Topper Roberts tells confab NBC won't move to cable

WASHINGTON — Content will always be king within a Comcast-NBC/Universal combined entertainment company, including bustling cable networks, on-demand programming and a stand-alone NBC network that will not be moved to cable, Comcast chairman Brian Roberts pledged Wednesday.

Speaking at the Congressional Internet Caucus’ State of the Net Conference, Roberts said fears that the Peacock might one day migrate to cable are completely unfounded. “We will take that off the table,” he said, emphasizing that Comcast “is at heart a local company.”

The event’s keynote speaker, Roberts spent his hour fielding questions from moderator Alan Murray, deputy managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, and members of the audience. The cable exec noted that he remains under a government prohibition against discussing the deal, and so stayed entirely on message about the wisdom behind the proposed merger.

When asked to comment about the web’s late night programming controversy, he said it was a “frustrating” period of waiting until the deal is consummated. “When we get to day one, we will have a great plan” under Comcast chief operating officer Steve Burke, who will oversee NBC Universal, and NBC U prexy and CEO Jeff Zucker, he assured. He said some changes will be made to help make NBC “vibrant,” but said the property’s cable webs add an exciting dimension.

Roberts also responded to oft-spoken fears that the new entity might unfairly use its muscle to favor certain program distribution channels. He said the government’s current program access and carriage regs are specifically designed to prevent any such occurrence, to say nothing of the antitrust laws. Parties should be comforted in knowing they can petition the FCC to enforce the rules, he said.

Among other views expressed by the Comcast topper:

  • The internet is friend, not foe. The proposed entity is well positioned to exploit tomorrow’s web-based opportunities as well as the coming broadband era. They include Comcast’s Fancast Xfinity site for films and TV fare.

  • On the touchy issue of net neutrality, Roberts said Comcast is committed to an open internet and emphasized that it does “not block websites.” But when it comes to adopting laws on the subject, the firm might have a different opinion from others, he said. Roberts praised the FCC’s open process aimed at exploring the net neutrality concept, pledging to be a constructive participant in the dialogue.

  • The future of 3D is bright. “We will have 3D devices in our homes within 10 years, just the way Bluetooth is being integrated today,” he said. But Roberts predicted that auds will tire of wearing 3D glasses and watching 3D programming all the time. “We don’t eat chocolate sundaes three meals a day,” he said.

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