Comcast shareholders took the opportunity Monday morning to press chairman-CEO Brian Roberts on the issue of net neutrality rules ending, the availability of weather data, and what one participant characterized as the problem of Seth Meyers’ “borderline treasonous” commentary on President Donald Trump.
But Comcast’s pending $31 billion bid for Sky and the possibility that it might spend upwards of $60 billion in cash to battle Disney for ownership of other key 21st Century Fox assets was not raised by shareholders during the company’s annual meeting. The meeting held at Comcast’s Philadelphia headquarters lasted less than 30 minutes.
A shareholder proposal to require Comcast to disclose its spending on lobbying activities and trade association was voted down during the meeting.
At the start of the session, Roberts talked up “a fantastic year” in 2017 for the company. NBCUniversal delivered double-digit profit growth for the fifth consecutive year. The Universal film division had its most profitable year ever. Shareholder returns over the last 10 years have been running at 231%. Comcast generated some $9.6 billion in free cash flow last year.
Roberts credited the company’s “culture of entrepreneurialism and smart risk-taking” for driving growth. Comcast is always in the hunt for opportunities “to create more value for shareholders.” He cited the Sky bid and possible larger 21st Century Fox offer as “perfect examples” of Comcast’s desire to grow and expand. But he also sounded a note of caution amid growing Wall Street chatter about the debt load Comcast will shoulder if it goes all the way with a purchase of the 21st Century Fox assets.
“We set the bar high,” he said. “We have been and will remain disciplined.” Comcast is expected to field an offer for Fox this week, after a federal judge rules in the anti-trust trial against the AT&T-Time Warner merger on Tuesday.
On net neutrality, which formally ends today as the FCC reclassifies how it regulates broadband service, Roberts vowed to continue to uphold the basic tenets of the rules designed to prevent providers from discriminating against or giving preferential treatment to any Internet outlets.
“We do not block. We do not throttle,” Roberts said. “We have very much supported an open Internet,” he said although he acknowledged “disagreements with prior actions by the government” that Comcast feared would “retard investment in broadband.”
Roberts didn’t take the bait on the “what can we do” question about what the shareholder called NBC’s “professional presidential basher,” the host of “Late Night With Seth Meyers.” He thanked the person for the question but moved on with a quick “no comment at this time.”