New York -- Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts said negotiations with Liberty
Media Corp. concerning their stakes in cable shopping channel QVC Inc. will come
down to price.
"It's going to end up being that simple," Roberts said at the Banc of America
Securities LLC media conference here Tuesday.
Liberty, which owns 42.5% of QVC, exercised its exit rights in February.
According to the deal, Comcast has the first right to buy out Liberty's
stake. If it declines, Liberty has the right to buy out Comcast's 57.5%
interest. If neither side decides to buy, then the network goes to auction.
Liberty and Comcast have hired appraisers and are currently in the process of
valuing their respective interests in QVC.
Roberts added that the possibility that the two parties could work out a
solution outside of the contract -- such as Comcast agreeing to drop its suit
against Liberty-controlled Starz Encore Group LLC -- is unlikely.
"There is no legal reason that will happen," he said. "I wouldn't be
surprised by any outcome. At the moment, I don't think there is that
Earlier, Roberts reiterated his claims that cable operators need not bring in
federal legislators to solve the industry's programming-cost problems, calling
the recent debate "healthy tension," but asking the industry to settle its own
Roberts hedged when asked whether he favored abolishing retransmission
"There is not an operator that thinks retransmission consent isn't the worst
law ever written," he said. "It's a close call if we should be required to carry
some broadcasters and negotiate carriage with others. We've learned to live with
it. I'll leave it to others to say it has outlived its usefulness."
Roberts also seemed to come out in favor of tiering sports programming,
another controversial issue.
"Optimal services -- how can that be a bad thing?" Roberts asked. "There is
some level of cost that everybody should have to bear if they're not enjoying
the product. When you get to a certain level, the debate goes: Should there be
some optionality? I don't see a lot of downside."
Roberts said the transition period to sports tiers could be painful, but he
used Cablevision Systems Corp.'s highly public fight with Yankee Entertainment
& Sports Network as an example. Earlier this year, Cablevision reached a
one-year deal with YES that allows the MSO to place the network on a tier.
"I think that was a very big event," Roberts said of the Cablevision-YES
deal. "They were not carrying a very popular program, and they only lost about
50,000 out of 3 million customers."
He added, "Not carrying the New York Yankees in New York post-9/11 is almost
unthinkable. They won the right to make this service optional to the consumer.
Long term, it changes the business model. Clearly, they enjoy flexibility that
other cable operators don`t have."
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