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Roberts: Notion of Migrating NBC To Cable Network Is 'Off the Table'

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts declared any thought of migrating the NBC network to cable is "right off the table."

In town to address the Congressional Interent Caucus' State of the Net Conference in Washington, Roberts, in a Q&A with Alan Murray of The Wall Street Journal, said that Comcast was committed to a free, over-the-air NBC with local station affiliates. Comcast has officially stated that position before. Roberts said Comcast was at heart a "local company."

Asked if there was "any good reason" not to turn NBC into a cable channel, he said yes. He pointed out that when it went from Monday Night Football on ABC to Monday Night Football on ESPN, the audience went down. "To those of us who are connected, we can't understand that," he said, but "we want take that fear right off the table. We think there is a vibrant role for local broadcast and national. broadcast television and intend to keep NBC a free, over-the-air channel." He called local affiliates "a great model."

Roberts was also in town to make the rounds on Capitol Hill as his company prepares to seek approval for its proposed takeover of NBC Universal at the Federal Communications Commission.

Roberts had no comment on the late-night wars that has cost NBC tens of millions, citing the fact that the Comcast/NBCU deal won't be a deal until the government signs off on it. (Comcast filed for competive review by the Justice Department this week, so at least the clock on what is expected to be a 9- to 12-month review period has started.)  "It is a frustrating period of time because we are unable, legally, to comment."

He did say he thought there were "many good things happening at NBC Universal."

But he also put in a pitch for as speedy a review as possible, implying it was so Comcast could start helping with some of those creative decisions. "It reminds me that in a creative endeavor...that you don't want 30,000 people on hold too long. However expeditiously that review can occur is very important to the company."

Asked to comment on the future of NBCU chief Jeff Zucker, Roberts said he is "going to be the CEO of the company" and that he (Roberts) was "optimistic" that on day one "we will have a plan that will be exciting and answer all the questions."

Roberts had no comment on the Apple tablet being unveiled Wednesday, saying he would learn along with everyone else, given that company's tendency to keep its unveilings close to the vest.

Roberts said his company was committed to an open Internet, and praised the openness and transparency of the FCC's proposed network neutrality rulemaking, but said where he parted company was the need for such rules, depending on how they emerged and whether they wound up being new regulations on an Internet that was growing and flourishing.

He also said Comcast's slowing--he said it was not blocking--of BitTorrent P2P traffic had been a mistake, but one now corrected.

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

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.