Thursday, February 3, 2011

Comcast Executive Lets Loose

Metro was able to catch up with an exultant David L. Cohen, the executive vice president of Comcast, by phone from his Philadelphia office hours before the Comcast-NBC deal closed. Comcast now owns 51% of NBCUniversal in a joint venture with General Electric. Comcast assumes management control of the network.
Cohen, along with a team of Comcast employees in Philadelphia and Washington, has spent over a year working on gaining regulatory approval for this deal. “I can not believe that we (Comcast executives) are going to wake up in the morning and be the proud owners of NBCUniversal. Brian Roberts, the CEO of Comcast, is both exhilarated and humbled,” said Cohen.
Comcast headquarters will stay in Philadelphia notwithstanding that NBC is New York City based. Although Brian Roberts recently bought an apartment in Manhattan in the same building as Sting and Denzel Washington, he is not decamping there. Cohen insisted, “Brian and Ralph Roberts and Comcast executives are proud to head a Philadelphia based company. We just opened the center city headquarters in June 2008.”
For the city of Philadelphia, the merger will not mean a gain or loss of any jobs. Cohen stressed, “Comcast employees will not be moving to New York. We do not intend to move NBC, Universal or Telemundo employees here. Maybe, a few additional administrative positions might be needed locally”
Cohen was clearly taking a victory lap. “During the week before the FCC vote, more than 110 Congressman and Senators signed a letter urging approval. Governors, mayors, and City Council members supported the deal. Only two people –Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Senator Al Franken-were against the deal at the end,” said Cohen.
Congresswoman Waters, reached over the weekend, said, “When no African American received an Oscar nomination this year, I am right to be worried about diversity.” Queen Latifah spoofed her outspoken criticism of the merger on “30 Rock.”
Critics charged that the FCC did not extract major concessions from Comcast when they approved the merger. Cohen also downplayed the significance of the conditions that FCC imposed on Comcast to approve the merger. “We voluntarily agreed to most of the conditions because we would have done them anyways. For example, we have agreed to supply an additional 1000 hours of local news and public affairs programming and partner with hyperlocal non- profit news organizations because we believe in local news,” he asserted.
Cohen argued that ceding management control of Hulu, the online video service that is a joint venture between NBC, News Corp, and Disney, was a “nonevent.” “Before the merger, NBC had a minority, non controlling stake that afforded limited governance,” he contended.
Comcast is now required by the FCC to offer stand alone hi speed Internet at the price of $49.95 for the next two years with a cost of living increase only allowed in the third year. Cohen contends, “Comcast was doing this anyways. We currently charge $49.95 -$54.95 for this service.”
Jeff Zucker, previously the CEO of the network; MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann; and Angela Bromsted, the programming executive responsible for “House” and “Heroes” have been recently terminated. One person that does not seem to have to worry about a job is Steve Capus, the head of NBC News.
Cohen said, “NBC News is the crown jewel of the network. We have enormous respect for the people that work there and have made it the leading news network. Steve Capus is staying and will now be reporting directly to Steve Burke, the incoming CEO of NBCUniversal.”
While the acquisition of NBC was Brian Robert’s vision, his 91- year- old father, Comcast founder Ralph Roberts, has reason to be proud. On a video conference for NBCUniversal employees today, the senior Roberts said, “Only in America could a cable company in Tupelo, Mississippi with 1200 customers turn into a company with $50 billion in revenues and 130,000 employees.
NBC and ATT Broadband will probably not be the last purchases of Comcast. Cohen, refusing to comment, said, “I joined Comcast because they are a growing company, not content to stand still.”
I reported part of this for Metro.


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