Brian Roberts on Comcast’s Quantum Leap into Content

Peter Chernin and Brian Roberts.

Photo by Angela Weiss, Getty Images, of Peter Chernin (L) and Brian Roberts (R).

The communications world has long coped with the seemingly inevitable balancing act between content and conduit.  In the cable industry, the relationship between programming and distribution started to give way in the 1980s as operators stepped up their investments in emerging cable program networks.  But comments this morning from cable’s biggest MSO head suggested that if Comcast’s deal to buy NBC-Universal can be completed, a whole new era of resolution between the two camps could begin.

No one has a better vantage point on the potentially pivotal changes than Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, who shared his view of the new world during an NCTAHollywood Radio and Television Society Newsmaker Brunch this morning at The Cable Show 2010 (read the details here).  During an interview by Peter Chernin, CEO of Chernin Entertainment (and former President of News Corp.), Roberts said that his company’s $30 billion deal to acquire NBC-U could go a long way to resolving the conflicts between operators and programmers.

“We have a unique opportunity to take this technological vision and really help lead us faster,” Roberts said.  “We all need each other and we all want to stay one step ahead on piracy” and other issues.

Which is not to say that NBC-Universal will lose its unique character.  “We’re not going to try to ‘Comcastize’ NBC-Universal,” Roberts said.  “There should be a distinct culture at NBC-Universal.”

Roberts suggested that, if anything, Comcast’s ownership could prove a boon to NBC-U because of the more natural fit between its business and Comcast’s cable enterprises, certainly a better alignment than NBC-U has with current owner GE.  “As great a company as GE is, [news and entertainment] is not the core of what they do.  You can’t say that about the new Comcast,” Roberts said.

Comcast is also pushing the entertainment envelope with its dedication to Xfinity, the operator’s expansive online and TV-based on-demand content services.  Comcast’s on-demand offerings have had more than 1.5 times the downloads of iTunes, with a reach of only 24% of the U.S. market.  “The consumer loves being able to get what they want when they want it,” Roberts said.

He also announced that Comcast’s on-demand offerings are about to take a quantum leap in capacity, with next-generation servers offering up to 11,000 movies in each market and up to 70,000 hours of instantly accessible choices.  The expanded offerings will kick off in Comcast’s Philadelphia and Washington markets this year.

You can watch a replay of the conversation at HRTS’ website.

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