Comcast To Offer Wireless Phones In Cable Bundle By Mid-Year

Brian Roberts
Associated Press

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told analysts this morning that the cable giant will launch what he called a “world class” wireless phone business in the first half of this year. Calls will go over Verizon’s network but data will come from WiFi where it’s available, or Verizon’s network where it isn’t.

It won’t be offered on a stand-alone basis: “We plan to include wireless in our multiproduct bundles in a way that is designed to add value to our customers, improve retention, and ultimately benefit lifetime customer economics,” Roberts says. It will use “the best mobile devices in a simple, transparent experience, all for a great value.”

He added that the company would be “measured in our rollout, learning and adapting along the way.”

But he declined to say how deeply Comcast wants to go into the business, which depends on a deal that the company and some other cable operators have with Verizon. “We have a good relationship and we’ll learn a lot as we go,” he says, adding that Comcast will be “very transparent.”

CFO Michael Cavanagh says that the only guidance he can offer is that operating cash flow at its “corporate and other” business line “may see an additional $200 to $300 million drag” this year due to the wireless initiative.

As for the handsets, Comcast plans to buy them and collect payments from customers “over time.”

Over at NBCUniversal, its chief Steve Burke says he remains upbeat about its prospects after delivering what he called the “fastest compounded growth rate of any of the media companies” over the last six years.

Now he anticipates “a lot of opportunity, maybe not quite as much opportunity as there was in the early days.”

He sees “a long, long runway” for theme parks “as long as we invest and build more hotel rooms and have more creative attractions.” Consumer products, where Universal used to be an also-ran player, now also has “a long-long runway.”

He’a also upbeat about Telemundo. The Spanish-language network “was essentially making no money at all, It’s now making $400 million a year” and ratings “suggest in the future we should make significantly more than that.”

Comcast says that its VOD business wasn’t hurt by its addition of Netflix to the X1 platform. Viewing in Q4 was “up about 18%,” the cable unit’s chief Neil Smit says.

Asked about changes in Washington with the ascent of the Trump administration, Roberts says that he’s “encouraged by the prospect of rules that we believe will encourage investment and stimulate investment, whether that’s tax decreases or revisiting the authority of the government” to enforce net neutrality protections.

Many analysts believe that the new administration will raise the cap on broadcast station ownership, which limits a company to reaching 39% of all households.

Although NBCU doesn’t see “a necessity to increase our footprint,” if there’s a change “we would certainly look at it,” Burke says.

He adds that the national advertising market is “very strong” suggesting that we have a good shot at having another very strong upfront [ad sales market] nationally.”

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