Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, NBCUniversal Chief Steve Burke Weigh In On Streaming And Hulu Stake


Comcast’s management team laid out some strategic thoughts on streaming, while declining to offer any specifics about their forthcoming streaming launch, during a conference call with Wall Street analysts to discuss first-quarter results.

“Video over the internet is more friend than foe,” CEO Brian Roberts said in response to one of multiple streaming questions. “We wish every bit was our bit but as people consume more bits, and video clearly does that … that’s in the sweet spot of where this company is going to grow.”

The shift to internet-delivered video has preoccupied Wall Street and the media and tech sectors in recent months, with Disney, WarnerMedia, Apple and NBCUniversal all mounting major challenges to Netflix in the coming months.

As a rhetorical flourish designed to counter the narrative around Netflix’s astronomical spending on content, Roberts offered an all-in figure for Comcast’s spending across its many divisions: $24 billion. While that number is double Netflix’s most recent annual level, it also isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, as it includes not just programming but sports rights and other costs.

Steve Burke, CEO of NBCUniversal, added his perspective on the streaming wars. “If you watch CNBC, you would assume that all of the entrants are in and it’s a big battle between two or three of them,” he said. “We actually think it’s very, very early innings and in some ways reminiscent of cable in the 1970s or 1980s. We think there will be a lot of entrants and a lot of companies will try to enter with their own unique strengths, leveraging their own unique assets. You’re starting to see that.”

In NBCU’s case, Burke added, logic dictated a free, ad-supported service launching across the combined cable and satellite footprints of Comcast and Sky.

“The point is, as we see new entrants, we’re reminding people it doesn’t all have to be on one platform to be successful,” Roberts said. “There are a lot of different strategies.”

Roberts also offered his first comments on NBCU’s minority stake in Hulu since Disney closed its acquisition of 21st Century Fox last month and then bought WarnerMedia’s 10% of Hulu. “It is very much in everybody’s interest to maintain” the Hulu relationship, Roberts said. “No new news today on it, other than that it’s really valuable and we’re glad we own a really large piece of it.”

AT&T got $1.4 billion in cash for WarnerMedia’s 10% stake, meaning NBCU’s 30% is worth more than $4 billion today, though Hulu also has booked significant losses as it invests in original programming and scales its live TV offering.

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