Burke, Roberts rally newly merged troops
“How do you feel?” NBC News anchor Brian Williams asked Comcast topper Brian Roberts as the kickoff to Thursday’s town hall meeting for the newly united employees of Comcast and NBC Universal.
The cheerleading sesh, originating from the 30 Rock studio that houses “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” was webcast to NBC U’s roughly 30,000 employees on the eve of the formal closing of the $30 billion merger, which took 13 months to wend through the regulatory approval process.
Roberts admitted to Williams that he was feeling overwhelmed with anticipation about the deal finally coming to fruition (it’s expected to be completely final by the end of today). Given the time he’s had to study the history of each company, Roberts said he’s been pleasantly surprised at the similarities among NBC, Universal and Comcast. Roberts and NBC U CEO Steve Burke, who is chief operating officer of Comcast, were joined onstage by everyone from Comcast patriarch Ralph Roberts (Brian’s father) to E! personality Ryan Seacrest to “Saturday Night Live’s” Seth Meyers.
Burke told his troops that he recognized the market power the combined NBC U and Comcast represents.
“With the set of assets that are in this company, I think there’s no reason why we can’t set the bar very high — whatever we do, we should be in it to win it,” he said. “We got big for a reason.”
He also discouraged inhouse competition, saying that the future of the company would be determined its willingness to work together.
“Synergy is not a bad word,” he said. “It’s something we should focus on.”
To that end, he encouraged NBC U to use Comcast’s technology and Comcast to use NBC’s content. He also addressed concerns over Comcast’s commitment to localism and broadcasting. “It’s impossible to think about the network without the local stations,” Burke said. “We’re going to try to do everything we can to be supportive and grow the local station business.”
No mention was made of outgoing CEO Jeff Zucker, who leaves NBC Universal today, though the issue of Keith Olbermann’s hasty departure from MSNBC was briefly addressed. Burke disavowed any involvement in the matter, saying it wasn’t his call to make, as the deal had not been completely finalized when Olbermann’s exit transpired on Jan. 21.
“This was a decision made by NBC News management,” Burke said.
He also laid to rest fears about the rebranding planned around the company’s new corporate logo, which did not incorporate NBC’s iconic peacock symbol. Burke assured the staffers that the bird’s colorful plumes would be “a part of NBC and CNBC and MSNBC for years to come.”
Roberts echoed Burke’s synergy sentiments. “I really do hope we can now become one truly combined company,” he said. “In my opinion, Steve Burke is the perfect person to help guide us. He’s smart, he’s tough, he’s fair, he’s very innovative, puts his family first and, like all of us, he just wants to win.”
The session was generally well received by the crowd, NBC U insiders in Gotham and L.A. reported.
“We’ll be a family-friendly company,” one attendee said. “That’s the message they’re getting out. No one’s afraid of the new leaders.”
Indeed, the presentation wasn’t all earnest moments. Williams displayed his trademark wit, riffing on the dodgy satellite feed for the international portion of the address and joking that he simply takes notes on a three-by-five card when the news breaks. “I work on air between seven and 11 minutes a week,” he quipped.
“SNL’s” Meyers showed up and joined in, having a “quiet moment” with Burke in which he warned the new NBC U topper that, though Williams seems nice, he shouldn’t give the newsman his phone number unless Burke wanted Williams to show up at his house wanting to hang out and watch VHS tapes. “He might be a vampire,” Meyers cautioned.
Universal Studios prexy and chief operating officer Ron Meyer expressed deep confidence in the new management.
“I’m confident that the Comcast culture and the combination of our businesses will make us unquestionably one of the greatest entertainment companies in the world,” Meyer said. “I personally couldn’t be more optimistic regarding our future.”
Jim Cramer interviewed Comcast chief financial officer Michael Angelakis and Neil Smit, the company’s cable prexy, in the packed Comcast lobby in Philadelphia.
Angelakis told Cramer that “marriages take work,” but that “this company is going to be so well positioned to lead, influence and benefit from all the changes.”
The company endeavored to drum up some excitement for Burke’s address by holding a lottery for live attendance at the town hall (most people watched from their desks) or via inhouse TV channels at the various NBC U properties. Not everything went as planned — new corporate ID cards were meant to be handed out Thursday, but that was put off due to Wednesday night’s snowstorm.