Comcast CEO Brian Roberts Talks Failed Time Warner Cable Merger, Periscope Piracy Concerns

Brian Roberts Comcast
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CHICAGO — Comcast CEO Brian Roberts has said “we’re moving on” following the collapse of its merger with Time Warner Cable, but at the Internet and Television Expo on Tuesday, he got in one more reference to the scuttled transaction.

Introducing Comcast’s Xfinity new voice remote search, he said, “Show me Comcast Time Warner Cable merger,” and the screen went to an exploding package from “Fast and the Furious 7.”

By and large, Roberts, appearing on stage to showcase Comcast’s new offerings and to participate in a Q&A session with Peter Chernin, emphasized the company’s forays into new technology and a strong earnings release on Monday.

With the cable industry facing accelerated pressure to unbundle channel offerings given the competition from over-the-top video services, Roberts instead said that “video for the Internet is a great thing for our business.”

“I don’t love the phrase ‘over the top,'” Roberts said. “I think it is a ‘combined experience’ world.”

He pointed to the Internet success of videos from “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” with a huge audience beyond those who watch NBC.

Chernin said that reports of the collapse of the cable bundle are “overstated,” but said that “I think what you are going to see is the bundle rationalized in certain ways.”

“What it ultimately will do is force the bundle to justify itself,” Chernin said. “That is not the worst thing in the world.”

Roberts suggested that the challenge for cable providers is to show how bundling is a great deal. “We need to tell that story,” he said. “We need to be responsive to the market. I think that is a work in progress.”

On the minds of many here is the potential for technology to disrupt business models, an example of which is the ability for Periscope users to stream high-cost sporting events to followers. Chernin, who is a member of Twitter’s board of directors, said, “There was certainly no intention on the part of the Periscope guys to serve as a piracy device.”

Roberts noted that the pay-per-view Mayweather-Pacquiao fight was “off the charts” in terms of sales, and noted that piracy still represents a small sliver of how Comcast content is viewed.

Roberts also demonstrated Comcast’s voice control remote — with 3 million commands possible. For instance, when he said the line “life is a box of chocolates” from “Forrest Gump,” it called up the scene from the movie.

He also showed an upgrade to its app to better respond to customer service, with subscribers able to rate their experience after a technician visits, as well as sleeker-looking high-speed broadband modems. Comcast also is testing a “Studio Xfinity” store in Chicago, which Roberts said is a “new concept experience” to show “the incredible breadth” of Comcast products.