Comcast Leaders Aim to Reassure NBCU
Roberts, Burke address staff at Town Hall meeting
By Jon Lafayette -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/27/2011 1:36:34 PM
Updated at 6:30 p.m. ET
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and incoming NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke moved to reassure NBCU staffers that they want the company to be the kind of company where they'll want to work.
In a Town Hall meeting Thursday, Roberts told NBCU staffers, some of whom have had multiple owners of their divisions in recent years that "you'll never have to work for another company again."
Roberts said that new management is bound to make "some mistakes," but that while "we are in business for profit, of course, and ratings and box office success always matter. But we can and will stand for so much more than that."
Having passed muster with federal regulators, Comcast's acquisition of 51% and control of NBCU from General Electric is expected to be completed Friday.
Burke discussed some of the challenges and opportunities for the new company, starting with fixing NBC's prime time lineup.
"I happen to believe we have one of the most talented well-rounded executives in the entertainment business in Bob Greenblatt," who will be chairman of NBC Entertainment. "We're coming from a position that is very, very difficult to dig yourself out of, I think he is the real deal and people are going to be writing about prime time until we go to third or second and so we simply have to fix it."
He also said that investment would be made in the company's local stations and Spanish language network Telemundo.
Burke, said that the new NBCU will have many opportunities to take its programming and put it into new distribution systems, pointing to the NBC Sports properties that could appear on Versus and Golf Channel, formerly Comcast networks.
"But we also have a huge opportunity I think in terms of entertainment," he said. "We're the only major broadcast network that has multiple entertainment channels and lots of them and shame on us if we can't figure out a way to take advantage of that fact and to really advantage all of our different channels."
Comcast also brings technology that will enable newer Unversial movies and NBC, USA, Syfy and Bravo TV shows to be pushed into 15 million homes via video on demand. Advertisers could be protected by disabling the ability to fast forward through commercials.
"There are so many things we can do in terms of technology that we've just got to get to work, Burke said. "Not all these things will work, but I'm really confident that if you look at them all, enough of them will work that we can significantly grow the company in the not too distant future."
Burke noted that former Golf Channel President Page Thompson will facilitate synergy, and that that is an important part of putting the two companies together. But Comcast won't necessarily be doing NBCU's bidding and vice versa.
"It won't be a straight forward as Oxygen would like another 5 million subscribers or better channel position on Comcast Cable. It will be a little bit more arms length than that, although we would like to see Oxygen get more on Comcast cable and Neil [Smit, president of Comcast Cable] and I will be talking about that this afternoon," Burke said in one of his lighter moments during the presentation and a question and answer session that followed.
Burke noted that not all entertainment companies do synergy well. "Time Warner basically allows their individual divisions to do their own things and they believe that's how you maximize value," he said. "We come from a very different place and at the end of the day everybody's paycheck is going to say NBC Universal."
But Burke made it clear that he wanted things to work Comcast's way. He said Comcast grew through acquisitions and that his strategy was "to hit the ground running and make it very clear what the company's all about." In a year, if he's successful, everyone will "know what this company's all about" and it will be "a company were people are glad to be a part of it."
One NBCU staffer asked if it was true that they would get free cable TV like other Comcast staffers do. Burke said they do -- but only if they live in Comcast's service area, which doesn't include either New York City or Los Angeles. "We currently have a lot of homes in New Jersey, beautiful areas which you may want to move into if you're currently not," Burke said.
NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who moderated the event and lives in Jersey asked if the offer was good for basic or digital. "We're talking full digital service, but you have to pay for your own pay per views," Burke replied.
In addition to the town meeting, Comcast provided NBC staffers with a welcome package, that included a book about the histories of both companies, a notebook for new ideas, a free pass for employees and their families at a Universal theme park, and 25 shares of stock, worth about $500, that vests in five years.
The box was topped by a new logo for NBC Universal, which did not include the legendary NBC peacock. (see left)
Asked about that by Williams, Burke said most consumers won't see the new logo. "The peacock is one of the strongest icons in America, it will be a big part of NBC, CNBC and MSNBC for many years to come."
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