Disney's Quiet Suitor
By Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/15/2004 7:00:00 PM
Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts has none of the swagger of some media moguls. If you saw him on the streets of Comcast's hometown Philadelphia, you'd never guess he's the man who made headlines by springing a $66 billion offer to buy the Walt Disney Co. He's a buttoned-down man who just as quietly has built Comcast into the nation's largest cable operator.
Last week, BROADCASTING & CABLE caught up with Roberts for a quick conversation just hours after Comcast made its surprise play for the Disney empire.
Do you need this deal? Or do you need some deal?
Come on. When we did AT&T Broadband, we put ourselves in a position where we don't need to do anything. We have a fantastic company. One of the reasons we plan to be extremely disciplined through this process is that we don't need to do anything. This is an opportunity for both companies. It would create a spectacular new company if we can put it together. But it has to be done in a way that doesn't create a whole set of expectations that can't easily be met. That's where a lot of problems have occurred in other deals.
If, in the end judgment, the shareholders of Disney decide not to do it, despite the idea, the management, the $5 billion, the marriage of the content and the distribution, then that's that. Is it a marvelous set of franchises? Is it a great brand? Could it be a marvelous combination? But does life go on if we don't get it done? Of course it does.
Running The Golf Channel and E! is a lot different from running ESPN and turning around ABC.
I understand. So we're going to need help. There is talent in the company, talent who have left the company, talent who would like to work at the company. [Comcast cable division President] Steve Burke's worked there. It's not easy. They should have a leader.
Some Disney investors are saying today that the company can turn itself around.
That's eerily similar to what AT&T said when we first approached them.
This is most likely to trigger an auction process.
I think we take it one step at a time. We made a very compelling proposal. It's at a premium. We have the management. And we have 22 million subs, which took 40 years to aggregate. I think it's a great day and a very fair proposal to the Disney shareholder.
But we have to be very fair and mindful of the Comcast shareholders who supported us. We want to create this new company but not in a way that's not going to meet expectations.
Why do you even want to be in these businesses?
The reality is that, if you could just license content, it's nice. But there's nothing like being part of the same company. Being able to have all that content available to our customers how they want it, when they want it, is a fantastic opportunity. We'll have to partner with and hire people who are experts. We didn't know electronic commerce when we got into QVC, but [shopping channel CEO] Doug Briggs did. We didn't know cell phones, but [Comcast Executive Vice President of Marketing] Dave Watson did.
Hollywood is a swamp that has swallowed a lot of big players.
I see that. But Viacom CBS has turned out OK. Time Warner/Turner was a great company. NBC people are pretty excited about what they're doing with Vivendi Universal. There's the good and there's the bad.
|Tale of the Tape|
|Walt Disney Co.|
|10 owned and operated ABC stations|
|74 radio stations|
|ABC TV network|
|ABC Radio Network|
|ABC Family Channel|
|Lifetime (50% stake)|
|A&E and History Channel (37.5%)|
|E! Entertainment Television (39.5%)|
|Buena Vista Television|
|Walt Disney Pictures|
|Anaheim Mighty Ducks|
|Walt Disney Parks and Resorts|
|E! Entertainment Television (39.7%)|
|Outdoor Life Network|
|Style network (39.7%)|
|Source: Company information|
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