Comcast is determined to get "anytime, anywhere television" right and the NBC Universal acquisition is designed to accelerate the application of innovation without worrying about negotiating friction between distribution and content partners, said a top executive at the cable giant.
David Cohen, executive vice president of broadband at Comcast, said the acquisition of NBCU is about combining content and distribution and financial diversification, but primarily about "accelerating the delivery of anytime anywhere television." Comcast's acquisition of NBCU is expected to close by the end of the year.
Speaking at the Supernova conference at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business Friday, Cohen said that Comcast views itself primarily as a technology company. However, it can't move as quickly as it wants on accelerating content and distribution delivery on multiple screens due to negotiating "friction" over content rights. The plan: Eliminate the friction and innovate.
On-demand content delivery has been front and center at Comcast. Earlier this week, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said he admired Netflix for being able to deliver on-demand content and recommendations. Roberts' message: Comcast needs to step up its game.
NBCU would give Comcast an arsenal of content to better experiment, said Cohen. He noted that Comcast-NBCU would only have 12 percent of the content market in revenue and ratings, but could have enough heft for some nice experimentation. "We see this deal as a way to accelerate the delivery of content through out technology and distribution and achieve anytime anywhere faster," said Cohen.
Among other themes highlighted by Cohen:
- Video over the Web will have troubles surviving without subscription revenue.
- Cohen said Hulu is a complement to Comcast's on-demand content. "We don't view video over the Internet as a foe," he said. "Even if everyone views TV over the Internet they still go through Comcast for broadband." Cohen added that Comcast expects video revenue to shrink over time.
- Comcast said the ecosystem of Internet players is in more agreement over regulation than any other time. Cohen said his company's biggest concern over government regulation is the law of unintended consequences. "The unintended consequence of regulation could result in actions that retard investment and innovation," he said.
- Speaking of regulation, Cohen spoke highly of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and said he's the most qualified chairman ever. Cohen said Genachowski gets technology as well as business and understands how "the real world works."
- Cohen said that Comcast did nothing wrong in the BitTorrent flap and was managing its network, which was stretched at the time. Comcast’s mistake was not consulting with P2P players and giving them a heads up. "From engineering perspective, we learned from that," said Cohen. "We should have engaged the peer-to-peer providers at an engineering level. The lesson we learned is to have an active dialogue at an engineer level with the Googles, eBays of the world. When we make changes on our network, we consult with them in advance. We still manage our networks, but now because of the dialogue we don't have issues with the rest of the ecosystem. That's the right way to resolve those problems without regulation."