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Brian Roberts: No Pressure on Comcast, NBCUniversal to Pursue M&A

Comcast and NBCUniversal are “playing offense” when it comes to M&A opportunities, Comcast chairman-CEO Brian Roberts told investors Wednesday.

Neither the cable distribution side nor the content arm of Comcast are under pressure to find a transformational transaction, Roberts said.

The Comcast chief barely referenced the company’s recent pursuit of 21st Century Fox assets, or its pending bid for Sky. But he told the crowd at Goldman Sachs’ Communacopia conference in New York that Comcast’s interest in M&A doesn’t mean that it has cooled off on its core businesses.

“Right now, I feel like we’re in a strategically great place,” Roberts said. “Any deals we do we’re trying to play offense.” Investors shouldn’t see desperation when Comcast looks at potential acquisitions, he said. “The notion that (this) means you don’t love your core business isn’t right.”

Roberts said NBCUniversal would post its most profitable year ever in 2018, with growth in every part of the company, from film to theme parks to TV content and networks. “NBCUniversal is the best deal we’ve ever done,” Comcast said.

On the cable systems side, Roberts emphasized the businesses “pivot” to a focus on “connectivity” for consumers as a broadband provider and mobile telecom provider rather than the big cable bundle that has traditionally fueled earnings.

“Video is playing a more of a supporting role that it’s historically played in the company,” Roberts said. Making Comcast the source of broadband, wifi and mobile service adds great “stickiness” to its consumer relationships.

That shift in strategic focus has driven Comcast to pursue partnerships with video rivals such as Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube to allow Comcast subscribers to have an easy access to those services through its X1 cable operating system.

“We don’t care whose content you watch, we just want you to watch it through our X1 experience and we’ll be a winner,” Roberts said. When it comes to video, Comcast is focused on high-end customers. “We’re going to compete for video, but we’re going to compete for profitable video customers.”

Comcast’s mix of distribution and content assets is helping it weather the storm of disruption. The cable side of Comcast has felt the pinch from the introduction last year of low-cost virtual MVPDs a la Hulu and YouTube. But on the NBCUniversal side, those upstarts are delivering new revenue because they are licensing NBCU channels are part of their core offerings.

Roberts goal is to “make sure we continue to be on all sides of that eco-system and growing while change occurs,” he said.

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