3. Comcast Corporation

Revenues 2019: $ 108.940 billion (€ 97.310 billion)

Overview

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The Comcast Corporation is currently the world’s largest media corporation with headquarters in Philadelphia, USA. In 2011, more than 23 million customers in the United States relied on cable services offered by Comcast. During its 40-year existence, Comcast evolved from a cable operator to a modern communication and media company. Apart from a broadband infrastructure, Comcast’s fields of business expertise include video on demand services (VoD), digital telephony and high speed Internet. Since the merger with NBCUniversal in early 2011, Comcast now owns two TV networks, 26 TV stations, 20 cable channels, several production facilities (amongst other things the Universal Studios), two multipurpose halls and sports stadiums as well as shares in two professional sports teams.

General Information Comcast

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Head office:
1500 Market St.
Philadelphia, PA 19102-2148
USA
Telephone: 001 215 665 1700
Website: corporate.comcast.com 

Branches of trade: Cable networks, TV, telecommunications, film production 
Legal form: Public Company (since 1972)
Financial year: 01.01. - 31.12.
Founding year: 1956 (TCI), 1969 (Comcast)

Basic economic data
201820172016201520142013
Revenues (US$ m)94,50785,02968,77564,65768,77564,657
Profit after taxes (US$ m)11,73122,7358,5927,1358,5927,135
Share price (US$, year end)35.8140.0557.7851.9757.7851.97
Employees184,000164,000139,000136,000139,000136,000

Executives and Directors

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Management:

  • Brian L. Roberts, Chairman and CEO, Comcast Corporation
  • Stephen Burke, CEO, NBCUniversal & Senior Executive Vice President, Comcast Corporation
  • Michael J. Cavanagh, Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer, Comcast Corporation
  • David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer, Comcast Corporation
  • David N. Watson, President and CEO, Comcast Cable & Senior Executive Vice President, Comcast Corporation
  • Jeremy Darroch, Group Chief Executive, Sky
  • Thomas J. Reid, Senior Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary
  • D’Arcy F. Rudnay, Executive Vice President & Chief Communications Officer
  • Kimberley D. Harris, Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation and General Counsel of NBCUniversal
  • Bob Eatroff, Executive Vice President, Global Corporate Development & Strategy
  • Amy Banse, Managing Director & Head of Funds, Comcast Ventures
  • Kathryn A. Zachem, Executive Vice President, Regulatory & State Legislative Affairs

Board of directors:

  • Kenneth J. Bacon
  • Madeline S. Bell
  • Sheldon M. Bonovitz
  • Edward D. Breen
  • Gerald L. Hassell
  • Jeffrey A. Honickman
  • Maritza G. Montiel
  • Asuka Nakahara
  • David C. Novak
  • Brian L. Roberts

History

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It all started in 1963 when Ralph J. Roberts and two partners bought the TV cable network provider American Cable Systems for 500,000 dollars, with 1,200 customers in the Tupelo/Mississippi area. In 1969 Roberts renamed his company Comcast ("COMmunication"/"broadCAST"). With the purchase of regional cable networks (1986 Group W Cable (26%), 1988 Storer Communications (50%)), the number of Comcast subscribers increased to over two million. In 1995, Comcast secured 57 percent of the shares in the teleshopping channel QVC (which was sold on to Liberty Media in 2003) through a 1.4 billion euro deal together with TCI. In 1997, Comcast acquired a controlling interest in the showbiz channel E! Entertainment. In 1999, there was the competition for the cable rival MediaOne, then number four in the business. At the end of March, Comcast announced its merger with MediaOne when AT&T appeared with a counteroffer worth 58 billion dollars. Eventually Comcast had to abandon its acquisition plan, but in return was able to acquire two million cable households from AT&T for around nine billion dollars. Other cable acquisitions (selection): Maclean Hunter (550,000 customers) 1994, E.W. Scripps (800,000) 1995, Jones Intercable (1 million) 1998, Prime Communications (430,000) 1998, Greater Philadelphia Cablevision (79,999) 1999, Lenfest Communications (1.3 million) 2000.

In 2001, Comcast had the opportunity to take revenge for the failed MediaOne deal when AT&T announced the sale of its cable business – a business that had only been created in 1999 with the purchase of Tele-Communications Inc. AT&T CEO Michael Armstrong invested another 100 billion in the cable networks until investors lost patience and the share price came under pressure. In 2001, the over-indebted telephone giant announced it wanted to divest its cable division: A fierce bidding war began. In addition to Comcast, AOL Time Warner and Cox Communications bid for AT&T Broadband and its then over 13 million customers. In the end, Comcast managed to prevail, with a powerful ally. Microsoft helped out with a billion-dollar sum, primarily to prevent a victory for Time Warner, the archrival in the broadband business. For $47 billion (and the assumption of 25 billion in debt), Comcast won the contract just before Christmas 2001. And became the largest provider in the US with a total of 21.4 million cable customers. In 2002, a generational change took place: Ralph J. Robert's son Brian (born in 1959) took the helm, first as CEO, then as Chairman of the Supervisory Board in 2004. That year he immediately came up with the risky plan of a hostile takeover of the Disney Group. But the 66 billion offer was neither approved by the Disney owners nor the Comcast shareholders, and in April Roberts had to capitulate.

But Brian Roberts achieved the big coup with the takeover of NBCUniversal. In 2009 Comcast and NBCUniversal's parent company General Electric announced the plan, in January 2011 the FCC gave the go-ahead for the 13.8 billion dollar deal and Comcast added 13 cable channels, three news channels, five sports channels, four theme parks (Hollywood, Florida, Japan, Singapore) and a Hollywood studio to its portfolio. And not just any studio. Universal Pictures is the world's fifth oldest film studio, and the oldest of the Hollywood "Big Five" (Universal, Columbia, Walt Disney, Warner, Paramount), founded by the Württemberg immigrant Carl Laemmle (1867-1939). Stories from the pioneering days of film: Laemmle invented the star system around 1910 and developed a vertically integrated major studio with the Universal Film Manufacturing Company, incorporated in New York in 1912. Film production, distribution and screening in own cinemas from a single source: the central element of the studio system in the "golden age of Hollywood". In the beginning, Universal specialized mainly in horror films and shot classics of film history such as "Frankenstein", "Dracula", "The Mummy" and "The Phantom of the Opera".

Another look back: A number of media groups (MCA, Matsushita, Seagram, Vivendi) had bought and sold Universal Studios (and its theme parks) until they ended up with the General Electric conglomerate at the end of 2004. GE also owned the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), one of the "Big Three" of commercial, U.S.-wide TV networks alongside ABC (now Disney) and CBS (now ViacomCBS) from the early days of television in the 1940s, known worldwide through series hits like the "Tonight Show" (from 1954), "Bonanza" (from 1973), "Cheers" (from 1982), "The Cosby Show" (from 1984), "Miami Vice" (from 1984), "Seinfeld" (from 1989), and "Friends" (from 1994). Under the umbrella of GE, the super conglomerate called NBCUniversal was created, with headquarters in the 70-story GE Building (formerly RCA Building) in the middle of the Rockefeller Center complex on New York's 5th Avenue. Then in 2011 Brian Roberts came along and bought NBCUniversal. And the GE Building became the Comcast Building.

In 2015, Comcast failed in its attempt to buy the second largest US cable company, Time Warner Cable, for 45.2 billion dollars. The Department of Justice filed an appeal, announced an antitrust case in April 2015 and the deal was cancelled. In return, Charter Communications was successful one month later for $78.7 billion. The takeover of 21st Century Fox, announced in November 2017, also soon dropped Comcast. "We never got the level of engagement needed to make a definitive offer." Here Disney, as is well known, could strike for 71.3 billion dollars.

In return, Brian Roberts was successful in the purchases of DreamWorks Animation in April 2016 (for 3.8 billion) and the British pay TV group Sky in September 2018, where he won a takeover battle against 21st Century Fox in the last auction round for 30 billion British pounds.

Management

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Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, like his father Ralph, who died in 2015 at the age of 95, is considered an "old-fashioned cable guy". As reserved and less exalted than most of the other super-rich cable barons, as someone who acts in the background. He joined the company in 1981 as a cable installer, and by the end of the 1990s the smooth generational transfer had taken place. In the meantime there is no way around him. Today he holds 33% of the voting "Class B" shares and is, so to speak, CEO for life. The Articles of Incorporation state that "Mr. Brian L. Roberts shall be named chairman of the board if he so desires and for as long as he is able." No mention of the discharge of top managers at annual general meetings, which is customary under normal circumstances.

David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer, is another key member of the Comcast leadership. An influential man: The Washington Post described him as "Comcast's secret weapon" and "chief dealmaker". The "consigliere" of Roberts and chief lobbyist commands a 20-person lobbying team and distributes around 15 million US dollars annually (source: OpenSecrets.org) to congressmen, Republican and Democratic delegates from the Senate and House of Representatives.

Business Units

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Comcast divides its activities into three primary businesses. Cable Communications (1) and the Xfinity brand for residential customers, by far the most profitable Comcast business segment, includes all the activities of the largest US cable TV and Internet provider. As of December 31, 2018, it had 30.3 million customers. Revenues in 2018: $55.14 billion.

NBCUniversal (2) is divided into four 'reportable segments'. Cable Networks, i.e. news channels (NBC News, CNBC, MSNBC), entertainment (including USA Network, E!, Syfy, Bravo, Oxygen, Universal Kids) and sports channels (NBC Sports, NBC Olympics, Golf Channel). Broadcast Television: Mainly the nationwide networks of NBC and the Spanish-speaking Telemundo (Miami, Florida). Filmed Entertainment: Film production and distribution worldwide by Universal Pictures and the studios Illumination, DreamWorks Animation and Focus Features. Theme Parks refers to the locations in Orlando (Florida) and Hollywood. Plus the Universal Theme Parks in Osaka (Japan), in which Comcast holds a majority interest, and in Singapore ("license agreement"). A further resort in Beijing is also planned. NBCUniversal segment turnover in 2018: $35.76 billion.

Sky (3) comprises the businesses of Sky plc, founded in 1989 by Rupert Murdoch as 'UK's first satellite TV service', which Comcast acquired in September 2018.

Finally, other business interests include assets like the Philadelphia Flyers (NHL ice hockey team) and the Wells Fargo Center multifunctional arena in Philadelphia (assets grouped together under “ComcastSpectacor”).

Commitment in Europe

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"Expand the international footprint": In the narrower sense, one can only speak of an involvement on this side of the Atlantic since the end of September 2018, when Comcast "set its sights on the European Pay TV market" and prevailed over Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox in the takeover battle for the British media and telecommunications company Sky. For around 33 billion euros. Previously, Sky was the second-largest European media group after Bertelsmann with revenues of €15.35 billion in 2018. Sky mainly offers pay TV (movies, series, news, sports) in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. Turnover for the period from October 9 2018 to December 31 2018: $4.587 billion.

Current Developments

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"Cut the cord": For years, the US television industry has been in a state of flux. The classic paid TV of the US cable giants is still the norm, but increasingly on the decline. Younger clients especially are moving away from television and using online services on their laptops and smartphones. In the second quarter of 2019, for example, 224,000 subscribers cancelled their subscription to Comcast Xfinity. AT&T even had three times as many (778,000) in the same period. Comcast and AT&T are losing 11,010 subscribers daily due to "cord cutting". Everyone knows the big names in the streaming world: Netflix (synonymous with streaming in many countries), Amazon Prime, WarnerMedia, HBO Max, Disney+ and Apple TV+. Plus at some point the still unnamed streaming service the newly merged ViacomCBS will launch (based on CBS All Access).  

Comcast is planning its own streaming service. Peacock (the "peacock" that refers to the NBC logo) is scheduled to start, initially only in the USA, in April 2020 with an extensive catalogue of current and older productions (movies and series like "The Blacklist", "Suits", "Mr. Robot", "Brooklyn Nine-Nine", "Mr. Griffin", "Dr. House", "Psych", "Monk") and a number of new series, including "Battlestar Galactica reboot". For about ten dollars, according to CNBC, young cord cutters are to be persuaded not to give up the connection to NBC/Comcast completely. Licensing of NBC material to third parties (Netflix, Amazon and Co.) will of course be stopped.

Everyone will have to see where the content comes from, including Sky's own European pay-TV channels. In the medium term, there is the threat of losing HBO material ("Game of Thrones", "The Sopranos"), which HBO owner AT&T will market itself with HBO Max. Also Showtime series ("Californication", "Dexter", "Homeland", "Masters of Sex", "The Affair") will no longer be available, because Showtime is part of CBS, and all in-house productions will sooner or later be accommodated by the Viacom/CBS-owned streamer. One notices: it’s an increasingly fragmented market. A market on the move.  

Further reading

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  • Christopher Williams: The Battle for Sky: The Murdochs, Disney, Comcast and the Future of Entertainment. London: Bloomsbury Business; 2019
  • William Novak: An Incredible Dream: Ralph Roberts and the Story of Comcast (2012)
  • Michelle Hilmes (Hrsg.): NBC: America’s Network. University of California Press (2007)
  • Clive Hirshhorn: The Universal Story: The Complete History of the Studio and All Its Film. London: Hamlyn (2001)