from cable operators, such as for signal retransmission.
Brian Roberts: I think the broadcast business has talked about retransmission fees for awhile. Value has been getting conveyed for awhile. Historically that’s been creating cable channels for a number of the broadcast companies, NBC very much included in that. And it continues to evolve and we’ll be part of the business as it goes forward and proabably a more meaningful part of the business. I think we have an opportunity, by being in both businesses, to help find constructive solutions to allow the broadcast business to thrive and to grow and to continue to invest in the highest class of programming that it does. And we’re still a cable operator who is trying to manage its costs. The two are going to work well together. They always have. There’s always some tension but we’re confident that the broadcast business can be pretty vibrant and is now getting more and more revenue from retransmission consent.
NBCU CEO Jeff Zucker then added that on behalf of the NBC and Telemundo broadcast networks that "Obviously we believe that we should be paid for that content and to the degree that the marketplace continues to move more to a discrete fee paid for that content that is something we expect to participate in and we look forward to those conversations in the future."