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Roberts: NBC Has 'Super' Show Picker in Bob Greenblatt

Comcast Chairman Brian Roberts was supportive
of the programming team at NBC in a Q&A session at the Economic Club of
Washington Thursday.

He suggested success was "all about
people." Talking about NBCU CEO Steve Burke, he said it takes time to put
a team together, adding: "You never get it just right and you always are
making some changes." But he said Burke had a "super person"
picking shows at NBC in Bob Greenblatt. "He's going to get grief when it
fails and praise when it succeeds. And there is going to be more of that
attention than any business going because it's NBC."

spent some of his time demoing Comcast's new cloud-based program guide on the
new Infinity X1 set-top, which is launching in April in the D.C. market. But he
said that Comcast will already be showcasing the next generation of the X1
Infinity service at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association
convention in Washington in June.

demonstrated that the new remote does not have to be aimed at the TV, and
suggested it was now easy to turn on parental controls. He also demoed a
next-generation remote that was voice-activated and showed how the box could
bring up suggested program choices based on a consumer's preferences.

to identify key inflection points for the company's success, Roberts identified
Microsoft's investment in his company and Comcast's purchase of AT&T
Broadband as the two keys to Comcast's growth -- from a small Tupelo, Miss., cable op to a
business with a $107 billion market cap.

pointed out that in 1997 Comcast had announced it was going to build out fiber
and the market hated it because it did not see the return. (at about the same
time Roberts was speaking, a few blocks away, National Cable &
Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell was suggesting that one
reason usage-based broadband pricing was a way to recoup some of the industry's
capital investment). Roberts went to Bill Gates, who advised him he would
ultimately have a bigger business outside TV than in it. But Gates did more
than that. He invested a billion dollars in the company without taking any
voting stock, or join the board or require Comcast to take any Microsoft
products. He said Gates more than quadrupled his money. But beyond that:
"He wanted to create a little competition between ourselves and the phone
companies and anyone else to do this new data business that would become the
Internet. "He took the least likely successor, the cable industry, and
gave it a shot in the arm to go against the big phone industry."

other big play was the purchase of AT&T Broadband, which was twice
Comcast's size, which gave him the critical mass to invest in innovation and

said he thinks Comcast/NBCU is now the largest recipient of advertising, and
that he sees a "pretty good" economic recovery in progress.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.