2. Comcast Corporation

Revenues 2020: $ 103.560 billion (€ 90.670 billion)

Overview

collapse

Since its founding in 1963, the small cable TV company has become a colossal media conglomerate, at times (2011-2015) the largest in the world. Today, Comcast is the largest cable TV provider in the US, ahead of Charter and AT&T (WarnerMedia). Its portfolio also includes: Four Hollywood studios, two TV station chains, news and entertainment channels, theme parks, a multi-purpose arena and the Philadelphia Flyers ice hockey team.

General Information Comcast

collapse

Head offices:
Comcast Corporation
1500 Market St.
Philadelphia, PA 19102-2148
USA
Telephone: 001 215 665 1700
Internet: corporate.comcast.com

NBCUniversal Media, LLC
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10112-0015
USA
Telefon: 001 212 664 4444
Internet: www.nbcuniversal.com/about

Branches of trade: Film and TV production, pay-TV, special interest channels, cable networks, telecommunications, internet services, theme parks, hotels 
Legal form: Public Company (since 1972)
Financial year: 01.01. - 31.12.
Founding year: 1969 

Basic economic data
2020201920182017201620152014
Revenues (US$ m)103,564108,94294,50785,02968,77564,65768,775
Profit after taxes (US$ m)10,53413,05711,73122,7358,5927,1358,592
Share price (US$, year end)52,4045,0135.8140.0557.7851.9757.78
Employees168,000190,000184,000164,000139,000136,000139,000

Executives and Directors

collapse

Management:

  • Brian L. Roberts, Chairman and CEO
  • Jason S. Armstrong, Executive Vice President & Treasurer
  • Lisa Bonnell, Executive Vice President, Comcast Global Audit & General Auditor
  • Karen Dougherty Buchholz, Executive Vice President, Administration
  • Steve Burke, Senior Advisor
  • Michael J. Cavanagh, Chief Financial Officer
  • David L. Cohen, Senior Advisor
  • Jennifer Khoury, Executive Vice President & Chief Communications Officer
  • Adam Miller, Chief Administration Officer, Comcast Corporation and Executive Vice President, NBCUniversal
  • Daniel C. Murdock, Executive Vice President, Chief Accounting Officer & Controller
  • Thomas J. Reid, Chief Legal Officer and Secretary
  • Jeffrey Shell, Chief Executive Officer, NBCUniversal
  • Dana Strong, Group Chief Executive Officer, Sky
  • David N. Watson, President and CEO, Comcast Cable
  • Dalila Wilson-Scott, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, Comcast Corporation & President, Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation

Board of directors:

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

History

collapse

In 1963, 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 (Group W Cable in 1986, Storer Communications in 1988), the number of subscribers increased to over two million. In 1981, Ralph J. Roberts' son Brian (born 1959) joined the company as a cable installer, and in 1990 the beginning of the generation change: Brian Roberts took the helm as Comcast president. In 1995, Comcast secured a 57 percent share in the teleshopping channel QVC (which was sold on to Liberty Media in 2003) through a 1.4 billion deal with TCI, and in 1997, as a joint venture with Disney, took over a controlling interest in the showbiz channel E! Entertainment: Diversification in the direction of programme production was accelerated.

At that time, company founder Ralph Roberts still appeared daily at the company's headquarters, which was eyed sceptically by the industry. However, with the transfer of the voting shares at the end of 1997, the change of guard at the top of the company was considered complete. Observers spoke of a smooth generational transfer - despite the enormous potential for conflict within the family that transactions of this size harbour.

Further, in 1999, there was competition for cable rival MediaOne, then number four in the business. At the end of March, Comcast had already announced the merger with MediaOne when AT&T came up with a 58-billion counteroffer. In the end, Comcast had to abandon the plan, but in return was able to acquire two million cable households from AT&T for about nine billion US dollars. Other cable acquisitions (selection): Maclean Hunter (with 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 an opportunity for revenge for the failed MediaOne deal when AT&T announced the sale of its cable business - a division that had only been created in 1999 with the purchase of Tele-Communications Inc, at the time the second largest cable TV provider in the US (after Time Warner). AT&T boss Michael Armstrong invested 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 its intention to sell off its cable division: A heated bidding war began. Besides Comcast, AOL Time Warner and Cox Communications competed for AT&T Broadband and its then more than 13 million customers. In the end, Comcast won, with a powerful ally. Microsoft helped out with billions, mainly to prevent a victory by Time Warner, its arch-rival in the broadband business. For $47 billion (and the assumption of $25 billion in debt), Comcast won the bid just before Christmas 2001. And with a total of 21.4 million cable customers, it became the largest provider in the USA. Then in 2004, Brian Roberts made the risky plan of a hostile takeover of the Disney group. However, neither the Disney owners nor the Comcast shareholders approved the 66 billion offer, and in April Roberts had to capitulate. A year later, he was able to finalise a major merger. Together with Time Warner, Comcast bought Adelphia, the bankrupt number five in the US cable industry, in April 2005. And gained another 1.8 million customers.

The big coup, however, was Brian Roberts' takeover of NBCUniversal. In 2009, Comcast and NBCUniversal parent company General Electric announced the plan, in January 2011 the regulatory authority FCC gave the green light for the 13.8 billion deal and Comcast gained 13 cable channels, three news channels, five sports channels, four theme parks (Hollywood, Florida, Japan, Singapore) and a Hollywood studio. And not just any Hollywood studio. Universal Pictures, founded by Carl Laemmle (1867-1939), an immigrant from Württemberg, is the world's fifth oldest film studio, and the oldest of the Hollywood "Big Five": Universal, Columbia (part of Sony Pictures), Walt Disney, Warner (AT&T), Paramount (ViacomCBS). 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. Film production, distribution and screening in its own cinemas from a single source: a central element of the studio system in the "golden age of Hollywood". Universal initially specialised in horror films and made classics of film history with "Frankenstein", "Dracula", "The Mummy" and "The Phantom of the Opera".

Another look back: A series of media groups (MCA, Matsushita, Seagram, Vivendi) bought and sold Universal Studios and theme parks until they ended up with the conglomerate General Electric in 2004. GE also owned the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), one of the big three commercial US-wide TV networks alongside ABC (now part of Disney) and CBS (now ViacomCBS) from the early days of television in the 1940s. Under the GE umbrella, the super-conglomerate called NBCUniversal was created, with its headquarters in the 70-storey GE Building (formerly the RCA Building) in the middle of the Rockefeller Center complex on New York's 5th Avenue. In 2011, Brian Roberts bought NBCUniversal and the GE Building became the Comcast Building.

As a result, Comcast failed in 2015 in its attempt to take over the second-largest US cable company, Time Warner Cable, for $45.2 billion. The Justice Department objected, announced an antitrust lawsuit in April 2015, and the deal was cancelled. Charter Communications succeeded a month later for 78.7 billion dollars. Comcast also soon dropped the acquisition of 21st Century Fox announced in November 2017. "We never got the level of engagement needed to make a definitive offer." Here, Disney famously struck, for $71.3 billion. In turn, Brian Roberts was successful in buying DreamWorks Animation in April 2016 (for 3.8 billion) and in the purchases of the British pay-TV group Sky in September 2018 (where he prevailed over 21st Century Fox in the last round of auctions, for 30 billion British pounds) and the American over-the-top internet television Xumo in February 2020.

Management

collapse

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts (born 1959) is an "old-fashioned cable guy", like his father, company founder Ralph Roberts, who died in 2015 at the age of 95. Married in his first marriage, with three children, he is considered less exalted than most other super-rich cable barons, one who operates 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. Brian Roberts now holds 33% of the voting "Class B" shares and is, so to speak, CEO for life. Comcast's corporate constitution includes the provision: "Mr. Brian L. Roberts shall be appointed Chairman of the Board if he so desires and for as long as he is able." No mention of the normally customary discharge of top managers at general meetings. Technology magazine Wired called him the "Dark Lord of Broadband".

David L. Cohen, Senior Advisor, is another key Comcast executive personnel. He is an influential man: The Washington Post called him "Comcast's secret weapon" and "chief dealmaker". Like the boss, close to the Democrats, the Comcast chief lobbyist and self-styled Roberts' consigliere commands a 20-person lobbying team and distributes some $8 million annually to members of Congress, Republican and Democratic delegates from the Senate and House of Representatives.

Comcast is considered one of the most anti-worker corporations in the US. On the one hand, the company fights against unionisation of its employees, but at the same time, the boss Brian Roberts, for example, earned 36 million US dollars in 2017, about one thousand times as much as the average Comcast employee.

Business Units

collapse

Comcast divides its activities into three primary businesses.

Comcast Cable, or the Xfinity brand for residential customers in the United States, which is by far the most profitable Comcast business segment with a share of 56 percent in 2020, includes all activities of the largest cable TV provider in the US. 2020 revenue: $60.1 billion.

NBCUniversal is divided into four "reportable segments". Cable Networks, i.e. news channels (CNBC, MSNBC), entertainment (including USA Network, E!, Syfy, Bravo, Oxygen, Universal Kids) and sports channels (NBC Sports, The Olympic Channel, Golf Channel). Broadcast Television: Essentially the nationally syndicated networks of NBC and the Spanish-language Telemundo (Miami, Florida). Filmed Entertainment: Film production and distribution worldwide by Universal Pictures and the Illumination, DreamWorks Animation and Focus Features studios respectively. Theme Parks refers to the Orlando (Florida), Hollywood and Osaka (Japan) locations. A resort in Singapore has been licensed to local operators and another in Beijing is being developed with Chinese companies. 2020 revenue: $28.1 billion.

Sky comprises the businesses of Sky plc, founded in 1989 by Rupert Murdoch as "the UK's first satellite TV service", which Comcast acquired in September 2018. 2020 revenue: $18.6 billion.

Finally, Other business interests include the assets of the Philadelphia Flyers (NHL ice hockey team), the Wells Fargo Center multi-purpose arena in Philadelphia and Peacock, the streaming platform available US-wide since mid-2020.

Current Developments

collapse

"Cut the cord": For years, the US television industry has been in upheaval. Classic paid TV from the US cable giants is still the norm, but increasingly on the decline. Younger people in particular are going and using streaming services on their laptops and smartphones. In full-year 2019, for example, 733,000 subscribers quit Comcast Xfinity, 2,131.5 per day. So Comcast's cable business is shrinking primarily because of the "cord cutting revolution" and not, as one might have expected, because Comcast has always ranked high among "America's most hated companies" for disastrous customer service. In addition, the pandemic has exacerbated the viewer shift from linear to non-linear, said Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, at the presentation of Comcast's second-quarter 2020 results.

What choice did Comcast have but to build its own streaming service. Peacock (the "peacock" referring to NBC's logo) went on air on 15 July 2020, for the time being only in the US. With great success: by the end of January 2021, Peacock already had 33 million subscribers. And with an extensive catalogue of current and older productions (films and series such as "The Blacklist", "Suits", "Mr. Robot", "Brooklyn Nine-Nine", "Mr. Griffin", "Dr. House", "Psych", "Monk") and a number of new series, including a "Battlestar Galactica reboot". The licensing of own productions to third parties (Netflix, Amazon and Co.) will of course be discontinued.

In this respect, everyone will have to see where the content comes from, also for Sky's own European pay TV channels. In the medium term, the loss of HBO material ("Game of Thrones", "The Sopranos"), which HBO owner AT&T will market itself with HBO Max, is imminent. The Showtime series ("Californication", "Dexter", "Homeland", "Masters of Sex", "The Affair") will also no longer be available, because Showtime is part of CBS, and the in-house productions will sooner or later be placed with the Viacom/CBS-owned streamer. An increasingly fragmented market.

Further reading

collapse
  • Christopher Williams: The Battle for Sky: The Murdochs, Disney, Comcast and the Future of Entertainment. London: Bloomsbury Business (2019)
  • Annabel Z. Dodd: The Essential Guide to Telecommunications, Pearson (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)

Content

Institute of Media and Communications Policy

collapse
collapse

Germany's Federal Agency for Civic Education,

collapse

the city of Cologne, Germany,