Brian Roberts: No Plans to “Comcast-ize” NBC

Brian Roberts on Tuesday assured NBC Universal partisans that he has no plans to “Comcast-ize” the Peacock and its sibling cable networks, adding that a post-merger NBCU “should have its own distinct culture.”

Speaking at the opening session of the 2010 NCTA Cable Show in Los Angeles, the Comcast chairman and CEO said the business of taking a controlling interest in NBCU was continuing apace, and that the legacy programming brands would flourish under the new Philadelphia-led jv.

Roberts appeared to be particularly taken with NBC’s news-gathering operations, calling NBC News “the single most awesome asset” in the portfolio, before adding that he would be as dedicated to preserving the unit’s editorial independence.

Playing devil’s advocate, former News Corp president and COO Peter Chernin asked Roberts what course of action he might take should, say, MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann begin taking pot-shots at Republican Congressmen.

“Let’s have  that conversation in 12 months when we’re playing with live ammo,” Roberts said, before adding that he would ensure that NBC News continued to “keep [its coverage] down the middle, whatever that means.”

The understated Roberts was practically effusive in his praise of NBC’s Meet the Press, saying that Comcast would do everything in its power to protect the 64-year-old franchise. Indeed, maintaining the integrity of the Sunday morning news program seems to speak to Roberts’ enthusiasm for the NBCU deal as a whole.

“I hope that in the totality of what we do, there can be higher purpose…to make the world a better place,” Roberts said. “I’m not sure they were headed down that road, financially, with GE.”

Having failed in his $66 billion bid to take over the Walt Disney Co. in 2004, Roberts is about to land Comcast’s greatest portfolio of programming assets, adding NBC, USA NEtwork, Syfy, Bravo and Oxygen to its suite of channels like E!, Golf Channel, Style and G4.

Roberts’ drive may be sparked by a more distant missed opportunity. The Comcast boss told Chernin that it “didn’t pick up on content early enough,” passing up a chance to buy into Discovery Channel some 20 years ago.

Chernin advised Roberts against pursuing an NBCU deal if he found that he just could not “fall in love with NBC.” To that end, Roberts said that he feels better about the deal now than he did five months ago, as advertising has rebounded and the capital markets are such that the U.S. now appears “much more stable than Europe.”

On the other side of the continent, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn on Tuesday said she believed the commission should hold public hearings on the proposed NBCU-Comcast merger.

“My colleagues and I want the FCC to conduct a thorough review of the deal, including public hearings, and to have our questions answered in a timely and substantive manner,” Clyburn said.

Should all regulatory hurdles be cleared, the $30 billion deal could go through by the end of the year. Roberts today said financing has been encouraging, as Comcast has thus far raised $10 billion from public offerings at rates much lower than it had originally anticipated.

Publish date: May 11, 2010 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT