NBC stations are “likely to participate” in the FCC’s airwave auction — taking spectrum now used by TV outlets and selling it to wireless broadband providers — Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told analysts this morning.
The FCC recently released its opening bid prices for the spectrum. Chairman Tom Wheeler called it “a watershed moment” leading up to a December 18 deadline for stations to decide whether they want to sell some of their airwave capacity.
This is one of the regulatory agency’s top initiatives as it hopes to satisfy the soaring demand for wireless Internet. Some of the wireless providers would compete with Comcast’s wired broadband services.
Roberts said he had no “new news” on another widely followed question: whether Comcast’s cable systems are about to offer wireless phone services that depend heavily on WiFi connections as well as Verizon’s network.
Many believed that Comcast was about to jump in last week when the telco told analysts that unnamed cable companies have told it that they want to take advantage of a 2012 contract provision: It enables them to pay Verizon a wholesale price to create a so-called “mobile virtual network” that might compete with Verizon’s own service.
“We’re in test-and-learn mode” with a combination WiFi and cell phone service, Comcast Cable chief Neil Smit says.
Roberts adds that while Comcast has “always felt it is part of a product set,” the cable company doesn’t “necessarily have to seek owner’s economics.”
On other matters, Comcast execs said that they’re unfazed about the likelihood that they’ll face tougher competition from others including AT&T, which recently bought DirecTV. “The video product that we’re offering has tremendous momentum,” Roberts says.
The CEO talked up Comcast’s overseas investments, including the recent announcement that it will pay $1.5 billion for a majority stake in the Universal Studios Japan theme park. “When we bought NBCUniversal there were no owned assets outside of the United States,” Roberts says. “Universal Japan is a thriving business that we think we can grow.”
Comcast told investors to expect programming costs at the cable systems to increase at a “similar rate” to the 6.4% they saw in Q3.
And at NBC’s broadcast operations, ad sales in Q3 trended better than in the first half of the year — and that “has continued into the fourth quarter,” CFO Michael Cavanagh says.