Comcast’s Brian Roberts: Scale, Sports Matter

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts (Image credit: Comcast)

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts focused his comments at the virtual Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference Wednesday on the future, adding that the company’s performance over the years is proof that “scale matters.”

“The last couple of years demonstrates we’re in good businesses, but also how scale matters,” Roberts said. “So if one business is going down with some temporary hit from COVID, we have others that are surging. We have a great team of people, a culture that has been decades in the making, and I think we execute at a high level.”  

That may or may not have been a reference to Comcast chief financial officer Mike Cavanagh’s warning at the Sept. 14 Bank of America Media, Communications & Entertainment conference that broadband growth appeared to slow “a little bit” faster than expected in August. That comment drove Comcast stock down 7.3% that day, costing the cable operator about $20 billion in market capitalization and driving down other stocks in the sector.

Roberts instead pointed to the success of the cable unit’s broadband business, which has grown to about 31 million subscribers, and its 60 million customer relationships. 

“We’re really a broadband company,” Roberts said, adding that the strategy is to deepen those broadband relationships with consumers through innovative products and new ways to distribute them. 

Roberts said the announcement Wednesday of its XiOne product  is the latest example of its “develop once, deploy everywhere” strategy, which includes whole-home WiFi via its Xfinity Pods, its Xfinity Flex broadband-only service, its Gigabit gateway and even a feature that tells Peloton owners via text message that their exercise bike needs to be closer to their WiFi pod for better reception.

Also Read: Comcast Introduces XiOne Streaming Device to Rule Its Entire Global Footprint

“We’re building a moat around the most important part of the company, and we’re innovating and we’ve shifted the whole technology focus to broadband in homes and I think it’s really paying off,” Roberts said. 

Comcast also is focusing on streaming, adding that its Peacock service has about 20 million monthly users and 54 million signups a little more than a year after launching the service nationally. Roberts noted that Comcast also has its eyes on international streaming, with Peacock coming to its Sky subscribers later this year, and its August partnership with ViacomCBS for streaming content in Europe.   

“We’re looking at other partnerships like that around the world,” Roberts said.

Regarding sports rights, Roberts said what NBC Sports does best are big events like NFL football and the Olympics. While Roberts conceded that the recent Tokyo Olympics was “tough,” he pointed to the 120 billion minutes of programming that were consumed by viewers and was optimistic about future games in Beijing (2022), Paris (2024) and Los Angeles (2028).

“It really makes our company super-relevant for those 17 days, and no one quite can compete with advertisers for attention in the way an Olympics can every two years,” Roberts said. “We’re not that far away from Beijing, and we’ll get right back at it, but we’ll get to a normal rhythm as we go out and we look forward to Paris and we look forward to LA. We love our association with the Olympics.” 

With other sports, Comcast and its Sky satellite unit have the ability to “pick and choose,” pointing to earlier decisions not to get into a bidding war with streaming sports service DAZN for rights to Italy’s Serie A league and last year’s deal for rights to Germany's Bundesliga that resulted in a reduced fee. Sky recently extended its rights deal with the Premier League to 2025.

“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you're wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.” 

Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.