With an aggressive Charter Communications takeover looming over Time Warner Cable, Comcast executives felt like they had only one chance if they wanted to buy the LA and NYC systems they didn’t already own, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said at this morning’s Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. “Our judgment was the company was going to be sold and if we wanted New York and Los Angeles, it was now or never,” Roberts said. The company was trying to move beyond a persistent perception of it as a “regional cable provider” that hampered deals with potential partners such as Reed Hastings of Netflix in years past. Even with the big 2010 acquisition of NBCUniversal still being digested, the company needed to move fast with its $45.2 billion offer for TWC, which is still under regulatory review. Comcast also signed a $20 billion side deal to sell or swap out 3.9 million of the subscribers with Charter to further concentrate operations in big cities and keep below a self-imposed limit of 30 percent of the U.S. cable TV market. That deal is contingent on the main acquisition going through.
Roberts said he remains a friend and business partner of Hastings even after Netflix criticized a transmission-quality deal it had just signed with Comcast. “We did a deal with Reed Hastings, and 10 days later he wasn’t so happy,” said Roberts, who said he talked with Hastings at the conference on Tuesday. Hastings is scheduled to speak at here Thursday. Under the deal, Netflix is paying Comcast to forward-position its shows on Comcast servers for quicker Internet transmission to their mutual customers. “They used to spend three-quarters of a billion dollars for postage” to mail DVDs to customers, Roberts said. “They would like [their Internet transmission costs] all to be free. I don’t blame them for that.”
That didn’t mean Roberts liked the criticism of the deal, which set off concerns among net neutrality advocates that it was a first step in creating a “fast lane” where content from rich companies would get priority on line over that of anyone else. “I think the essence of what troubled me is the throwback [claim that] ‘they’re the cable monopoly,'” Roberts said. “The business isn’t that way anymore. You can get (pay-TV services) from Dish TV, you can get it from Verizon, you can get it from DirecTV.”
Roberts said Comcast has “done more new content deals with Netflix and Amazon than anyone in the past three years. We believe this is helping power our shows. It’s helped return NBC to being the No.1 network after 10 years in the basement. Now, 34 percent of all bits that go over internet in primetime come from one company [Netflix], which is an astonishing thing.”
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